Voters don’t want referendum on assembly election protocol – Coalition MP


His year’s assembly election will not become a referendum on the Northern Ireland Protocol, a coalition party MP has predicted.

Party deputy leader Stephen Fairey told an audience at the Dublin-based Institute of International and European Affairs that he does not think the controversial post-Brexit arrangement will become a deciding issue in the upcoming vote.

But Mr Fairey, who stepped in at the last minute to replace party leader Naomi Long, warned that current divisions in Northern Ireland could prevent the formation of an executive after the election in May.

The North Downs MP, who observed his party’s post-Brexit policies, said: “The protocol will certainly be part of a wider election and some are determined to make it a referendum on protocol.”

Responding to a question from the PA news agency, Mr Fairey referred to a recent poll by the University of Liverpool in which he said the health system in Northern Ireland is “by far the most important” issue for voters.

He said the economy and education also go beyond protocol in the minds of voters.

“There is a danger that federalism is playing with its most extreme elements in terms of voters, but it does not reflect where most people currently stand on this issue,” he said in the webinar.

Negotiations are ongoing between the UK government and the EU on a post-Brexit arrangement for the region.

Federalists are opposing a post-Brexit check for Northern Ireland, which effectively remains within the EU’s single market.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has repeatedly threatened to withdraw his party ministers from the Stormont executive if the UK government does not act on protocol.

Mr Fairey described his party as “protocol pragmatist”, with a desire to change the protocol “from a solid line to a dotted line under the Irish Sea”.