In the midst of a Westminster-focused debate about whether or not Boris Johnson can persuade MPs to vote for his deal, the hard facts on the ground have been shoved to one side. If Johnson’s deal is agreed, it will be implemented – and the implications for Ireland, north and south, are very real.

By a margin of almost two-to-one, the British public think that the return of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic would cause the return of violence to the province. That is one of the findings of a YouGov survey, commissioned by HOPE not hate.

Almost half of respondents – 47% – said that they thought it was likely that violence would return to Northern Ireland in the event of border checks being re-established after Brexit. A quarter of respondents disagreed, with the rest undecided.

The polling makes it clear that is a real fear amongst voters of the unravelling of the Good Friday Agreement, which has underpinned peace for two decades. The numbers are clear:

  • Over half of respondents (53%) agreed that preventing a return to violence was more important than delivering Brexit, with only 21% agreeing that delivering Brexit was more important.
  • Almost 90% of people who voted Liberal Democrat in 2017 agreed that preventing a return to violence was more important than delivering Brexit, while for 2017 Labour voters the figure was 70%.
  • Conservative voters were more evenly split. 38% of 2017 Conservative voters, rising to 45% of those who said that they would vote for the party now, say delivering Brexit is more important than preventing a return to violence.
  • Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brexit Party supporters, by a margin of almost three to one, believed that delivering Brexit was most important than preventing violence.

There is also widespread opposition to Boris Johnson’s proposals to give the Democratic Unionist Party a veto over Northern Ireland’s future relationship with the EU. Half of the people polled (50%) thought it is wrong to give a veto to one party – the DUP – over any Brexit deal, while just 15% thought that as the largest single party in Northern Ireland, it is only right that the DUP have such a veto.

Interestingly, Johnson’s suggested policy finds no support even amongst his own supporters, with 56% opposing the idea of giving the DUP a veto, with just 16% thinking that they should.

There is a similar split across the parties, and indeed across the Brexit divide: 56% of 2016 Remain voters and 53% of Leave voters think it would be wrong to give the DUP a veto.

Feelings are strongest on this amongst older voters, probably a reflection that they remember the troubles. 57% of 55-64 year olds and 53% of those over 65, do not support the DUP having a veto. Conversely, only 30% of 18-24 year olds, those too young to remember the troubles, opposed the DUP veto and 17% supported it.

Opinion as to whether the re-establishment of border controls in Northern Ireland risked the peace in Northern Ireland or was being exaggerated by people who want to stop Brexit is split along party lines:

  • Three-quarters of Liberal Democrats voters (78%) and 55% of Labour voters thought that border controls risked the peace, while just 7% and 15% respectively thought the threat was being exaggerated.
  • The opposite was true for Conservative and Brexit Party supporters. 60% of Brexit Party voters and 57% of Tories thought the threat was being exaggerated by people who want to stop Brexit, with just 16% and 17% respectively thinking the threat was very real.

The polling is a sharp rebuke for Boris Johnson’s Brexit proposal to deal with the Irish question, with people thinking that his proposals risk a return to violence and widespread opposition to his plan to give the DUP a veto. With over half of people thinking that keeping the peace in Northern Ireland is more important than delivering Brexit, it is clear that the British public will be unforgiving to any politician who actions cause a return to violence.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,628 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 7th – 8th October 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).