Friday 20 April 2018

North divided along sectarian lines over EU referendum

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Wire

Yvette Shapiro

Support for a 'Brexit' is growing in the North as the EU referendum campaign enters its final days; however, many people have yet to decide how they will vote.

An exclusive poll for the 'Belfast Telegraph' reveals that a majority of Protestants are now in favour of the UK leaving the European Union, while Catholics are overwhelmingly intending to opt to remain when they make their choice on Thursday.

The Ipsos Mori survey of more than 1,000 people from across the North shows a hardening of the 'Leave' position among both men and women, voters young and old, and those from all social backgrounds.

This trend is in line with several recent UK polls, some of which have put the Brexit side ahead.

But while the gap is narrowing between the 'Remain' and 'Leave' camps, overall, most people in the North are still in favour of Britain staying in the EU.

The poll found that 37pc of all respondents want to 'Remain', down from 44pc in March.

There was a 6pc increase in the number of people across both communities who believed that the UK would fare better out of the EU, up from 20pc to 26pc in the past two months.

However, more say they are undecided or don't know, up from 27pc to 38pc, perhaps reflecting the levels of confusion caused by the strident claims and counter-claims of campaigners on both sides.

The director of the Leave campaign in Northern Ireland, Lee Reynolds, said: "This fits the national pattern and it's clear that Vote Leave has the momentum to win.

"When people hear the case for 'Leave', they respond to it. We've done our best to make the positive case for 'Leave' but we have undoubtedly been helped by the poor and negative campaigning of the 'In' camp."

The North's biggest political party, the DUP, which is led by Arlene Foster (pictured inset), has been campaigning strongly for Brexit and it appears that unionist voters have heeded the message, with 38pc of Protestants surveyed believing that the UK would be stronger out of the EU - a 10pc increase on the last poll.

Nationalist support for staying in the EU has fallen since the last survey - down from 56pc to 49pc.

Eurosceptic But Catholics are still strongly in favour of Europe, with just 12pc opting for the 'Leave' argument.

The survey shows that men are more likely to be Eurosceptic than women and that attitude has hardened in recent weeks.

There has been an 8pc drop in the number of men favouring the 'Remain' position. And more women have moved into the 'Leave' camp, up from 17pc to 24pc.

In the last survey, half of 16-34 year-olds were in favour of the EU - that has now dropped to 36pc. And there has been a 10pc rise in the number of older people - over 55s - who are for a Brexit: up from 21pc to 31pc.

Businessman Tom Kelly, director of the Northern Ireland Stronger In Europe campaign, said the increase in support for a Brexit, as indicated by the poll, was not surprising, but he was still confident of a 'Remain' victory.

"I still believe that we will have a very strong Remain vote here," he said.

Irish Independent

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