Support for Irish PM's party surges on back of Brexit row

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar's Fine Gael party surged into an 11-point lead in a poll on Thursday, gaining credit for the government's Brexit negotiating stance and indicating its recent near-collapse had not hurt his popularity.

Varadkar has played a key role in negotiations over Britain's withdrawal from the European Union this week, insisting that a tentative deal struck on the Irish border on Monday must be fulfilled if talks are to move onto the next phase, as London wants.

That was in sharp contrast to a week earlier when his deputy prime minister had to resign to avert a government collapse and election before Christmas, an episode that members of Fine Gael feared would damage both the party and its leader.

Yet support for Fine Gael rose by five points to 36 percent in the Irish Times/MRBI poll, while fellow centre-right rival Fianna Fail has fallen four points to 25 percent since October. The left-wing Sinn Fein party was unchanged on 19 percent.

The most recent survey taken by another polling company, conducted during the government crisis, showed that the two main parties were almost neck and neck. The number of undecided voters was far higher in the MRBI sample.

Satisfaction with the government also rose by five points to 41 percent in Thursday's poll, the highest level achieved by any government in almost a decade.

"Today's poll proves that timing is everything," said MRBI director Aisling Corcoran.

"Interviewing took place on Monday and Tuesday against the backdrop of Brexit negotiations and the government has been credited with approaching the negotiations with clarity and determination."

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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