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Crisis of confidence: Government has a lot to do to win back our trust

David Phinnemore and Katy Hayward



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The opportunity existed for the UK Government to avoid many of the formalities, checks and controls on the movement of goods from GB to Northern Ireland through the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement it negotiated in 2020; it chose not to follow that course

The opportunity existed for the UK Government to avoid many of the formalities, checks and controls on the movement of goods from GB to Northern Ireland through the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement it negotiated in 2020; it chose not to follow that course

PA

The opportunity existed for the UK Government to avoid many of the formalities, checks and controls on the movement of goods from GB to Northern Ireland through the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement it negotiated in 2020; it chose not to follow that course

Brexit continues to divide opinion across Northern Ireland. But what voters have in common is a concern about its effects, particularly when it comes to the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland signed off as part of the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement.

This is clear from the findings of a survey of voters' views on the Protocol conducted as part of a research project we are running on the topic.

More than 70% of the 2,100-plus respondents to our poll - via LucidTalk's online Opinion Panel - are concerned about what the Protocol means for the economy, the cost of certain products, and political stability in Northern Ireland.

Clearly, the management of the Protocol is a major challenge in and of itself. It is made even more difficult by the lack of trust that Northern Ireland voters have in those responsible for managing it. According to our poll, a staggering 86% of respondents do not trust the UK Government to manage the interests of Northern Ireland when it comes to the Protocol.

The emergence of the Irish Sea border is, after all, a consequence of what the UK Government has agreed with the EU.

The opportunity existed for the UK Government to avoid many of the formalities, checks and controls on the movement of goods from GB to Northern Ireland through the terms of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement it negotiated in 2020; it chose not to follow that course.

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But the problems of trust don't just lie with 10 Downing Street or with Westminster. Levels of trust in the UK-EU Joint Committee, the body with formal responsibility for the implementation of the Protocol, are not much better - 52% of respondents say they distrust it. The Irish government is also distrusted, although it does enjoy the trust of a third of respondents. Closer to home, the results of this poll show that Northern Ireland voters' trust in the Executive, the Assembly and political parties regarding the Protocol is below 20%. At least three-fifths of respondents do not trust local politicians to look after Northern Ireland's interests on this matter.

Although more people place trust in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and civic leaders than politicians on this topic, they are still outnumbered by those who distrust them.

The one exception in this bleak picture is the business community. Business representatives are trusted by 41% of respondents and trusted a lot by a further 11%.

The decision of the UK Government and European Commission to move beyond formal governance structures to engage jointly with businesses and other stakeholders appears to be a wise move. However, this can only be one element of a much-needed strategy to address the evident concerns which exist across the board.

Respondents to our poll were evenly split over whether or not the Protocol is, on balance, a good or a bad thing for Northern Ireland.

This is the first of several polls we will be conducting on this subject in the coming years.

Whether this division changes over time, and in what direction, will be affected by the ability of the UK and EU to come up with agreed solutions to shared difficulties. It will also be an indication of whether, on Brexit and the Protocol at least, trust in democratic and public institutions can be restored.

A report on the survey findings is available at https://www.qub.ac.uk/sites/post-brexit-governance-ni/OpinionPolling/

David Phinnemore is Professor of European Politics at Queen's University Belfast and Katy Hayward is Professor of Political Sociology at Queen's University Belfast


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