Unionists’ concerns about protocol overplayed – study

Posted By: November 05, 2021


John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, November 5, 2021.

Unionists’ concerns about the protocol have been exaggerated by their political representatives, according to research published today.

A University of Liverpool-commissioned survey finds that the post-Brexit trade arrangements are regarded as a priority by one in eight (12.6 percent) of those in The North who wish to remain in the UK.

Unionists instead ranked health, Covid recovery, and the economy (59.8 percent) as what mattered most.

The Unionist community would also be opposed to their political leaders walking away from the Stormont institutions, with just 9.6 percent advocating their collapse over the protocol.

Conversely, almost two-thirds of all respondents (65 percent) believed that The Assembly and Executive should remain in place until May next year when its mandate ends.

The research also confirms the trend in previous opinions polls showing a drop-off in support for the DUP, though its authors conclude the “fortunes of the DUP are not as meager as assumed”.

The survey reflects a fall in DUP votes of up to one-third based on the 2017 and 2019 general elections, leaving Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s party with a 20.6 percent vote share.

Sinn Féin, meanwhile, would supersede the DUP as Stormont’s largest party based on the data, but with 23 percent of the vote, a fall of 4.4 percentage points.

The SDLP and UUP remain roughly within the same share of intended first preference votes, while the survey indicates projected growth for Alliance, the TUV and Greens compared to 2017 – with Alliance doubling their vote to 17.3 percent and becoming the north’s third-largest party.

Elsewhere, the research highlights praise for the north’s business community, with more than three-quarters of those surveyed agreeing that the sector’s leaders adopted a pragmatic approach to resolving issues around the protocol.

Prof Peter Shirlow, director of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liver-

pool, said: “We find evidence of inter-community consensus, with consent achievable when negotiations/discussions explore – and more importantly – offer alternative practical resolutions.

“It is evident that respondents seek proportionality in north-south and east-west trade relationships.

“There is no evidence here of mass rejection, even among Unionists, of the mitigations/easements advanced by the EU. Similarly, there is no nationalist/republican rejection of key UK government proposals – this is not what is assumed within media and political commentary.”

Prof Shirlow said the survey confirmed that “complex issues cannot be reduced to sound bites, tweets and headlines”.

“The inter-community consensus located within this report is a point of renewal for ongoing mitigations, and confirmation that resolution will further develop that societal consensus and social cohesion,” he said.