Northern Ireland referendum to leave UK would fail today: poll

BELFAST (Reuters) - A Northern Ireland referendum on leaving the United Kingdom would fail today, a poll indicated on Tuesday, but most of those questioned said they believed the region would leave within the next 25 years.

A 1998 peace deal largely ended three decades of violence between Catholic Irish nationalists seeking to merge with Ireland and Protestant unionists seeking to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Under the peace deal, the British government can call a referendum on whether Northern Ireland should leave the United Kingdom if a 'yes' majority looks likely.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday told the BBC Spotlight documentary that commissioned the opinion poll that he did not expect such a vote for "a very, very long time to come".

The survey, undertaken by Northern Irish pollster Lucid Talk on behalf of the BBC, found that if a vote was held today some 43% of the region's voters would vote to leave the United Kingdom, while 49% of the region's voters would vote to remain and 8% were undecided.

However, 51% said they believed Northern Ireland would no longer be part of the United Kingdom in 25 years, with 37% saying they believed it would still be.

Some in the region expect higher birth rates among Catholic Irish nationalists to change the balance of power within a generation. Others believe many Catholics will ultimately balk at the upheaval that leaving would entail.

Of those polled, 48% said the Northern Ireland Protocol of Britain's European Union exit deal should be scrapped while 46% said they wanted it retained.

The British government and European Commission are engaged in talks on reducing trade frictions caused by the protocol that have disrupted parcel deliveries and left some supermarket shelves empty earlier in the year.

The poll, which questioned 2,845 Northern Ireland voters online on April 5-7, had a margin of error of 2.5%.

(Reporting by Amanda Ferguson and Conor Humphries, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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