Britons are more interested in getting their way on Brexit than preserving Northern Ireland’s place within the UK
Northern Ireland tends to be far from the mind of the average mainland Brit. When it does gain public attention, it’s often for the wrong reasons. In recent years fate has made it a prominent part of the Brexit saga.
Now new YouGov polling exposes the extent of the weaknesses in the link between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
When asked how much they care about what happens in Northern Ireland, four in ten mainland Brits (41%) say they don’t care very much or at all.
Given this fact, it is no surprise to see that an identical figure of 41% say they wouldn’t be bothered if Northern Ireland left the UK. A further 41% would be upset if it broke away, while only a minority of 9% would be actively be pleased to see them go.
When asked what they want to happen with Northern Ireland, again around four in ten (43%) don’t have a strong view, saying that it is ultimately up to the Northern Irish. A further third (35%) want Northern Ireland to remain in the UK, while 15% think it should join together with the rest of Ireland.
As with so much, however, Brexit takes precedent. Given the choice between having their preferred outcome on Brexit and Northern Ireland staying in the Union, a majority of 58% chose the former and only 18% the latter.
The referendum divide does not make a difference, with 58% of Remain voters and 64% of Leave voters saying they’d rather have their way on Brexit than see the Union preserved.
Even those Britons who say they want Northern Ireland to stay part of the UK tend to be willing to sacrifice it for the sake of Brexit. Almost half (47%) chose their preferred Brexit option, compared to 35% who chose the Union.
It is not like Britons can say they are unfamiliar with people from Northern Ireland. Three quarters of us (76%) have ever met someone from Northern Ireland, while only one in seven (14%) have not.
A quarter of people who have ever met a Northern Irish person say they currently have a friend from the nation (equivalent to about 19% of all Britons), with a further third saying they have previously had a friend from there (meaning overall about 45% of all Britons saying they have ever been friends with someone from Northern Ireland).
Relatively few Brits have ever actually been to Northern Ireland though. Just 26% of Brits have visited the nation, and while most people who haven’t been would be willing to go (62%), overall only 6% of mainland Britons say they would ever want to actually live in Northern Ireland.
That is not to say that they think Northern Ireland is bad. About half of Britons think Northern Ireland is about as nice as is average for the UK, although the proportion of people who think it is less nice than average is three times the rate who think it is nicer than average (21% vs 7%).
Many Britons do, however, see Northern Ireland as different to the rest of the UK. Approaching half (46%) believe the region to be very or fairly different to the mainland, although a similar figure (43%) say we are not very or not at all different.
So different do some Britons see Northern Ireland that they believe themselves to have little to nothing in common with the people there. A quarter of mainland Britons (26%) consider themselves as having little to nothing in common with people from the region. This isn’t a necessarily uncommon attitude, however: this figure is also as high as 20% when responding about Scottish and Welsh people, and is smaller than the 37% who feel they don’t much or anything in common with people from London).