Irish Times poll: DUP at odds with its base over Brexit approach

Irish Times poll shows cross-community support in North for softest of soft exits from EU

One of the striking things about today's Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll findings is the degree to which views in Northern Ireland on Brexit and the political management of it at Westminster cross the community divide.

It is not, for example, surprising that a strong majority (85 per cent) of voters from a Catholic background disapprove of the way Theresa May’s government is running the UK. But what is striking is that 72 per cent of voters from a Protestant background agree.

This shared view – consensus is perhaps too strong a word – extends across several of the questions about their political leaders and Brexit options that Northern voters were asked in today’s poll.

Asked if they believed that DUP MPs – who are allied with Conservative hard Brexiteer MPs – were “doing a good job or a bad job representing Northern Ireland at Westminster”, a whopping two-thirds of voters (67 per cent) said they were doing a bad job. Among voters from a Catholic background, the number was 83 per cent. But among those from a Protestant background, it was still an absolute majority – 52 per cent, against 34 per cent who said they were doing a good job.


On Arlene Foster’s performance, 82 per cent of voters from a Catholic background said they were dissatisfied with her performance; but so did 57 per cent of voters from a Protestant background.

There is – by Northern Ireland standards, at any rate – a high degree of cross-community agreement on Brexit: Northern Ireland is united (more or less) in preferring the softest of soft Brexits.

Asked if they wanted all of the UK to stay in the EU single market and customs union to ensure no hard border and no checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, two-thirds – 67 per cent – of voters agree, against just 17 per cent who disagree.

Broken down by community background, 52 per cent of those from a Protestant background agree, 81 per cent from a Catholic background agree, 83 per cent of those from another background and 65 per cent of those who gave no background also agreed.

In the case of a hard Brexit, more Northern voters prefer checks on goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, than favour checks on the border.

Asked if they want Northern Ireland to leave on the same terms as the rest of the UK even if it meant checks on the border, almost half of voters (48 per cent) disagree, with 35 per cent agreeing.

But asked if they want special arrangements for Northern Ireland to avoid border checks – even if it means checks on goods moving to the UK – 60 per cent of respondents agree, with 21 per cent disagreeing.


Inevitably, there are some complications and contradictions in people’s views: that’s hardly surprising. Some 54 per cent of voters from a Protestant background want to leave on the same terms as the rest of the UK, even if this means border checks, while 51 per cent say they prefer checks between Northern Ireland and the UK over checks on the border.

However, taken across the range of questions, it seems clear that the strong desire of people in Northern Ireland, evident in both communities, is for a soft Brexit, with no hard border, no checks on goods and the minimum of disruption.

Translate this into politics: it’s clear from today’s numbers that the Brexit line being pursued by the DUP is significantly at odds not just with the Northern Irish electorate as a whole, but it is also at odds with the views of the Protestant and unionist communities from which the party draws its support.

Among those communities, it’s clear that that many of them are okay with the idea that some east-west trade friction is consistent with remaining in the UK. Voters from a Protestant background are entirely committed to remaining in the UK – and in favour of a soft Brexit. And in the event of a hard Brexit, they favour avoiding friction on the border with the Republic.

Another way of putting this: Brexit is about Brexit, not about unionism vs nationalism.

It’s not, of course, clear if that knowledge will prompt any rethink among the DUP’s leadership. But no politician wants to cut himself, or herself off from their base.