‘Unionist not opposed to protocol’ Prof denies MPs support Tory scrap of NI protocol

Cleverly: ‘We have come to an impasse’ on protocol

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Professor Katy Hayward, a political sociologist at Queen’s University Belfast, said that political opinions in Northern Ireland are “more complicated” than simply the idea that unionists are opposed to the Brexit agreement protocol. It comes as the Conservative Party consider triggering article 16 of the agreement to renege on its original agreements with the European Union. 

Prof Hayward told LBC: “I mean, certainly the DUP has been emphasising the protocol throughout. The traditional unionist voice is very much anti-protocol. 

“But perspectives across the board are a bit more nuanced than that. Nationalist parties are very strongly in support of the protocol. 

“The Alliance centrist party is very strongly in support. And the Ulster Unionist Party wants to see reform of the protocol but it wants an agreed outcome. 

“So it’s not the case that unionists as a bloc are opposed to the protocol. It’s rather more complicated than that.” 

The issue of the protocol has dominated recent debates in Northern Ireland ahead of the local elections. 

During a televised pre-election debate on Tuesday night, Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed the protocol would “undermine political stability” in the nation. 

He said: “We’re being honest with the electorate because we believe that the political institutions must be sustainable. 

“That means that we have got to deal with the big issues in front of us and not least the harm that the Northern Ireland protocol is doing to undermine political stability in Northern Ireland, to undermine economic stability, it’s changed our constitutional status and we can’t ignore that.”

Opinion polls suggest the Sinn Fein party is likely to top the voting during Thursday’s elections. 

Voters will go to the polls across 18 constituencies on Thursday to elect 90 members of the legislative assembly. 

If translated into results, it would be the first time a nationalist or republican party has finished top at Stormont, Northern Ireland’s parliament. 

The Alliance party, which Prof Hayward claimed was “very strongly in support of the protocol”, is also tipped to have a surge in support. 

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Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who spent his final day canvassing in Belfast, called for unionist voters to unite behind a party with a reasonable chance of success. 

Sir Jeffrey described the election as “a choice between real action on issues that matter to people or a divisive border poll plan”.

He described the outcome of the election as “critical to the future of Northern Ireland”.

“Only a first preference vote for the DUP can stop SF’s divisive border poll plans. After voting 1 DUP, I ask pro-union voters to maximise the value of their votes by transferring to other pro-union candidates,” he said.

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