A Windsor Win for Sunak?




1st March 2023

The Prime Minister has been widely heralded for successfully negotiating with the EU and achieving what he claims to be a good deal for Northern Ireland. But will the so-called ‘Windsor Framework’ bring about a meaningful change to the Conservative Party’s position in the polls?

There are times when Brexit feels like the 1966 World Cup, but for British politics. The England football team cannot take part in an international football tournament without talk inevitably turning to 1966 at some point – even nearly sixty years later. In the same way, any discussion or debate about British politics inevitably involves Brexit – and there is no guarantee this will not still be the case in sixty years’ time.

Despite the shadow that Brexit continues to cast over British politics, Deltapoll has consistently shown that, for so many people in this country, the finer detail of Britain’s relationship with the EU is simply not something that is of particular interest.

Only around one in ten British adults now says Brexit is one of the top three most important issues facing the country at the present time, and analysis by Deltapoll conducted earlier this month showed that only around the same proportion were able to name a specific way in which Britain had benefited from leaving the European Union.

During the seemingly never-ending heated debates over Brexit back in 2019, Deltapoll’s analysis of the emotional connection prompted by various Brexit messages revealed that none received an Emotional Resonance Score of more than 20 out of 100.

Similar to the lack of interest in the details of Brexit, Northern Ireland as a political issue is something that has rarely attracted much attention on the mainland since the Good Friday Agreement.

In July 2018, Deltapoll found that, outside of Northern Ireland, more than half of Leave voters (58%) said that, if it was only possible for one to occur, they would choose the UK leaving the EU over peace in Northern Ireland. Fewer than a third of that group (32%) prioritised peace.

With a sizeable majority of the British public not showing any real interest in either the details of Brexit nor Northern Ireland, it is perhaps difficult to see how the events of this week will make much of a difference to the government’s electoral fortunes.

It is worth remembering, however, that the Windsor Framework is being widely reported as a success, and in the months since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, positive stories such as this have been almost completely absent.

In the same way that individual bad news stories rarely have a lasting impact on polls, the same is true of individual good news stories. But in both cases, the cumulative effect of a series of such stories can help to form a broad narrative in the minds of the public. It is this narrative which can make a difference.

Even if most of the electorate are not paying much attention to the detail, a clear example of competence and success could, if not bring about a turnaround in the polls, at least slow the decline and provide a basis on which to then build. The key question now is are the Conservatives able to build on it, or do they find themselves in a situation such as 1992 to 1997, where good news stories were very few and far between for John Major’s government? The 1993 Downing Street Declaration on Northern Ireland provided very little help back then.

Will the Windsor Framework actually herald a lasting change in fortune for Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government after four months of difficulty in the polls? It would be a risk to bet your house on it – particularly if your house is 10 Downing Street – but time will tell.

Joe TwymanAuthor: Joe Twyman