(Bloomberg) -- Public support for the Northern Ireland Protocol has more than doubled from a year ago, a new survey showed, as the UK and EU continue a heated dispute over the part of the Brexit treaty dealing with the region.

There has been a “significant shift towards support for the Protocol,” with 33% saying it is “on balance a good thing,” compared to 16% in 2020, authors led by Queen’s University Belfast Professor Katy Hayward wrote in a research report. Underscoring the polarization of opinion, 21% said it was on balance a “bad thing,” up from 18% in 2020 and 33% regarded it as a “mixed bag,” according to the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey.

The survey findings come as the UK threatens to override parts of the Brexit deal amid claims trading arrangements for Northern Ireland aren’t working. The Democratic Unionist Party is refusing to join the region’s devolved government until the Protocol is replaced. A May 5 election saw a nationalist party become the biggest for the first time and was regarded as a success for parties favoring the Protocol.

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Meanwhile the fall-out from Brexit has continued to boost expectations Northern Ireland will unite with the Republic to the south. Of those surveyed, 63% said Brexit has made it more likely in the poll of 1,397 people conducted October to December 2021, up 5 points from 2020. 

While almost half support Northern Ireland remaining in the UK long term, there’s been a 6 point drop from 2020 while support for a united Ireland as a long-term policy rose 4 points. About a third said they would vote for a united Ireland tomorrow and 48% would vote against it, though there was a similar shift toward unity from the last survey.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, only the UK government can call a vote on Irish reunification and then only if it appears likely a majority in Northern Ireland would back it.

Even so, “In the responses to both the questions of long-term policy, and of voting for Irish unification, there is a trend towards closing the gap between the two main constitutional preferences of being part of the UK or of a united Ireland,” Hayward said.

FURTHER READING: 

  • Why Northern Ireland Keeps UK and Europe at Odds: QuickTake
  • Brexit Supercharges the Political Push Toward a United Ireland
  • How Irish Unity Got a Boost From Brexit, Demographics: QuickTake

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