Voters in Northern Ireland are evenly split over the need for Brexit checks on goods coming in from Great Britain, a new survey has shown just hours before a new deal between the EU and the UK is revealed.
The EU will on Wednesday say it is retreating from the threat of a trade war and confirm a “package” of arrangements to take the heat out of the bitter dispute over the sales of British sausages, secondhand cars and potted plants in Northern Ireland.
Sources said it will unveil “a package of measures” along with an agreement to accede to the UK’s request for a three-month extension on a grace period for the sale of chilled meats, which led to an ugly dispute, dubbed the sausage war.
The peace deal comes as detailed research commissioned by Queen’s University Belfast reveals that a majority of voters, 67%, agree that Northern Ireland does need “particular arrangements” to manage Brexit because of the land border with Ireland, but they are equally divided on whether the protocol agreed in 2020 is the answer.
When asked if the protocol was appropriate for Northern Ireland, 47% agreed and 47% disagreed.
But concern about its impact on shopping is widespread with 69% concerned about the cost of products while 61% are concerned that the range of products might be reduced by checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Unionists have been leading a campaign to get the protocol scrapped. A high court verdict on a request for a judicial review is expected to be handed down at 10am on Wednesday.
While the EU and the UK hope the extra breathing space over the summer will create the conditions for a new deal – including some sort of veterinary agreement and a trusted-trader scheme to wave through big-brand meats such as Marks & Spencer sausages – the survey shows that the protocol will have a lasting impact on voter behaviour.
Three-quarters of the 1,500 respondents said the position of Northern Ireland assembly candidates on the protocol will be relevant when choosing how to vote next year.
“People in NI are highly exercised by the protocol, both for and against – and in equal proportions,” said Katy Hayward, a professor at Queens and a co-investigator of the three-year project into governance in Northern Ireland. “The political tensions are compounded by the low levels of trust in the political parties.”
Trust in local parties was low (just 20% trusted the DUP on the protocol and 40% Sinn Féin), but a similar survey in March showed that just 3% trusted the UK government and 6% trusted Whitehall civil servants.