Are 60% against “The Backstop” in Northern Ireland?

CLAIM: 60% of people in Northern Ireland are against the backstop.

CONCLUSION: Inaccurate. 35% of all those polled in a LucidTalk poll responded that they would oppose some sort of special status for Northern Ireland; 60% of Unionists polled were opposed to one option of special status, because “it would be bad for the NI economy”.

On 12 February 2019, Jim Shannon MP stated the following in the House of Commons:

A recent national opinion poll in Northern Ireland showed that 60% of those polled were clearly against the backstop—a majority of opinion … Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to Unionists in Northern Ireland that there can be no progress unless the backstop is removed or is time-limited?

We contacted Mr Shannon to learn which national opinion poll he referred to, but have not received a response.

What is “The Backstop”?

The trading relationship between the UK and Ireland is an important consideration in the negotiation between the UK and EU, in regards to the UK leaving the EU as a member state. This has a focus on the land border between Northern Ireland and Ireland. A “backstop” provision has been included in the draft Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU.

The BBC has provided a outline of the issues concerning “The Backstop”. The Irish border Brexit backstop (or “The Backstop”) concerns both the UK and EU’s commitment to avoiding the return of what could be considered a “hard border” — physical checks or infrastructure — after Brexit.

The backstop is a position of last resort to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland in the event that the UK leaves the EU without securing what the BBC term “an all-encompassing deal”.

The LucidTalk poll

A regular opinion poll is carried out in Northern Ireland by the company, LucidTalk, which describes its “NI Tracker Poll” as taking place “every 3 months to constantly gauge and estimate NI public opinion on a wide range of issues e.g. politics, business, consumer, lifestyle etc.”. It outlines the methodology employed to ensure a representative sample of the Northern Ireland population in the following terms, for a poll it carried out between 30 November and 3 December 2018:

“The project targeted the established LucidTalk NI-Wide Opinion Panel (11,227 members) which is balanced by gender, age group, area of residence, and community background, in order to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland (NI). 1,334 full responses were considered in terms of the final results, and a data auditing process ensured all completed poll-surveys were genuine ‘one-person, one-vote’ responses, and also to ensure a robust NI representative sample of opinion. This 1,334 responses dataset was/is a demographically representative sample of Northern Ireland — producing results representative of NI Opinion to within an error of +/-3%.”

Where does 60% come from?

In interrogating this claim, the only relevant and detailed opinion poll that we are aware of was one conducted by LucidTalk that was published in December 2018. The relevant “backstop” polling question is Question 4:

“One proposal for Brexit that avoids any hard border in Ireland, is for Northern Ireland to remain closely tied to the EU, inside the single market and the customs union, while Britain has a more arms-length arrangement. Which of these comes closest to your view of this idea?”

The results of which are outlined in the following table:

For all respondents and those who identified as “Unionists”, the results to the question were:

Response Total (All) Unionist
I would welcome this as it would benefit the NI economy 35% 19%
I would welcome this as it resolves the difficult issue of the land border within Ireland 30% 12%
I would oppose this as it would be bad for the NI economy 29% 60%
I would oppose this as it creates a new border between NI and GB, threatening the union 6% 9%

The negative responses (“oppose”) can be interpreted as being against any “special status” for Northern Ireland, whether through a “backstop” provision in any agreement between the UK and EU.

We note that 60% of those who identified as “Unionist” in this poll were opposed to the question proposal because “it would be bad for the NI economy”. This is the same figure cited by Mr Shannon, who attributed it to all respondents.

For Unionist respondents, 69% (60% + 9%) were opposed to any special status for Northern Ireland.

For all respondents, 35% (29% + 6%) were opposed; 65% supported (“welcomed”) a special status.

Summary

Jim Shannon MP spoke in the House of Commons, claiming that an opinion poll carried out in Northern Ireland showed that 60% of respondents were opposed to a backstop provision (referring to the UK-EU Withdrawal Agreement).

It appears to us that Mr Shannon was referring to a segment of respondents who identified as Unionist in a poll carried out by LucidTalk and answered a question in opposition to a proposed “special status” for Northern Ireland.

For all respondents to this LucidTalk poll, 35% were opposed to any special status; 65% replied that they would welcome one.

Image source: “Soccer Field” by Sonja Guina on Unsplash (no known copyright).