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EU Referendum: Growing support in Northern Ireland for Brexit but balance of power lies with the undecided

With just days left until UK voters go to the polls to decide whether to remain in, or exit the EU, our exclusive survey reveals the gap is narrowing between the two campaigns

By Yvette Shapiro

Published 20/06/2016

An exclusive poll for the Belfast Telegraph reveals that a majority of Protestants are now in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, while Catholics are overwhelmingly intending to opt for Remain when they make their choice this Thursday
An exclusive poll for the Belfast Telegraph reveals that a majority of Protestants are now in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, while Catholics are overwhelmingly intending to opt for Remain when they make their choice this Thursday

Support for Brexit is growing in Northern Ireland as the EU Referendum campaign enters its final days.

It's also increasingly clear that those who are still undecided will hold the balance in this crucial vote.

An exclusive poll for the Belfast Telegraph reveals that a majority of Protestants are now in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, while Catholics are overwhelmingly intending to opt for Remain when they make their choice this Thursday.

The Ipsos Mori survey of more than a thousand people from across Northern Ireland shows a hardening of the Leave position among both men and women, voters young and old, and those from all social backgrounds.

This trend is in line with several recent UK polls, some of which have put the Brexit side ahead.

But while the gap is narrowing between the Remain and Leave camps, overall most people here are still in favour of Britain staying in the EU.

The poll indicates 37% of all respondents want to Remain, down from 44% in March. And there was a 6% increase in the number of people across both communities who believe that the UK would fare better out of the EU, up from 20% to 26% in the past two months.

The director of the Leave campaign in Northern Ireland, Lee Reynolds, said: "This fits the national pattern and it's clear that Vote Leave has the momentum to win.

"When people hear the case for Leave they respond to it. We've done our best to make the positive case for Leave but we have undoubtedly been helped by the poor and negative campaigning of the In camp."

Both sets of campaigners will be working hard over the next three days to win the support of the large number of undecided voters: 37% of people say they don't know if Britain would be stronger or weaker outside the EU, or they haven't made up their minds yet.

Northern Ireland's biggest political party, the DUP, has been campaigning strongly for Brexit and it appears that Unionist voters have heeded the message: 38% of Protestants surveyed believe that the UK would be stronger out of the EU - a 10% increase on the last poll, while 27% favour the Remain position, a drop of 7%, and 36% are still undecided.

Nationalist support for staying in the EU has fallen since the last survey, down from 56% to 49%. But Catholics are still strongly in favour of Europe, with just 12% opting for the Leave argument.

However, more say they are undecided or don't know, up from 27% to 38%, perhaps reflecting the levels of confusion caused by the strident claims and counter-claims of campaigners on both sides.

The survey shows that men are more likely to be Eurosceptic than women and that attitude has hardened in recent weeks. There's been an 8% drop in the number of men favouring the Remain position. And more women have moved into the Leave camp, up from 17% to 24%.

In the last survey, half of 16-34 year-olds were in favour of the EU - that's dropped to 36%. And there's been a 10% rise in the number of over 55s in favour of Brexit, up from 21% to 31%.

Businessman Tom Kelly, director of the Northern Ireland Stronger In Europe campaign, said the increase in support for a Brexit, as indicated by the poll, was not surprising, but he was still confident of a Remain victory.

"I still believe that we will have a very strong Remain vote in Northern Ireland," he said. "I'm convinced that the hardening of the Brexit position is a lot to do with the DUP's dominance. It's not long since the Assembly election and they are still carrying unionist opinion with them. There's been some haemorrhaging of support among Catholics, but not significantly. Ultimately, the majority of people on a cross-community basis will support Remain."

Turnout in the EU Referendum is expected to be higher than in the Assembly and Westminster elections - 68% of people say they intend to vote on Thursday, up from 65% in March.

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