Most people in Northern Ireland now view protocol positively

Rising number see protocol as providing NI with a ‘unique set of economic opportunities’

A majority of people in the North now view the Northern Ireland protocol as positive, according to a poll conducted for a research project at Queen's University Belfast.

According to the latest study, published on Thursday, 52 per cent of respondents agreed the protocol was, on balance, "a good thing" for Northern Ireland, compared with 43 per cent in a similar survey in June.

The percentage of respondents who agreed the protocol provided Northern Ireland with a “unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities” that could be beneficial also rose to 62 per cent compared with 57 in June.

"Majority opinion in Northern Ireland appears to be becoming more accepting and indeed more supportive of the protocol, although many voters remain concerned about the impact Brexit and the protocol are having on Northern Ireland," said one of the authors of the report, Prof David Phinnemore.


“Immediate priority concerns relate to the future availability of medicines and increased paperwork for and restrictions on bringing goods into Northern Ireland from Britain,” he said.

The emphasis of the UK government on the removal of the European Court of Justice from the protocol as an “over-riding priority” was “not a priority concern of voters in Northern Ireland”, Prof Phinnemore said.

“What matters more are practical issues and addressing the political instability resulting from Brexit and responses to the protocol.”

Third report

The research is contained in the report Testing the Temperature III: What do voters in Northern Ireland think about the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland? by Prof Phinnemore, Prof Katy Hayward and research fellow Lisa Whitten at Queen's University Belfast.

It is the third in a series of reports produced as part of a three-year research project on governance for A Place Between: The Multilevel Dynamics of Implementing the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland.

The data was based on a survey carried out at the start of October using the online LucidTalk Northern Ireland Opinion Panel, with results based on “a weighted sample of 2,682 voters across Northern Ireland who take an interest in current affairs and politics, and who are likely to exercise their right to vote”.

The Northern Ireland protocol, part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland by placing a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea, which is opposed by many unionists.

The report’s authors found the results revealed current opinion on Brexit and the protocol “remains divided and generally consistent with” the two previous Testing the Temperature reports, in March and June, and “concerns persist” about the impact of Brexit and the protocol on Northern Ireland.

However, they said there had been some “noticeable shifts in opinion, especially regarding how the protocol is viewed.”

Distrust of government

Most participants – 53 per cent – now agree or strongly agree the protocol provides an “appropriate means for managing the effects of Brexit for Northern Ireland, compared with 46 per cent in June. A total of 53 per cent also disagree that the UK would be justified in triggering article 16.

The report also found continuing high levels of distrust of those involved in managing the protocol in Northern Ireland, particularly regarding the UK government, with 87 per cent saying they distrusted its ability to manage Northern Ireland’s interests regarding the protocol.

The only group that was trusted by a majority – 54 per cent – were Northern Ireland representatives.

Prof Hayward said that given the current talks between the UK and EU over the protocol, the survey was “an important indication of the views and concerns of the people in Northern Ireland”.

“The UK and the EU have a crucial opportunity now to restore trust and confidence across communities in NI, as well as to address the issues that have arisen since the end of the transition period that matter most to people here.”

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times