Rishi Sunak’s Approval Rating Ticks Up Following Northern Ireland Trade Deal

The British premier still has an uphill battle to keep his party in control in the next election, however
March 09, 2023 at 2:00 am UTC

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U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s approval rating is up 5 percentage points among British adults since announcing his deal with the European Union over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland, Morning Consult surveys show, though a majority continue to disapprove of his job performance.

Sunak Gains Steam Following Northern Ireland Trade Deal

Shares of respondents who approve or disapprove of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s job performance, before and after the Feb. 27 announcement of an E.U.-U.K. agreement on a Northern Ireland trade deal
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Surveys conducted in 2023 among a representative sample of at least 4,547 British adults, with unweighted margins of error of +/-1 percentage points. Don’t know/No opinion responses are not shown.

Northern Ireland deal apparently well-received across a broad range of demographics

  • Sunak saw the biggest bump among those who identify with the Conservative Party, with his approval rising 11 percentage points to 72%.
  • In Northern Ireland itself, Sunak’s approval rating rose 9 points to 35%, though a clear majority disapprove of his job performance. Closer to home, the prime minister’s approval rating increased 10 percentage points in the West Midlands and Yorkshire, crucial areas that voted Labour for decades before dramatically swinging to the Tories in 2019. 
  • Younger adults are less impressed with the deal than their older cohorts: Sunak’s approval among those ages 18-44 increased just 2 points to 29%, compared with an 8-point bump among those 45 and older.
  • Adults in Scotland, which has made independence a serious ambition under First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and largely supported “remain" during the Brexit referendum, saw a similarly small but positive shift. 

Closing the deal may help Sunak begin to move past Brexit

Brexit has been blamed in some quarters of British society for the tenuous economic situation the United Kingdom finds itself in today. Britain is the only G-7 country with an economy still smaller than it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, supplies of basic necessities such as fresh vegetables have been severely disrupted and British manufacturers stand to lose out on a windfall of E.U. defense spending related to Ukraine. Recent surveys show regret over Brexit is growing.

All of that makes it a topic that Sunak and his Conservative Party, which was ultimately responsible for the U.K.’s departure from the bloc, are eager to put behind them. Sunak hyped the deal, which grants major concessions to the European Union, by describing his excitement over Northern Ireland’s “unique” position in having access to both European and British markets — exactly what all British voters once enjoyed, his opponents quickly pointed out

The deal seems to have done much to galvanize faith in Sunak’s leadership among his base at the least, which puts him in a better position to shape policy and messaging leading up to elections that must be held by January 2025. However, polls of a hypothetical matchup still show Labour with a dominant lead, and time is not on Sunak’s side as he attempts to set the Tories back on track.

A headshot photograph of Matthew Kendrick
Matthew Kendrick
Data Reporter

Matthew Kendrick previously worked at Morning Consult as a data reporter covering geopolitics and foreign affairs.

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