There has been a "notable shift" in the North towards greater acceptance of the Northern Ireland protocol, according to a study published on Thursday.
Researchers at Queen's University, Belfast (QUB) said this was "particularly evident" in opinion on the economic impact of the protocol, with 48 per cent of those surveyed regarding it as having a positive effect and 43 per cent seeing it as a negative.
A total of 63 per cent agreed the protocol provided Northern Ireland with “a unique set of post-Brexit economic opportunities compared to the rest of the UK”, with 26 per cent disagreeing.
However, almost two-thirds of respondents - 64 per cent - indicated that they saw the UK and EU’s failure to reach a solution to the outstanding issues regarding the protocol as putting peace and stability at risk.
The survey is part of a three-year project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC), which studies voter attitudes to a range of issues relating to Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and their implications for Northern Ireland.
The poll was undertaken between February 4th and 7th and uses the Northern Ireland Online Opinion Panel, with results are from a weighted sample of 1,516 respondents regarded as being representative of the Northern Ireland voting population by age, area of residence and community.
Unionists in Northern Ireland are opposed to the protocol - part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement - which they say causes economic hardship and undermines Northern Ireland’s constitutional position as an integral part of the UK.
A rally against the Northern Ireland protocol was due to take place in an Orange hall in Portadown, Co Armagh, last night (Wednesday), with the Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister expected to condemn the protocol as a "constitutional outrage" that "no unionist could ever come to terms with."
The survey demonstrates that attitudes to the protocol remain deeply divided, with 51 per cent regarding it as the appropriate means for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland. Half - 50 per cent - saw the protocol as overall “a good thing for Northern Ireland”, but 40 per cent disagreed.
In the Assembly election in May, 43 per cent of respondents said they would vote for candidates who favoured the full application of the protocol, with 37 per cent saying they would vote for candidates who opposed it.
More respondents - 44 per cent - ranked the protocol among the three issues of least concern to them, but 32 per cent said it was among the three issues of most concern.
The project's principal investigator, Prof David Phinnemore, said that "whilst opinion in Northern Ireland appears to be becoming more accepting of the protocol and a growing proportion view its effects as positive, it is clear that there remain high levels of concern relating to the protocol and its negative impacts, especially relating to political stability".
“Looking ahead, when it comes to any ‘protocol solutions’, the building of trust and confidence across communities in Northern Ireland remains key for the UK, the EU and local politicians,” he said.
“Part of this will be addressing the issues that matter most to people here, such as medicines supply and NI having an effective ‘voice’ in the governance of the protocol.”