ECJ should not oversee Northern Ireland Protocol deal, public says in poll

The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg
The European Court of Justice in Luxembourg

Almost three quarters of the British public support a deal with the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol that is not overseen by the European Court of Justice (ECJ), a new poll has found.

Research shows that 72 per cent of Britons think it is very or somewhat important that the resolution to issues in Northern Ireland reduces checks on goods crossing the border and removes the oversight of the ECJ.

The involvement of the ECJ in policing trade disputes and overseeing the application of EU law in Northern Ireland is seen as a red line by many Tory Brexiteers, but has become one of the major bones of contention in negotiations between the UK and European Commission.

Brexit-backing MPs in the European Research Group have expressed concerns that Rishi Sunak could be willing to compromise and allow European judges oversight in Northern Ireland in exchange for other concessions.

They also sounded the alarm over rumours that ministers were considering a “Swiss-style” deal, which could include the reintroduction of freedom of movement between the UK and EU states and greater regulatory alignment.

Mr Sunak ruled out any such deal and pledged to focus on “Brexit freedoms” from removing EU rules from British statute instead.

He said it is possible to remove trade barriers, which have been blamed for a fall in trade since the UK withdrew from the EU, but said he would not “pursue any relationship with Europe that relies on alignment with EU laws”.

Foreign Office sources on Saturday night refused to confirm that the involvement of the ECJ in policing post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland remained a red line for the UK Government.

It is understood that both sides are closer to a deal than they have been for some months, but that significant barriers remain.

The negotiations are being led by James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, who has played down the prospect of an imminent breakthrough in the talks and stressed that “big gaps” remain.

The deal is holding up the reformation of the Northern Ireland Executive at Stormont, because the DUP refuse to join any administration while there are border checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland under the provisions of the Protocol agreed by Boris Johnson’s government.

The new poll, by More in Common, also shows that although half of Britons believe Brexit was a mistake, less than a third now want to rejoin the EU.

It also presents a stark warning to Sir Keir Starmer that he will struggle to win back the Red Wall of northern Labour heartland constituencies unless he takes a firm stance on Brexit.

Despite previously supporting freedom of movement, as shadow Brexit secretary under Jeremy Corbyn and during the Labour leadership race, Sir Keir has now ruled out a “Swiss-style” deal if he was prime minister.

Almost half of Red Wall voters in the More in Common poll said they would be less likely to vote Labour again if he pledged to rejoin the EU.

The research also shows Labour’s polling lead against the Conservatives remains below its peak in late October, when Sir Keir’s party was 30 percentage points ahead.

Labour is 19 points ahead of the Conservatives in More in Common’s poll, with 48 per cent of the electorate, compared with the Tories’ 29 per cent.

The Liberal Democrats have the support of eight per cent of the public, while five per cent back Reform UK, a right-wing protest party led by Richard Tice.