Sinn Féin is on course to be the largest party at Stormont and select Northern Ireland’s first minister for the very first time.
The Irish nationalists hold a six-point lead over the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the latest poll ahead of crucial 5 May election, with experts warning of a constitutional crisis on the way.
DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he was “not bothered” by the shock poll and claimed to be confident his party would still win the Stormont election.
But if the latest results are reflected in votes cast next week, it will make the nationalists the biggest players at Stormont – and would allow the party to nominate vice president Michelle O’Neill for first minister.
Support for Sinn Féin is at 26 per cent with the DUP on 20 per cent, according to the latest the LucidTalk poll commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph.
The DUP has previously threatened to withdraw from the Northern Ireland Executive if Boris Johnson’s action is not taken to ditch the Northern Ireland protocol.
Downing Street is thought to be drawing up legislation for the 10 May Queen’s Speech aimed at unilaterally “tearing up” parts of the protocol it does not like – despite warnings by Brussels it would violate the treaty signed by Mr Johnson over two years ago.
Tory peer and pollster Lord Hayward has warned of “serious constitutional implications” for the whole UK if power-sharing arrangements at Stormont collapse in the midst of the ongoing row with the EU.
But Sir Jeffrey played down Sinn Fein’s poll lead on Friday. “I think the polls are not reflective of what I find on the doors … I’m not bothered by polls, and I think the political pundits who stake their reputation on the results of polls might get a surprise on May 5.”
The DUP boss added: “Most unionists recognise the DUP is the only unionist party that can win, they don’t want to see Sinn Fein winning and taking forward their divisive border poll agenda.”
Sinn Féin have played down DUP attempts to talk up a potential referendum on the unification of Ireland. But Ms O’Neill did say last week that Brexit had made many people question Northern Ireland’s place in the UK.
The nationalist party’s Stormont leader said: “I think a lot of people are now considering the constitutional position because Brexit has pulled us out of the EU, stolen our EU citizenship from us.”
It comes a former top civil servant has attacked Mr Johnson government’s handling of the ongoing Brexit protocol row with Brussels.
Dr Andrew McCormick, who played a central role at Stormont as the government negotiated the Brexit deal with the EU, said that responsibility for the consequences lies “fairly and squarely” with Mr Johnson and his team.
In an article for The Constitution Society, the ex-mandarin said: “There is little credibility in any argument that the UK government either did not anticipate the implications of what it had agreed, or was constrained and unable to choose any other option.”
In other developments, Jacob Rees-Mogg has admitted that Brexit red tape had a damaging impact on food prices at the supermarket – as he defended his decision to scrap looming controls on imports from the EU.
The Brexit opportunities told ITV that the controls “would have been an act of self-harm” and conceded that some price increases would have been “quite significant”. He added: “Free trade is hugely advantageous to consumers.”
The latest Lucidtalk poll was carried out online on April 22-24 using its established online opinion panel, comprising of 13,816 members, which it states is balanced to be demographically representative of Northern Ireland.