What should happen to Northern Ireland?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
April 12, 2023, 11:19 AM GMT+0

Mainland Britons are generally not bothered whether or not Northern Ireland remains part of the UK

Following the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement last week, Joe Biden visited Northern Ireland as part of a four day trip to the island of Ireland to commemorate the peace deal.

The US president is expected to deliver a message focusing on the economic opportunity that comes from peace and stability.

However, Biden’s level of interest in Northern Ireland – he claims Irish heritage himself – is not matched by mainland Britons, according to a new YouGov poll which finds significant apathy towards the region.

Britons generally wouldn’t be bothered if Northern Ireland left the UK, and they see it as an issue for the Northern Irish to decide

Asked what should happen to Northern Ireland, the main view among mainland Britons is that it is for the people of Northern Ireland to decide. Half (53%) feel this way, and it is the most common view across voters of both main parties (51% of Conservative voters and 59% of Labour voters).

One in five (22%) think that, rather than putting it to the Northern Irish, the region should remain part of the UK, while 13% think the opposite, saying that it should join together with the rest of Ireland.

Conservative voters are more likely than the wider public to explicitly say that Northern Ireland should stay part of the UK (31%), while Labour are slightly less likely to, at 17%. The number saying Northern Ireland should join the rest of Ireland is about the same in both parties as the nation as a whole.

That so many people think the question of Northern Ireland’s status should be left to the Northern Irish may not be a sign of democracy so much as antipathy. Asked how they would feel if Northern Ireland left the UK, 50% of Britons say that it wouldn’t bother them either way.

Only one in five would be upset (22%), while one in nine would actively be pleased (11%).

Again, the two main parties generally reflect the wider public on this topic – 51% of Tories and 49% of Labour voters wouldn’t be bothered to see Northern Ireland go. Conservatives are somewhat more likely to say they would be upset (29%), while views among Labour voters generally match those of the wider public.

On the question of a border poll, there is limited support on the mainland. One in three (36%) think there should be a referendum in Northern Ireland on which country they should be a part of, twice the number who are opposed (18%). More people still are unsure (46%), again indicating a high level of disinterest in the issue on the mainland.

Conservative and Labour voters are both more likely to support a border poll than to oppose one.

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