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EU poll: Politicians hold little sway with public

Day Two of our exclusive survey on EU referendum signals that the majority of people intend voting on June 23, but don't particularly like being told which way

By Yvette Shapiro

Published 27/05/2016

Two-thirds of people in Northern Ireland are set to vote in next month's EU referendum - a significant increase in turnout on recent elections.

In an exclusive poll for the Belfast Telegraph, 65% of the electorate said they were going to vote.

Pro-Brexit Businessman Irwin Armstrong
Pro-Brexit Businessman Irwin Armstrong

Our main political parties are divided on the issue, with the DUP campaigning for a Brexit and its Executive partners Sinn Fein pushing for the region to vote Remain.

Almost half of those questioned said that politicians had no influence over their thinking on the referendum.

However, nearly a fifth said they had been swayed by DUP leader Arlene Foster.

For Martin McGuinness the figure was 14% - the same proportion who found Prime Minister David Cameron's arguments the most persuasive.

Leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson and pro-EU Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn each have the ear of 8%.

But Mike Nesbitt, Colum Eastwood and David Ford - the leaders of the Assembly's smaller parties - have very little influence on the issue, with just 5% following their views.

The results of our poll also showed that the public here was 2-1 in favour of remaining part of the European Union.

As the campaign enters its final phase, with just under four weeks to go until polling day on June 23, the Brexit camp is pulling out all the stops to get its message across.

Our poll found that 44% of respondents want the UK to remain in the EU, while 20% believe it should leave.

But with more than a third still undecided, the Leave camp still has all to play for.

The Belfast Telegraph's survey of more than a 1,000 people, carried out by Ipsos MORI, revealed that the opportunity to cut back on Brussels red tape and scrap regulations were the main reasons for people seeking to withdraw from the EU.

More than a third of respondents said a Brexit would lead to less bureaucracy and fewer "overbearing regulations".

Older people felt most strongly about this, with 44% saying it was a key factor.

Almost half of respondents in Belfast put it as a top priority, and it was also important to people in counties Antrim and Londonderry.

Pro-Brexit businessman Irwin Armstrong, whose Ballymena-based company Ciga Healthcare exports medical testing kits to the US, the Far and Middle East and Africa, said he preferred to do business anywhere but Europe.

"As far as the pharmacy sector is concerned, the EU issues directives to 28 member states and they each interpret them as they wish, making it almost impossible for smaller companies to trade successfully in Europe," he added. "The business environment there is anti-competitive and protectionist, and Brussels does nothing to improve that."

The cost of EU membership was the second most important factor for pro-Leave voters.

The UK's annual contribution to the EU is around £14.5bn, with Northern Ireland's proportion costing around £375m. However, the region receives approximately £492m a year from Brussels in EU funding, making it a net recipient. Across Northern Ireland, 30% of those surveyed said the removal of the UK's overall contribution to the cost of running the EU was the most pressing issue, and more than half of respondents in Co Antrim put it at the top of their list.

The Europe-wide migrant crisis and large-scale immigration to the UK also influenced how people intend to vote, with 28% saying a decision to leave would result in fewer open borders and less immigration.

The strongest response on this came from Co Down, where 53% of pro-Leave voters said it was most important. It mattered least to those in Co Armagh and Belfast city.

Across the age groups, it was 35 to 54-year-olds who felt this was a key point.

In Co Antrim, the chance to "preserve the integrity of the UK" was the top priority for more than a third of pro-Brexit respondents.

The lowest support for this came from Co Derry, where just 3% of people put it first on their list of concerns.

The Belfast Telegraph commissioned Ipsos MORI to undertake a survey of the population to gauge views on the European Union. Some 1,012 interviews were conducted with a representative sample of the population

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