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EU poll results interesting but voters still confused

By Jeffrey Peel

Published 27/05/2016

Jeffrey Peel
Jeffrey Peel

The Belfast Telegraph poll results are especially interesting because they provide some insight into why people who think the UK would be stronger outside the EU think that way. This is information that hasn't been that readily available until now.

For those of us who have been arguing that the EU represents waste and a lack of democracy, those messages seem to be readily understood by those who would prefer to see us out of the EU. Overbearing regulations and the costs of membership are the most common reasons why people think we should give the EU a big E.

The problem for the 'leave' side, of course, is that not enough people in Northern Ireland are of that view.

I recently attended a debate in Newry, organised by a local accounting firm. I was the only pro-leave speaker on a panel of four. The audience - of around 60 - was totally pro-remain.

The main objection to leaving, it seemed, was that the EU represented something other than the UK. There seemed to be solidarity in Europeanism. The panellists and audience seemed to like the EU's peace-building funds and cross-border initiatives.

Leavers consider these things to be trinkets - little sweeteners to encourage European solidarity.

But remainers also believe - wrongly - that leaving the EU would present a barrier to trade: as if EU membership was a prerequisite to doing business (which it clearly isn't). I know of no other trading club that requires a weekly subscription of £350m.

The poll numbers show that this folly of paying to trade is widely understood by pro-leavers.

However, it's a message that's not making its way to most of the voting public. And some may not even want to hear it.

The Belfast Telegraph poll also confirms what many suspect - that local politicians are not seen to be that useful to the debate. In fact, to be fair, not even the main national protagonists for remain or leave (like David Cameron and Boris Johnson) were deemed to be that important.

Some 47% of respondents (by far the largest sub-group) considered no politician to have sufficient gravitas to persuade them. Presumably this means that people are happy to absorb the media and reach their own conclusions.

The pity is that only around two-thirds of the electorate (according to this poll) plan to actually vote in the referendum. Wealthier social grades, it would appear, are more likely to turn out. This may advantage the remain side.

As for north/south relations, there is a fairly sizeable group that believes that border controls or checkpoints may be reinstated. Despite the fact that such controls or checkpoints have never really existed, except during the war and during the worst years of the Troubles, around a quarter of respondents think they might be reinstated should the UK leave the EU.

They won't, by the way: the common travel agreement was ratified and strengthened in 2011 in a bilateral arrangement between the UK and Irish governments, independent of the EU.

So, in summary, the results are interesting but voters are still confused and somewhat badly briefed.

Jeffrey Peel is managing director of Quadriga Consulting and chairman of Business for Britain in Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

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