EXCLUSIVE POLL: Unionist supporters content with East West post #Brexit border controls…

The dilemma facing Brexit negotiators on the ‘Irish border’ question is how to retain an invisible, frictionless, ‘soft’ North-South border in Ireland and somehow avoid the seemingly inevitable reality of the emergence of a ‘hard’ border if the UK leaves the single market and the customs union.

Squaring this circle is a little tricky. It’s hard to have a border and not have a border all at the same time. Borders are a bit like boiled eggs, either hard or soft but not both simultaneously.

One possible response to this conundrum is to focus on placing ‘the border’ somewhere else – down the Irish Sea, to be precise. The EU and Dublin see advantages to this option.

It would facilitate Northern Ireland having a closer post-exit relationship with the EU than Britain and allow the continuation of a free North-South border.

However, having a border down the Irish Sea is opposed by the unionist parties, who regard it as an unacceptable separation of the core components of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Nigel Dodds emphatically opposed the idea on Saturday at the Democratic Unionist Party conference:

Make no mistake. For us the integrity of the United Kingdom is non-negotiable. If the EU wants to insist on border check points on the island of Ireland that is a matter for them. There will be no internal UK border in the Irish Sea.

While the view of the political parties and governments may be clear on this question, the views of the ordinary people of Northern Ireland have until now not been systematically reported.

Our new survey sheds light on the views of the public. In September, we asked a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population to react to the statement that: ‘People should be prepared to accept border controls between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, if this is agreed in the Brexit negotiations between the Government and the EU’.

Overall, 49% agreed with this, and 39% disagreed (with 12% neither agreeing or disagreeing). But, perhaps surprisingly, willingness to accept such controls was stronger among Leave voters (64% agreed), supporters of unionist parties (59%) and Protestants (54%).

This probably reflects a willingness to live with east-west border controls as the price of a Brexit successfully negotiated by the British government. Lower levels of agreement from Remain voters (44%), nationalist supporters (47%) and Catholics (43%) imply, by contrast, reluctance to contemplate any kind of new border controls.

Answers to a second question are interesting, but harder to interpret. Respondents were asked about their reactions to the statement ‘After the UK leaves the EU, there should be free movement across the Irish border, as at present, but border controls between the island of Ireland and Great Britain’.

Overall, 64% agreed and 25% disagreed (with 11% undecided). But this time the relationship with certain critical groups was reversed. Support was strongest among supporters of nationalist parties (75%), Remain voters (73%) and Catholics (68%) – but it was also high among unionist supporters (56%), Leave voters (also 56%) and Protestants (60%).

This may reflect acceptance of border controls as the price for keeping the land border as ‘frictionless’ as possible. But the question was a somewhat complex one, and respondents are likely to have had retention of a ‘soft’ land border uppermost in their minds, with a possible sea border a less immediate prospect.

Overall, these results suggest a willingness among the Northern Ireland public to contemplate imaginative new relationships across the Irish Sea. But as this issue becomes more of a focus of public debate, opinion may shift and positions may harden as such matters become more politicised.

The striking consensus in Northern Ireland among all parties on the need to avoid the re-appearance of a hard North-South border, reflecting worries about trade disruption and renewed political violence, highlights the need for fresh thinking.

Drawing a dotted line down the Irish Sea with a water-resistant marker might attract an unexpected level of support, or at least not attract too vehement a level of popular opposition from the public.

In one sense it’s a compromise, demanding concessions from both sides. Remainers would simply have to accept the legitimacy of the UK-wide result that the UK is indeed leaving the EU, while Leavers would have to live with some variation across the post-exit UK in terms of the relationship each part has with the EU.

Allowing the geographical border in the Irish Sea to take some pressure off the existing land border might, in theory at least, achieve the holy grail of politics, keeping citizens equally but mildly unhappy — no dancing in the streets, but no rioting either.

Note: The survey was designed by QUB researchers, Professors Coakley and Garry, and the fieldwork was conducted by Ipsos MORI between 7th and 27th September 2017, consisting of 1,015 interviews with members of the public.

The overall sample was representative of the Northern Ireland population in terms of age, gender, social class and geographical location, and interviews were conducted face-to-face and in-home using Computer Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI).

Professor John Coakley and Professor John Garry are based in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy and Politics (HAPP) at Queen’s University Belfast.

Their previous work on understanding voting in the EU referendum in Northern Ireland is available at:

How Northern Ireland voted in the EU Referendum and what it means for border talks 

EU referendum Vote in Northern Ireland: Implications for our understanding of citizens’ political views and behaviour

EU Referendum Vote, Northern Ireland Implications – Understanding citizen’s political views and behaviour –VIDEO

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  • Georgie Best

    Where you are born isn’t the point, it is who you are representing.

  • Breandán Mac Séarraigh

    If only the English had kept only their own country English I wouldn’t be able to understand you.

  • Georgie Best

    Firstly the people of NI voted in the Assembly election for parties who support “special status”. They are represented by the Irish government.

    But I need only paste a paragraph from the above, although you will probably say that they didn’t understand the question.

    ‘After the UK leaves the EU, there should be free movement across the Irish border, as at present, but border controls between the island of Ireland and Great Britain’.

    Overall, 64% agreed and 25% disagreed (with 11% undecided). But this time the relationship with certain critical groups was reversed. Support was strongest among upporters of nationalist parties (75%), Remain voters (73%) and Catholics (68%) – but it was also high among unionist supporters (56%), Leave voters (also 56%) and Protestants (60%).

  • William Kinmont

    I imagine it to be so lucrative that it won’t just be local criminals, without the troubles international ones may be attracted in , those with experience exploiting the borders on the other side of the EU

  • Jim Woods

    You were trying go make the point that Irish people don’t have influence in the UK parliament. They did and still do. Irish people have absolutely no influence in Europe.

  • Georgie Best

    Really? You should tell Theresa May this as she is under the impression that Ireland is blocking her deal with the EU.

  • Jim Woods

    You are still not acknowledging the influence the Irish north and south could have in a re United Kingdom. There are two countries in Ireland at present. Do you really want to be directed by an EU thats 400 miles away. Drive on the wrong side of the road. Don’t speak English and use different electricity plugs. In Principle you dont seem to mind joining a larger entity so why not one that is culturally and practically the same where we would have a real say in politics.

  • Georgie Best

    The EU is a club in which Ireland is an equal member, to England it is a colony. Recent events demonstrate this clearly.

  • NotNowJohnny

    The Irish government has already decided (democratically) that their best option is no hard border in Ireland. And the EU agrees with them. And now it’s up to the uk to come up with a solution that delivers this. That’s where we are at now. The Irish have already done the UK thing and decided it didn’t work for them. You need to start looking forward to how it’s going to be. I hope you like what you see.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    I think the panicking is coming from the UK (English, really) side, alas. I had a good old chuckle at David Davis today, I must say.

  • Jim Woods

    Your obviously stuck well in the past with a hang up about England. We are talking about the UK. Is this the EU club were you have to keep voting until you get the right answer. The one where you have to invoice Google for 5 billion etc etc. And you think you are an equal member…..

  • Georgie Best

    The majority of voters in the assembly election voted for parties advocating “special status”, and of course the poll above concords with this, so democracy is served perfectly well. The Irish government can represent the interests of the island in Brussels. Goods cannot be labelled as British as it is not Britain in any case, but could be labelled as being from the UK. Given the lowered standards likely in the UK this might not be good thing for foodstuffs.
    Scotland getting special status removes an easily managed sea border and introduces a more complex land border, so it is exactly the opposite example. The Scots will clearly argue their case though.

  • Georgie Best

    Downing Street’s assurances are useless without a concrete plan in writing, The entire Brexit campaign has been surrounded by lies, so much so that it is almost unique in politics.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That wasn’t Wellington, it was O’Connell speaking of Wellington.

  • aquifer
  • sparrow

    ‘ but there could be a new arrangement, perhaps – this remains to be negotiated…’ ‘which could effectively keep an ‘open border’ to all intents and purposes…’
    Too much uncertainty there, I’m afraid. If that’s the best the UK can come up with after 18 months, then Leo should block stage 2 talks and send them back home to do a bit more thinking. We want a frictionless border, just the way it is at the moment, just the way it was when the GFA was negotiated.

  • sparrow

    ‘Over 2 million people in Scotland, Wales and NI voted for Brexit, about double the margin of victory.’
    I’m genuinely not interested in how the people of England, Scotland and Wales vote on anything. They live on a different island, have different economic concerns and priorities and problems. I’m interested in what happens here. About 350 thousand people in the north of Ireland voted to leave, so even if all of these had voted to remain, it wouldn’t have come close to changing the outcome. There’s a reason why the US uses the electoral college system to elect its Presidents. It’s to stop the votes of the smaller states being made redundant as a consequence of being outvoted by the larger states. The result of the Brexit referendum was always going to be decided in GB. That might suit DUP voters here, but it’s a democratic deficit for the rest of us, ‘national’ vote or not.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Jim, old boy, why doesn’t England rejoin France? England were pretty successful when all their Kings and Queens were talking French.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    You’re asking one sovereign nation to change and take all the heat because of another sovereign nation’s crackpot decision? No thanks.

    “Why not go the whole hog and join the UK with a devolved Dublin parliament.”

    Why doesn’t the UK join Ireland and become part of our Republic? The seat of central power can be in Dublin and the head of state the Irish President? You’d get what you want (some kind of union between the two islands) and we’d get what we want.

    Re. Irish-UK trade. The UK makes a surplus out of its trade with Ireland, it’s not the other way around.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    No it doesn’t. The only time Ireland was in an economic bloc with GB it nearly destroyed the country economically. Any trading block of Ireland and the UK alone would end up with the Irish being dominated by the English (due to sheer weight of numbers). We’d get dragged into ridiculous wars and our voice and international profile would be lost and drowned out.

    It makes far more sense for the English to rejoin with France or Germany (their cultural fatherlands).

  • Georgie Best

    People on either side of the border are not interested in a “new arrangement”, we are happy enough to continue as things are and will not agree to people in England changing this without agreement.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    “I’m genuinely not interested in how the people of England, Scotland and Wales vote on anything. They live on a different island, have different economic concerns and priorities and problems. I’m interested in what happens here.”
    It’s one think to not want NI to be in the UK, but you seem to be unwilling to accept that it is and deal constructively with the real world we are in. You don’t have to care about the rest of the country but it is the one you live in and its the one within which N Ireland’s politics play out. Best to not be quite so dismissive or you might miss something important – like the fact that because NI chooses to be in the UK, it leaves the EU as part of it. That is not illegitimate or wrong. It’s not what I want as a Remainer, but that’s a different thing. We lost the vote, Sparrow, it was a national UK vote, and the Brexit issue is best tackled on a national level, not just a regional one. Hoping for a regional opt-out that was never promised and may well not even be supported in NI itself, is worse than a waste of time.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    the UK had guaranteed its side of the border will be (relatively) frictionless (no border is completely frictionless for everything at all times). The EU has been unwilling to guarantee its side will be frictionless. Should he not be taking to Brussels too about what they are willing to do for the Republic on that? As it stands the Republic will be forced to impose EU external border rules. But one part of a solution could be these rules being relaxed or not applied for the Irish border. This is worth exploring surely.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree with your second statement. But actually I think the UK has played it fairly straight over N Ireland – it’s been very keen not to upset the applecart there.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Hmm, yes, I would point out that we are asked to believe that 56 per cent of unionists want border controls between NI and the rest of the UK. I believe that 56 per cent of unionists questioned gave the answer to the Ipsos MORI researchers that is recorded. What I don’t believe is that all of that 56 per cent of unionists really think that. And my best guess is that a large bunch of them misapprehended the statement they were asked to respond to. I will look out with interest for when this question is run again, perhaps with an altrnative formulation to the wording of the attitude statement.

  • Georgie Best

    I’m not sure they have played it straight, some of the statements from ministers are not of the standard required. In any case, playing it straight is only of use if you take the time required to understand the issues.

    The present government has spent little or no time on NI. While Barnier visited the Irish border and met people from business and agriculture, Davis, May etc have not done any of this. Whenever anyone has come they have been careful to hang out only with the DUP and get more of the same unrealistic nonsense that they hear in England. An echo chamber does not improve your understanding. When May went to the Conservative party conference and declared that the UK would all act together and would leave the SM and CU she created the crisis and has done nothing in the year since then to address the issue.

    She now has 2 weeks to catch up.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree but also add the spectre of tribal anti-British views to that, which also seem to be bubbling up worryingly. Brexit or no Brexit, no one wants to see ethnic hatred come into the picture and there is no need for it, dramatic though Brexit is.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m not blaming the EU for what the UK has done, I am criticising some of their response to it when it has played fast and loose with ethnic politics in Northern Ireland.

    The UK’s position is about as clear as it can be at this stage before we’ve started trade talks. This really is cart before horse stuff.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    because it is possible that there can be free trade without complete regulatory harmony – that’s one possibility. Another is that there is regulatory harmony in some sectors and not others – so quite a lot of free trade, but stopping free trade for types of goods of services where there is an issue. The point is, we don’t know what’s possible until we get into the main negotiations and these are too important to be held up for months so that Dublin can get a slightly better indicator of “sufficient progress”. It’s like when in school you were made to resit a test for several weeks when you should have been preparing for the big exams. Not smart.

  • Georgie Best

    Compared to some NI polls this seems a reasonably clear question. No doubt there would be some variation if a different question is used. However, there is a no doubt that a substantial proportion of unionists are open to a pragmatic arrangement and that a majority of the NI population support special status. Unionists who support this arrangement might do so because of a pro EU stance, because their person economic interests are affected (milk going to Monaghan), but above all because they support the GFA and do not support the British government imposing border controls in Ireland over the heads of the people of NI and the Irish government, some may even fear that pushing things to the limit would lead to a border poll and end the whole show. .

    The reality is that if the UK adopts a position that is in its own interest, i.e. one that allows traffic flow at Dover then the Irish sea (border) would have little effect except perhaps a lack of chlorinated chicken in NI freezers.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I agree the statement isn’t terribly worded – I just think there was maybe a combo of the two-pronged statement, where people can miss one prong easily enough, and the innate fogginess a lot of people have about customs borders etc. I totally buy that most unionists want a soft border with the Republic, it’s the new customs border inside the UK part that I don’t think some of them fully realised they were agreeing to.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wouldn’t disagree they are making a shoddy job of Brexit generally

  • MainlandUlsterman

    current position is that the UK wants a trade deal, big time. When I say hard Brexit I mean no deal, WTO rules etc.

  • Georgie Best

    Once again the flow of Brexiteer lies and simplifications may be confusing the issue. Davis, Fox et al strive to give the impression that withdrawing from the CU and SM will impose minor inconvenience on British business, if you accept this then it would not impose a significant problem between NI and GB. Leavers may be more likely to accept these people’s statements.

    One thing is sure the people in England are confused!

  • Barney

    Asking for clarity is very far from playing fast and loose with anything even made up nonsense.

  • Neville Bagnall

    The tactics changed, I agree. But since the previous tactics weren’t working…

    The strategy stayed the same.

    That’s what you do in a well managed strategic campaign. Try a tactic, if it doesn’t work, change it. The new tactics have at least made the Tories realise that when the EU made the Irish Border a precondition for phase 2, it wasn’t a sop to Ireland, it was a red line. If they had realised that in April, phase 2 would have had a better chance of starting in January.

  • Neville Bagnall

    The ROI could have positioned itself with the other 26 as needing some special flexibility from them, and played a kind of linking role

    Except Ireland does not want to be a linking role. Ireland is already on the EU periphery geographically. That is enough of a disadvantage. Brexit makes that worse. Any flexibility Ireland is offered/adopts on the Single Market will result in further barriers to Irish exports.

    As Rainer Weiland said to the Irish times in the context of the UK leaving the Single Market, “In relation to the Irish Border, … the softer the controls between the UK and Ireland, the stricter the controls might need to be at Schengen borders between Ireland the the EU”

    Ireland doesn’t want to, but I think its willing to stop every truck rolling off the ferries in Dublin and Rosslare that hasn’t been sealed since Calais. It doesn’t want every truck rolling off a ferry in Holyhead or Calais to be stopped if they’ve been sealed since Dublin.

    The ROI stands to lose more than anyone, including even the UK, in all this. A no deal scenario must surely be unthinkable for Dublin.

    The reality is this has to be in large parted sorted as part of the main UK-EU negotiation

    Except that the option most preferable to Ireland (UK remaining in or closely aligned with the Single Market) has been ruled out before the negotiations started. Best case for Ireland, avoiding a border between NI and GB puts that back on the table. Second best, NI becomes the link between GB and the EU.

    I honestly don’t think the UK crashing out is unthinkable to Dublin. Its definitely not the preferred option, but the margin between it and the current Hard Brexit trajectory is narrower than maybe you believe. I think they believe that if that happens the UK will be reapplying to EFTA (at a minimum) within a decade and that NI and Scotland (and maybe even Wales) might get there quicker.

  • Jim Woods

    There seems to be a hang up about “the english”. we are talking about the UK. The “Irish” are virtually the “English” in cultural terms. France and Germany are a long way off in cultural terms – they don’t even speak the same language. and if you think Ireland were dominated by the English in numbers try balancing out against 300 million plus in the EU.

    As for wars the Republic would be speaking German now if the UK hadn’t defended the island of Ireland in WWII

  • Jim Woods

    As it stands its the EU (Ireland) that are driving towards a hard border. The UK would be more than happy to have a completely free trade border and more than happy for an all Ireland arrangement for travel.

    The EU want to have border and custom controls – so the border posts will be built by the Republic side. What they dont want is a free border with no economic impact to the UK or Ireland. If that was to happen the EU masters would have a long list of countries queuing up to leave.

    ie the EU are more than prepared to shaft the Republic to ram it up the UK. How would the UK or Ireland loose out with completely free trade. Are you happy the Republic cuts off its own nose to please the EU masters

  • Jim Woods

    We getting into history now….. And its the UK we are talking about not England.

  • Jim Woods

    I don’t have a problem with a Union in the whole of the British isles it does make sense. Were the actual administration building is sited doesnt really matter.

    At least we are agreed in principle to the whole of the islands amalgamating.

  • Neville Bagnall

    Potentially bad for NI/GB trade. Why not agree UK-ROI zero tariff schedules ahead of the main trade round? The overall EU schedules could be achieved later.

    Ireland will not apply different tariffs or rules to the rest of the EU. To do so would exclude them from one or more of the EU Customs Union, EEA or EU. If the UK wants to apply zero tariffs and no trade barriers to Irish goods, they will be applying them to the whole EU.

    If the UK leaves the EEA and/or the CU there will be a border. Either Land or Port.

    How disruptive it is depends on how much trade freedom with the rest of the world the UK wants.

    Right now NI has a Port border with GB, (epidemiological).

    It can:
    – add a Hard Land Border (NI stays in UK Single Market)
    – add a Soft Land Border and harden the Port Border somewhat (NI leaves both UK and EU single markets and joins EFTA on Swiss model, concludes compatible FTA with GB)
    – Fully harden the Port Border (NI leaves UK single Market and joins EFTA on Norway+ Model – it joins the EU Customs Union, but retains ability to conclude a compatible and unbalanced FTA with GB giving NI exporters barrier free access to GB market, subject to rules of origin and possibly quotas)

  • sparrow

    The UK isn’t in a position to guarantee frictionless borders. No tariffs on EU products post Brexit would break WTO rules and how does one police tariffs without border controls? This business therefore of the republic being forced to put up border controls while the UK operates an open door policy is just so much nonsense.

  • NotNowJohnny

    You are completely incorrect. Ireland has consistently said that it wants Northern Ireland to remain in the SM and Customs Union. Preferably for the UK as a whole to stay within the SM and Customs Union but failing that, definitely for NI to remain in the SM and CU. This is the way to avoid a hard border and Ireland is therefore pressing for this outcome. I’m not sure where you are getting your information from. The DUP press office?

  • Accountant

    Why can’t UK banking regulations apply to NI banks, if NI remains in Single Market ? 95% of banking regs are the same across EU, incl. UK. UK is likely to follow all non-bonkers EU regs as it tries to keep equivalence.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    I don’t agree to the principle Jim. I don’t think being tied up to one single nation that is ten times larger is beneficial for Ireland. We’ve been down that road before (against our will) and it was nothing short of an horrific experience. Like I say, Maybe Britain should hook up with France, there’s a huge amount of shared history and the two sovereign states are of a similar size – a far more healthy arrangement.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Jim, the arrangement you propose won’t work because it will get dominated by the single largest member. There is no balance. History has shown us this arrangement doesn’t work. In cultural terms, despite speaking the same language, I think the Irish and English are chalk and cheese – very different peoples. The English are very similar to the Germans, if anything.

    The EU has Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium etc. all similar sized sovereign nations to Ireland with many cultural and economic connections. Partnership with a many similar sized countries is far superior experience and Ireland has never been as prosperous.

  • Georgie Best

    What difference would it make to speak one foreign Saxon language rather than another one?

  • Georgie Best

    Preferisco parlare in Italiano, la bella lingua.

  • Georgie Best

    Not the largest, possibly the noisiest.

  • Tochais Siorai

    If they saw Jeffrey Donaldson on TV tonight giving the most pathetic performance on Brexit it would be even higher. He was absolutely torn apart by Lucinda Creighton and a woman from the road hauliers association. The panel couldn’t keep a straight face.

    Car crash TV. I sort of felt sorry for him.

    Ah no, I didn’t.

  • Georgie Best

    How dare Lucinda Creighton tear strips off him and him a Sir and all, and with a mandate, unlike her. And what is a lorry driver doing in same room as a man that was once Enoch Powell’s right hand man.

  • Georgie Best

    Rumours in the Guardian and Times of movement, agriculture to be devolved to NI and remain harmonised with EU.
    Its a start, new All Ireland bodies will be needed, and there will be tricky issues in there.

  • Sam Brown

    The leave voters in Northern Ireland were promised by Boris & co there would be no return of any borders. Had the truth been told at that stage, be assured the vote leave may have been considerably less popular among unionists. And even I suspect with the rest of the uk. On top of that add the more lies about £350 millions per week for the NHS.
    I would totally support a referendum in the north for a customs union with Europe. It would get my support.

  • Sam Brown

    Corbyn is a Trotskyite with an agenda yet to be brought into daylight.

  • Roger

    95%…are the same. Indeed. Today. But when UK is no longer in the EU, there will be divergence. The UK says it won’t submit to ECJ jurisdiction. That, alone, is major divergence. UK will be out. That’s divergence. Divergence will grow over time too. But being out, ipso facto, is divergence. Majorly so.