Two-thirds of people in the UK want the government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new opinion poll commissioned by Best for Britain and HOPE not hate.
There was agreement that an extension to the transition period should be requested across all age groups, social grades and UK regions, as well as relatively high support among Conservative and Brexit Party voters.
Best for Britain’s call for an extension to the transition period has been echoed by numerous bodies and pressure groups, including the Scottish and Welsh Governments.
Two-thirds of Brits (64%) said they agreed with the statement ‘The government should request an extension to the transition period in order to focus properly on the Coronavirus’, whereas a third (36%) agreed with the statement ‘The Brexit transition period must end on 31 December whether a deal has been fixed or not’.
While this was broken down into predictable support from those who voted for Labour (84%) and the Lib Dems (83%) at the last election, the first statement was also supported by nearly half of those who voted Conservative (44%) and a fifth of Brexit Party voters (19%).
No generational divide
An extension was supported by more than 50 per cent of people across all age groups, with 18-24 year olds the most supportive (78%) and 65+ year olds the least supportive (although still 52%) – meaning there is no generational divide in the country over an extension request.
The same poll also found that Brits want the government to seek membership of the EU Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) for medical emergencies, after it emerged earlier this month that the Department for Health had been unsuccessful in lobbying No 10 to remain a member.
Majority of Conservative voters want UK to work with the world
A total of 65 per cent of people in the UK, including 55 per cent of those who voted Conservative at the last election, want the government to seek membership of the EWRS.
The EWRS was set up in 1998 to ‘allow exchange of information on risk assessment and risk management for more timely, efficient and coordinated public health action’.
The NHS Confederation has identified membership of the EWRS as a priority, arguing that tackling global outbreaks such as coronavirus would become “more difficult if the UK loses access.”
Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said:
“It’s simply not reasonable to expect we will have tied up negotiations with the EU by the end of the year while dealing with a warlike emergency. Nor is it desirable.
“By thinking it can complete both challenges at once, the government would be setting itself up for failure with profound economic consequences.
"Most people just want the government to get on with the job at hand so that lives can be saved and normality restored as quickly as possible.
"This is the case across all age groups and UK regions, which explains why the government is facing calls to extend the transition period from such a wide variety of pressure groups.
“The country is simply not in a place to weather two storms at the moment.”
HOPE not hate CEO Nick Lowles said:
"EU schemes like the Early Warning and Response System and the ventilator procurement programme are critical tools for responding to this urgent public health crisis.
"Healthcare workers are doing a fantastic job, but they cannot fight this disease alone. They need all the help they can get.
"The government must put politics aside and urgently seek participation in these schemes. It would be foolhardy for ideology to get in the way of practical measures to keep people safe."
Why do we think there should be an extension?
1. No good deal without being at the table
Talks have been delayed, and it is hard to envisage when full negotiation rounds will be resumed. With the deadline for requesting an extension due at the end of June, when the country could still be battling the deadly outbreak of coronavirus, the already tight timetable set by the UK Government now appears impossible to meet. It is not reasonable to think we can strike a good deal for the UK in this timeframe.
The economic impact of all forms of Brexit is likely to be negative, especially so in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The tight timetable, together with the distance between the UK and EU positions on key subjects such as ‘level playing field’ commitments, means the chances of a no-deal Brexit have risen considerably since the coronavirus outbreak began. Best for Britain FOIs of local authority risk registers last year suggested they were in a place to deal with one external shock, but could not weather two. With the economy almost certain to still be on its knees at the beginning of 2021, the structural changes forced on business by leaving the EU without a deal would be catastrophic and undermine current attempts to save it.
3. Protecting our public services
Similarly, it is not reasonable to think our public services can handle two economic shocks of this scale at the same time. A recent example was the need to release all stockpiled Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) to deal with coronavirus, despite it having been earmarked for a no-deal Brexit. Given the strain that will be put on these services over the next year to deal with coronavirus, it would be irresponsible to leave the UK open to an avoidable shock.
The data for the poll can be downloaded here.
Focaldata, 2,022 UK adults, fieldwork completed between 20-23rd March 2020.
How did the Press report the poll?
The Sunday Times said "Officials in London and Brussels have said there is “zero” prospect of Britain striking a Brexit trade deal without an extension to the transition period — as a new poll found that members of the public want Boris Johnson to ask for a delay."
The Mail on Sunday reported that "the latest round of talks was cancelled this month after efforts to find a way of video conferencing failed" and "two-thirds of Britons want Brexit trade talks delay so Boris Johnson can focus on coronavirus".
The Independent reported the story with the headline "Coronavirus: Two-thirds of Britons want UK to request Brexit extension to focus on pandemic, poll shows".
The Herald (Scotland) said "ALMOST four in five Scots want the UK Government to extend Brexit negotiations with Brussels in light of the coronavirus crisis."
The Daily Express pointed out "An overwhelming amount (66 percent) of respondents said they supported a delay and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is battling coronavirus himself, to trigger a Brexit extension."