Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Spotlight
  2. Devolution
4 August 2021updated 14 Sep 2021 2:49pm

Exclusive: Majority of British voters feel little connection with the people of Northern Ireland

New polling for the New Statesman may provide context for the lack of uproar in Britain over Boris Johnson’s Irish sea border.

By Freddie Hayward

A majority of British voters do not feel connected to the people of Northern Ireland or only feel a little connected, according to exclusive polling conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies for the New Statesman*.

A plurality of 34 per cent do not feel connected to the people of Northern Ireland at all, 27 per cent only feel a little connected, 29 per cent feel moderately connected and only 10 per cent feel very connected.

A minority of British voters say they follow events in Northern Ireland a great deal or quite a lot, with only 8 per cent saying they follow them a great deal, 19 per cent quite a lot, 42 per cent to some extent, and 30 per cent do not follow events in Northern Ireland at all.

These results provide some context for the lack of uproar among the British public at Boris Johnson’s decision to put a trade border down the Irish Sea as part of his Brexit deal – betraying the Democratic Unionist Party and stoking unionist dissent.

[See also: Boris Johnson only has himself to blame for the problems caused by the Northern Ireland protocol]

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. A weekly round-up of The New Statesman's climate, environment and sustainability content. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

The polling also reflects a potential complacency in the governing party over what the Irish Sea border means for the integrity of the Union. A stark poll published in 2019 found that Conservative Party members were willing to sacrifice Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom to achieve Brexit, reflecting how far the party officially named the “Conservative and Unionist Party” has departed from its unionist stance.

The UK government is currently attempting to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol, as the end of the grace period regarding trade from Great Britain to Northern Ireland looms on 30 September. As it stands, the protocol encourages small businesses in Northern Ireland to expand from north-south into Ireland rather than east-west into Britain, potentially placing greater strain on the Union and boosting pro-Irish unification arguments.

Yet 37 per cent of British voters polled think Irish unification is unlikely over the next five years and just 19 per cent find it likely.

Content from our partners
Cyber security is a team game
Why consistency matters
Community safety includes cyber security

Ultimately, the polling suggests Britain lacks a strong desire for Northern Ireland to remain part of the Union: 38 per cent say they neither support nor oppose Irish unification. This is compared with 30 per cent expressing support for unification and only 11 per cent opposing it (21 per cent don’t know).

*Polling conducted on 29 July 2021, with a sample size of 1,500 eligible voters in Great Britain.