A majority (54 percent) of mainland Brits don’t care whether Northern Ireland stays part of the UK or reunites with the Republic of Ireland – and less than a quarter would be upset if it left.
The numbers come from a new YouGov poll, which also found that over a third of Britons would be supportive of a referendum on reunification taking place in Northern Ireland.
Indicating high levels of disinterest in the fate of the Northern Irish statelet, almost 40 percent of respondents said they didn’t know one way or another whether a border poll should take place.
As for what they hope the outcome of such a referendum would be, 37 percent said Northern Ireland should remain part of the UK, while 27 percent said it should leave the union, and 36 percent didn’t know either way.
YouGov noted that the high numbers of respondents who said they didn’t know could reflect a “lack of knowledge regarding the situation” and suggests a “wilful ambivalence amongst the British public towards the issue of reunification.”
Another reason Britons are unfazed by Northern Ireland’s potential exit could be that they “don’t see themselves as having as much in common” with the region, YouGov suggested. Asked which place it had more in common with, 40 percent said the Republic of Ireland, while only 28 percent said Britain.
The YouGov survey also revealed that few Brits have any significant knowledge of Irish history, with just 6 percent of the public saying they had studied Irish Home Rule and the Troubles in the north at school, despite the British empire’s long involvement with the island next door.
Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters were more supportive of a referendum, while Conservatives were the least likely to favour it. Overall, 43 percent of the general public supported the idea.
The question of Northern Ireland’s future has been brought further into the spotlight since Ireland’s February general election. Left-wing nationalist Sinn Féin, which is demanding a border poll within five years, secured the popular vote. Their path to power has been blocked, however, by the prospect of a coalition government between the two centre-right establishment parties supported by independents.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which brought a relative end to 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland, includes a provision whereby the island could be reunited if residents north and south vote in favour of such a change. Polls have consistently shown that strong majorities in the Republic would favour reunification, while opinions are more evenly split along political and sectarian lines in the north. The decision to call a border poll, however, rests with the Northern Irish secretary of state, who is appointed by the Westminster government.
The number of Brits who say they’d be upset if Northern Ireland left the union dropped 17 points to 24 percent since YouGov posed the question last October, indicating a growing apathy.
In terms of the timeline for Northern Ireland leaving the UK, only 14 percent of Brits believe it will happen within the next five years. A quarter said they feel the union won’t survive the next decade intact and nearly half said they believe it will leave within 50 years.