Irish Times view on Brexit poll: room for compromise

Public not as hung up on Border issue as might have been expected

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s warning that the UK withdrawal agreement from the European Union will not proceed unless there is progress in the Brexit talks by next month shows how high the stakes have now become.

The Taoiseach tempered his tough line by saying that if the UK wants to put forward an alternative text on the Irish backstop, or the future relationship between the UK and the EU, the Irish side would be willing to examine it. However, he went on to say that British alternatives would have to be written down in black and white and be workable and legally operable. Unfortunately nothing remotely approaching that has been put forward to date.

The continuing disarray in the British cabinet and the uncertainty surrounding the position Prime Minister Theresa May will ultimately adopt means that the Irish side has to be prepared for every eventuality ahead of the Brussels summit.

The latest Ipsos MRBI Irish Times opinion poll indicates that Varadkar has some leeway in how he handles the Brussels summit with a sizeable segment of the electorate believing the Government should allow the Brexit talks to proceed even if there is no progress on the Border issue.

Given the hard line taken by the Government and the EU negotiators about the need for a deal on the Border backstop before the talks can continue, the poll indicates that the public will understand if the issue has to be fudged in some way to avoid a break-down.

Asked whether the Government should insist on halting negotiations if there is no progress on the Border issue, 40 per cent say it should but 41 per cent say the negotiations should be allowed to continue regardless.

Overall a majority of people who expressed a view think the Government is doing a good job in the Brexit negotiations and among middle class voters, who form the bedrock of Fine Gael support, that majority is substantial.

The public is not as hung up on the Border issue as might have been expected given the unremitting focus of the Government and the EU negotiators on it for the past year. Although 45 per cent of people think it is the most important issue for Ireland in the negotiations, 42 per cent think there are more important Brexit issues. The best off AB voters are most inclined to think the border is not the most important issue. As to what they believe the outcome will be, 42 per cent think it will be a soft border while 32 per cent think it will be a hard border.

Overall the poll indicates that the bulk of the electorate has a realistic appreciation of what can be achieved by the time of the Brussels summit. It means Varadkar and his Ministers will have the political space to compromise if they deem that to be in the State’s best interests.

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