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Poll: Just 5 percent of Northern Ireland voters trust UK to manage trade dispute

Nearly half of Northern Ireland voters trust the European Union to represent their post-Brexit interests — and almost none of them trusts the British government to do so.

That’s a stark finding from new opinion polling published Wednesday by Queen’s University of Belfast, which has tracked public sentiment since Northern Ireland’s new trade rules went live at the start of 2021.

The survey of 1,497 people by pollsters LucidTalk, drawn from a cross-community panel delivering results within a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points, asked people to assess who they trust to represent Northern Ireland’s interests as the U.K. and EU butt heads over making those trade rules work.

Top trust marks went to Northern Ireland’s business community with 60 percent support. The compromise-minded Alliance Party came second on 50 percent, while the region’s other staunchly pro-EU party, the moderate Irish nationalists of the Social Democratic and Labour Party, managed 47 percent trust.

That tied with the European Commission, while the Irish government — which worked closely with EU partners to keep the island of Ireland barrier-free for trade after Northern Ireland left the EU with the rest of the U.K. — attracted 45 percent trust.

By contrast, the two players pushing to unravel the U.K.-EU protocol treaty governing Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade landscape — the British government and the Democratic Unionists — scored the worst.

A rock-bottom 5 percent of those polled said they trust U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to manage the protocol to Northern Ireland’s benefit. The DUP attracted just 25 percent trust.

The results reflected May’s election results for the Northern Ireland Assembly, when pro-protocol parties increased their majority and the Irish nationalists of Sinn Féin overtook the DUP for the first time.

The DUP since has wielded its veto as the largest unionist party to block any revival of the Stormont legislature and a power-sharing government operated jointly with Sinn Féin. The U.K. government is citing the Democratic Unionists’ obstruction to justify its threat to override its trade deal with the EU via the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Many locals have expressed fears that, if the bill is passed, Northern Ireland will lose its key protocol benefit of barrier-free trade with the rest of Ireland and the wider EU. When asked, 55 percent said this market access was proving positive for Northern Ireland’s economy, higher than in previous polls.

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