I will leave it to others here to comment on the credibility of a poll conducted by Conservative billionaire, Lord Ashcroft, or why he chose to conduct this poll, with these precise questions, at this time. He appears to be trying to build a case that a hard Brexit, which involves leaving both the Customs Union and Single Market, is more important to British voters than any implications that this might have for the border in Ireland.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Lord Ashcroft said that most British voters thought Brexit was taking too long, with Leave voters often blaming those who want to soften or delay Britain's exit from the EU.
"Given these views - impatience with the process, determination for the UK to operate an independent trade policy, and the suspicion that Brexit opponents are deliberately throwing up hurdles - it is not hard to imagine how Leave voters would react if told the UK would not be taking back as much control as they hoped because of the Irish border, an issue they believe is being blown out of proportion," he wrote.
Only one in three voters in Britain said it would be completely unacceptable for Northern Ireland to have a different status in the EU from England, Scotland and Wales. Three in 10 said such an outcome "would not be ideal, but would be acceptable as part of a deal to get a sensible Brexit arrangement". And most British voters said that they did not have a view about whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK, saying it was for the people there to decide.
Lord Ashcroft's poll found that, asked to choose between keeping the UK together and leaving the EU, 63 per cent of British voters would leave the EU, compared with 27 per cent who would keep the UK together. Among Conservative voters, 73 per cent would choose leaving the EU with just 22 per cent saying they would keep the UK together. Labour voters would choose leaving the EU over keeping the UK together by 50 per cent to 34 per cent.
"Those who have pondered Brexit's consequences for UK union have usually focused on the resentment felt in places where majorities voted to remain in the EU," Lord Ashcroft wrote.
"But there is another risk: that a question like the Irish border, which most Leave voters see as a relatively minor practical issue that could be resolved, should prevent the majority getting the Brexit they think they voted for."
Is it a "push poll" i.e. one whose questions are designed to elicit the answers favoured by the pollster, or can it be taken as a serious and objective measure of UK political attitudes? Have most voters even thought enough about the questions being posed in order to give an informed response?
For one thing, there is an internal contradiction in the questions: Saying that achieving a hard Brexit is more important than a hard border in Ireland is inconsistent with saying a hard Brexit is more important than keeping the United Kingdom together. Because one way of avoiding a hard Border in Ireland is to have a border in the Irish sea instead - thereby treating N. Ireland as part of the Customs Union and Single Market and separately from the rest of the UK.
What the poll perhaps more convincingly demonstrates is where N. Ireland fits into the order of priorities of most British voters. If this poll is of believed, then most British voters want a hard Brexit, and don't care over much whether this results in a hard border in Ireland or in the Irish sea.
If so, then the DUP is the only thing standing between the UK government and the EU striking a deal to keep N. Ireland within the Customs Union and Single Market and erecting customs controls at N. Ireland ports instead of at the Irish border. Most voters in the Britain apparently couldn't care less...
At least the poll cannot be faulted for having too small a sample size:
Lord Ashcroft conducted separate polls with 3,294 voters in Britain, 1,666 in Northern Ireland and 1,500 in the Republic, along with focus groups in a number of towns and cities.
A majority of voters in Northern Ireland said they thought Brexit had made Irish unification in the foreseeable future more likely, a view shared by just four in 10 in the Republic. Asked how they would vote if there was a border poll tomorrow, 49 per cent of voters in Northern Ireland said they would vote to stay in the UK, while 44 per cent would vote for a united Ireland.
In the Republic, 35 per cent of voters said they would like to see a united Ireland in the next few years but 56 per cent said it would not be practical or affordable in the immediate future.
Voters in Northern Ireland were more pessimistic about their own future than they were when they looked across the Border at the Republic. 64 per cent said Northern Ireland was on the wrong track, compared to 25 per cent who thought it was on the right track. But 55 per cent of those in Northern Ireland said the Republic was on the right track, compared to 35 per cent who said it was on the wrong track.
Two things are remarkable about these results: Firstly, more voters in N. Ireland (44%) are in favour of a united Ireland in the near term than are voters in the south (35%). Secondly, voters in N. Ireland have a far more positive view of the Republic of Ireland than they have of their own polity: Only 25% think N. Ireland is on the right track whereas 55% of N. Ireland voters think the Republic of Ireland is on the right track.
What this means is that a majority of voters in the North are far more enthusiastic about developments in the south and the prospect of a United Ireland than they are about their own prospects in N. Ireland, even though, by a narrow margin, a majority would still vote for the status quo.
Voters in the south were more nuanced in their views on a United Ireland:
While 91% are in favour of a united Ireland, only 35% see this as practicable in the next few years. As might be expected, voters of Prime Minister Leo Varadker's party, Fine Gael, are least enthusiastic about a united Ireland in the near future.
So what are the implications of this poll, if accurate, for the British and Irish governments?
For Theresa May it makes clear that if she has to choose between the DUP opposition to a border in the Irish sea and the Brexiteers desire to leave the Customs Union and Single market thus creating the need for a hard UK/EU border, she had better sell out the DUP. Voters in Britain don't really care much about N. Ireland either way, and most want to leave the Customs Union and Single market so that the UK can control immigration and negotiate its own trade deals.
If that means she loses a vote of confidence in the House of Commons for lack of DUP support, she can go to the country on a hard Brexit platform of leaving the Customs Union and Single Market and win against a Corbyn led Labour party split and hedging it's bets on those issues. I suspect this is the case that Lord Ashcroft seeks to bolster.
Dumping the DUP then only becomes a matter of timing. What is the best time to call a general election and seek a mandate for a hard Brexit? I suspect she will aim for a an election in October after she has negotiated a deal with the EU keeping N. Ireland but not the rest of the UK within the Customs Union and Single Market.
Despite Lord Ashcroft's polling figures, I'm not convinced she would necessarily win. Labour under Corbyn will be in the uncomfortable position of arguing for a much closer association with the Customs Union and Single market even if this means some restrictions on the UK's ability to regulate immigration and negotiate its own trade deals. Some oversight by the ECJ would also remain. But he would probably get the reluctant support of most of British business and most remain supporters and soft leavers.
Either way, those who wanted a second chance to vote on Brexit will have a vote on what precise shape Brexit should take. I suspect it will be a vote between rampant nationalism and pragmatic moderation. But the latter will be a hard sell because whatever deal a Labour government might negotiate, it will be a lot less advantageous than full membership and a say in the future development of the EU.
For Leo Varadker and Fine Gael, the poll, if accurate, is also instructive. St. Augustine's prayer "Lord make me pure but not yet." comes to mind. The vast majority of the Republic's voters are in favour of a United Ireland, but over half don't think it is a practical proposition for the next few years. Nowhere is that scepticism more pronounced than in his own Fine Gael party, more than two thirds of whose voters take that view.
But there is a big difference between not considering a united Ireland a realistic proposition in the near future and tolerating the erection of customs controls at the border that could only make that prospect more distant. Leo Varadker leads a small minority government where Fine Gael only got 25% of the vote last time out. He simply cannot afford to be outflanked by Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein on the issue.
So the Irish Government, and by extension, the EU, will maintain it's insistence that there can be no hard border on the island of Ireland. That means N. Ireland must effectively remain within the Customs Union and Single Market and erect customs controls in the Irish sea. If that means the fall of Theresa May's government for lack of DUP support, then so be it. The DUP hasn't exactly been racking up the brownie points in either Ireland or the UK of late.
The fact that even N. Ireland voters regard the Republic more favourably than they do the direction of travel of N. Ireland under DUP leadership has to mean the Irish government is doing some things right. Perhaps the burgeoning Irish economy, with unemployment now down to 5% from a peak of 16% in 2011, is a factor in all of this. Successful referenda on marriage equality and the right to an abortion in certain circumstances may also have helped.
Northern Ireland is in danger of being left behind - by both Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland - moving in different directions. Sooner or later it may dawn on Unionists that their bargaining power is rapidly diminishing. No one wants to take over a divided and dysfunctional state-let. Both Britain and Ireland are going their own ways and are not going to wait for N. Ireland to catch up or catch on.