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Brexit poll saying majority backs Irish Sea border rejected by DUP

By Jenna Gardiner

A DUP MP has rejected the findings of a poll which revealed that almost three out of five voters in Northern Ireland would prefer a border down the Irish Sea to a hard Brexit.

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the idea that more people here would rather remain closely aligned with the EU than the UK is in no way reflective of the community he represents.

The survey carried out by Belfast-based polling and market research company LucidTalk asked people how they would vote in a referendum proposing that Northern Ireland (but not Great Britain) remained aligned to the European Union, "perhaps staying in the single market and the customs union".

Some 58.4% of respondents said they would vote in favour of "a border in the Irish Sea" and would rather Northern Ireland remained more closely aligned with the EU than Great Britain.

Some 39.5% said they would reject the compromise, while 2.1% said they did not know.

Within the response, unionist voters were largely opposed to the prospect of breaking away from the United Kingdom in favour of the EU, with some 94% of Democratic Unionists and 69% of Ulster Unionists rejecting the idea.

However, Sir Jeffrey questioned the level of support for staying aligned with the EU indicated by the LucidTalk poll, saying it contrasts with the views of his constituents in Lagan Valley.

"These polls by LucidTalk I don't think accurately reflect opinion," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"Their polling methods are not reflective of the wider community, especially on the unionist side.

"In contrast to the panel of people that they poll, the people that I talk to in my own constituency do not share that view at all.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

"A clear majority of them would not support Northern Ireland being separated from the UK."

As the UK hurtles towards its exit from the European Union, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said will go ahead with or without a deal on October 31, experts have warned that at least 40,000 jobs could be at risk in Northern Ireland if an agreement is not reached.

Sir Jeffrey said the survey has no bearing on his party's position of opposing the backstop and protecting links with the United Kingdom.

Martina Anderson
Martina Anderson

"We believe that it is not in Northern Ireland's best interests, economically or in any other way, to be torn away from Great Britain," he continued.

He said the UK is one of the largest economies in the world.

"We export far more goods to Great Britain than we do to the rest of the world, including the EU combined, so I don't think it is a credible or rational approach that we should create barriers between ourselves and what is by far our biggest market." However, nationalist politicians said the poll is an accurate reflection of public opinion in Northern Ireland and comes as no surprise.

An overwhelming number of nationalists opted for closer alignment with the EU, with 98% of Sinn Fein and SDLP voters who responded to the poll backing the Northern Ireland only backstop.

Sinn Fein MEP Martina Anderson said the survey reinforces her view that more people would prefer a united Ireland as a means to staying within the EU than a potentially catastrophic crash-out.

"Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that the majority are in support of a pathway back into the EU," she said.

"I think we need to acknowledge that the vast majority of people in the north voted against Brexit.

"If faced with the choice, they would prefer an enhanced border in the Irish Sea."

Ms Anderson added: "If unionists are surprised, they don't have their finger on the pulse of the people that they represent," she said.

"The majority of the people quite clearly don't want to see a hardened border."

Also responding to the survey, SDLP Brexit spokesperson Daniel McCrossan said his only surprise is that the number of people who favour a border in the Irish Sea over a potential hard Brexit is not higher.

"Brexit has been an absolute calamity which looks about to end in a disastrous no-deal," the West Tyrone MLA said.

"This will be bad for business, trade and commerce.

"It will especially hit people hard along the border.

"A united Ireland has become a reality for many now and not just an aspiration.

"It should be no surprise to anyone that a further majority wants to avoid a hard border on this island that would interrupt integrated supply chains, damage our economy and bring hardship to border communities.

"It's sadly also no surprise that the DUP continues to ignore the wishes of most people.

"The Tory-DUP Government at Westminster has no mandate for a no-deal exit."

The majority of middle ground voters also supported the compromise, with 89% of Alliance voters and 86% Green Party voters backing the proposition.

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