If two polls out today are to be believed, pressure for an early border poll will recede and unionists fearing the worst, will heave sighs of relief For nationalists, while much hinges on the economic consequences of Brexit, majority opinion among them in favour of unity hasn’t solidified, despite the UK government’s confused approach to Brexit and the border.
Two separate polls have found no evidence that Brexit has yet caused a radical shift in public opinion which would make a referendum on a united Ireland remotely winnable.
In findings which have added significance because of the prime minister’s reported suggestion to Tory MPs last week that she was not confident a border poll would definitely be won by unionism, an Ipsos MORI poll for academics found that just 21.1% of people in Northern Ireland would vote for Irish unity after the UK leaves the EU.
Just 42.6% of Catholics favouring that option – although a large percentage, 26%, were undecided.
The poll, commissioned by academics at Queen’s University Belfast for a major piece of research examining how Brexit is shaping political opinion in Northern Ireland, found that not even half of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland.
That’s the Newsletter’s spin. It certainly appears to show that even if there may have been some shift, “tectonic plates” aren’t moving among unionists in favour of considering unity as a result of Brexit. Nationalist opinion seems to have stiffened but short of a majority. The results suggest that Sinn Fein’s pressure for a border poll is at least premature.
Adds But as Alex Kane has noticed, 50.3% for the Union overall is a narrow squeak indeed, explained mainly presumably by narrowing demographics.
The case made by Owen Paterson and Sammy Wilson (below) shows how closely the fate of the Union is bound up with the outcomes of Brexit. Despite the overall volatility of nationalist opinion, evidence that a majority of nationalists would not oppose ” cameras on the border” is another factor that will boost DUP and unionist morale generally.
And a second poll, commissioned by think tank Policy Exchange ahead of a major conference in London today examining the future of the Union, found that a clear majority of people across the UK are in favour of the Union in its current form.
There was 68% support in England, 52% in Scotland, 66% in Wales and 59% in Northern Ireland.
However, the research found concern across all nations – particularly in Northern Ireland – about the impact of Brexit on the Union.
Fifty-eight pc of people in England, 59% in Scotland, 54% in Wales and 60% in Northern Ireland believe that Brexit has made the break up of the UK more likely.
Caution is needed towards the poll for Policy Exchange as the NI sample was only 500. But it’s no surprise that it shows how closely nationalist opinion in particular is linked to the consequences of Brexit.
Some 61% of the population – with almost identical levels of support among both Protestants and Catholics – are in favour of the UK as a whole remaining in the customs union and single market.
People were asked “when the UK leaves the EU, if there was a referendum in Northern Ireland asking people whether they want Northern Ireland to remain in the United Kingdom or to reunify with the rest of Ireland, how would you vote in that referendum?”
The poll also showed the strong conditionality of Catholic support for a united Ireland.
If Irish unity led to Catholic voters being £3,500 a year worse off, just 22% of Catholics would vote for unity, yet if it led to them being £3,500 better off that figure would more than double to over 54%.
The research also demonstrated how in the minds of many Catholic voters the UK’s decision on the EU is directly linked to the issue of a united Ireland.
Just 28% of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland if the UK changed its mind and remained in the EU while 53% of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland if there was a ‘hard’ Brexit, the poll found
If technological solutions can contribute to keeping the post-Brexit border largely as it is, the survey suggests that most Catholics would be prepared to accept that.
Just 20% of Catholics said that border cameras would be “almost impossible to accept”.
Adds But James Blitz in the FT draws the exact opposite conclusion
Could the people of Northern Ireland ever tolerate the reappearance of border infrastructure between themselves and the Irish Republic? Judging by an opinion poll published, many would find it very hard indeed. The poll, conducted by Queen’s University Belfast and backed by the think-tank The UK in a Changing Europe, shows “substantial and intense opposition” to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. According to the data, one in five Catholics in Northern Ireland finds the possible use of cameras at the North-South border “almost impossible to accept”. Almost one in 10 Catholics (9 per cent) would support cameras being vandalised.
Long memories of direct action in the Troubles may finds this quite a mild response and agree more with the Newsletter’s interpretation. And there is a confusing ambiguity about “checks” and “cameras”. Checks imply stopping, whereas cameras suggest continuous journey for some unspecified check almost anywhere like a depot, or simply in a trusted traders’ log.
The people in Northern Ireland would vote more strongly to remain in the European Union if another Brexit referendum was held, a new study suggests.
A total of 69 per cent would favour remaining if there was another vote compared to the 56 per cent who voted to stay in the union in June 2016, the survey by the UK in a Changing Europe project found.
Catholic respondents were much more likely to support a united Ireland if there was a “hard exit” in which the UK left the customs union and single market.
Some 28 per cent of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland if the UK changed its mind and remained in the EU while 53 per cent of Catholics would vote for a united Ireland if there was a hard exit in which the UK left the customs union and single market.
Sammy Wilson of the DUP and the former secretary of state Owen Paterson have formed a Brexit alliance in the Daily Telegraph to play down the problems of the border and repeat the claims that by exaggerating the difficulties it’s Dublin and the EU that are violating the GFA.
Were there signs of majority opposition to the Union, Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley would be required by law to call a border poll. As there are none, she has confirmed that she will not be doing so. Indeed, the Union is markedly more popular in Northern Ireland than it is in Scotland.
It is a myth to say a border poll needs calling, let alone that it is in danger of being lost, least of all “because of Brexit”. The most successful Union in history endures but, unfortunately, so do many other myths about Brexit and the border, and it would be useful to deal with them, too.
Smaller traders can be dealt with flexibly, and government can improve its game. “Authorised Economic Operators” are the best way to guarantee frictionless trade. Germany has 6,000 of them, we have 600. The idea that issues cannot be solved is demonstrably untrue. Niall Cody, head of the Irish Revenue, has been clear that vintage border posts from a Tintin illustration aren’t needed – points repeated by Lars Karlsson, ex-director of the World Customs Organisation, for the EU’s report into this, and by the head of our own HMRC. There are no insurmountable technological problems, only, thus far, political ones. Not one new, untried technology is required to make this work.
Unionists have every right to expect that what’s in the Agreement is honoured, rather than fantasies about it being cynically and recklessly exploited by Remainers.
The Prime Minister is right in wanting to deliver a Brexit that works for the entire country. It should also work for our friends in the Republic. This will be done by a deal. We want one; we hope they do, too.
“Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” by “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’” is licensed under “Brexit: ‘The DUP’s hardline policies could be the quickest road to a united Ireland’“
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London