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Irish people's trust in British government down at 12% amid Brexit 'adventure'

This makes more distrusted than the US government or the European Commission.
May 26th 2021, 6:00 AM 16,753 33

ONLY ABOUT ONE in eight Irish people trust the British government, according to polling carried out by Ireland Thinks on behalf of The Journal. 

The survey shows that about two-thirds of respondents either ‘distrust’ or ‘strongly distrust’ the British government, making it more distrusted than the US government and the European Commission.

The European Commission is the only one of the four governments or intuitions to have a net trustworthy score, with 13% saying they ‘strongly trust’ it and and 45% saying they ‘trust’ it. 

The polling was carried out as part of the The Good Information Project, which has been examining Ireland-China relations and the Far East nation’s growing global influence.

It found that the Chinese government was the least trusted of the four institutions asked about, with just 1% of Irish people saying they trusted it and 84% saying they did not. 

While distrusting the governance of the Far Eastern powerhouse is perhaps not of utmost importance to many Irish people, that such distrust exists between Ireland and its nearest neighbour is perhaps a greater concern. 

Overall, 1% of people say the ‘strongly trust’ the British government with 11% expressing ‘trust’.

The poll does not track the relative trust over time but it’s not great a leap to say trust is at a comparative lull in recent history. 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney stated back in March that EU member states negotiating with the UK were “negotiating with a partner they simply can’t trust”. 

At the time, Coveney was referencing the UK’s decision to unilaterally extend a grace period relating to the Northern Ireland protocol. A move the EU has said “breaks international law”

Late last year, the UK government itself admitted that it proposed breaking international law “in a limited and specific way” as part of its efforts to circumvent the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement

Speaking to The Journal, Paul Gillespie of the UCD Institute for British-Irish Studies said the ‘hard Brexit’ path chosen by successive British governments almost has a built-in antagonism that sows distrust.  

He points to the recent negotiations around a proposed UK-Australia trade deal that farmers all across the UK have expressed concerns about. UK domestic farmers say the zero-quota deal being pushed by Canberra would see them undercut by Australian rivals.

Gillespie says the UK government seems intent on ploughing ahead despite the opposition as a way of ‘justifying’ its Brexit path. 

“They need to be able to justify their hard Brexit by doing the kind of trade deals that they said they could achieve,” he says. 

If they vote for the Australian trade deal they’ll antagonise farmers in Northern Ireland in Wales and Scotland, and it just shows the deep uncertainties that are involved in the kind of adventure they’ve embarked on. If they’re doing all that, how can you trust them, it’s almost inherent in their position that they’re shifting.

Gillespie also points to polling by Queen’s University Belfast which found significant distrust in Northern Ireland about the UK Government’s handling of the Protocol, with only 5% expressing trust on the matter

Last week, the IIEA hosted a discussion on UK-Ireland relations between former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former UK prime minister Tony Blair.

During the discussion, both men spoke about how trust was built up between all sides ahead of the Belfast Agreement, with Blair arguing that the UK Cabinet must be centrally involved in maintaining the agreement instead of leaving the task to its Secretary of State. 

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Gillespie argues that both governments have been neglectful in not ensuring commitment to the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. 

It was confirmed earlier this month that the body would meet in June, the first such meeting in two years. 

“It’s supposed to be dealing with issues that aren’t devolved. That would include, in principle at least, a lot of the protocol stuff and EU stuff arising from it,” Gillespie says.

But it’s been very difficult indeed for the Irish government to get the Conservative government, particularly the Johnson government, to agree to re-establish the conference. 

“They’ve managed to do that and agreed to hold one in June and I think several next year which is quite an achievement. The extent to which will actually compensate for the uncertainty and ambiguity of the British government’s policy position remains to be seen,” he adds. 

Get regular updates from The Good Information Project, a new initiative from TheJournal.ie to start a conversation with our readers about critical issues facing our country.


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Rónán Duffy

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