NEW POLL: Brits want long Brexit extension to deal with coronavirus - including 49% of Leave voters

A new opinion poll has found that two-thirds of the public support an extension to the transition period – with most preferring a longer extension until the coronavirus crisis has been resolved.

The Focaldata poll was commissioned by cross-party campaign group Best for Britain and HOPE not hate, ahead of the first of three newly scheduled negotiating rounds between the UK and the EU.

The survey of over 2,000 people found that 66 per cent of the public believe the UK government ‘should focus 100% of its energy on dealing with coronavirus for the rest of the year’, including nearly half of Conservative and Leave voters.

Of those who support an extension, 64 per cent want the transition period to be extended ‘indefinitely until the crisis is resolved’.

The call for an extension to the transition period has been made by numerous bodies and pressure groups, including the Scottish and Welsh Governments. In an interview with the BBC this week, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said it would be “wise” not to add to the “unprecedented uncertainty” arising from the pandemic.

Despite this, Downing Street announced on Thursday that it would neither request an extension to the transition period nor accept any such request from the EU.

Public opinion in favour of longer extension

Best for Britain have been testing public opinion on an extension of the transition period since the coronavirus outbreak began.

Our new poll, commissioned alongside our partners at HOPE not hate, finds that the general public overwhelmingly support extending the transition period.

Two-thirds of respondents said they thought the government ‘should focus 100% of its energy on dealing with Coronavirus for the rest of the year’, whereas only a third (34%) thought the UK government could ‘balance dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak whilst also giving necessary time to negotiate a full trade deal with the EU before the end of the year.’ There was agreement among all age groups and UK regions.

Of those who supported an extension, 64 per cent wanted the transition period to be extended ‘indefinitely until the crisis is resolved’, whereas 36 per cent wanted the transition period to be extended ‘for a maximum of a year.’

Small ‘c’ conservatives want UK Government to focus on coronavirus

While some have speculated that the government’s position on extension owes to a fear it will be punished for failing to deliver on its manifesto pledge not to delay Brexit, our data suggests this is not the case.

With some high-profile Brexit supporters conceding the need for an extension, our data indicates that the government has support for extending the transition period among small ‘c’ conservative voters.

  • 48% of Conservative voters
  • 45% of Brexit Party voters
  • 49% of Leave voters 

Of those who supported an extension there was strong support for a longer extension:

  • 44% of Conservative voters
  • 27% of Brexit Party voters
  • 43% of Leave voters

Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith said:

“It is deeply worrying to see the government adopt such an extreme stance on not extending the transition period, when weeks ago it was promising to do ‘whatever it takes’ to beat the virus.

“The views of small ‘c’ conservative voters in our data is telling. It’s patronising to suggest they would punish the government at the ballot box for prioritising the country’s health over an arbitrary exit date.

“They are compromising. It may not be their preference, but everyone can see that the government is overwhelmed by the task at hand and needs no further distractions. The government must take this opportunity to unchain itself, and most importantly our economy, from the 31st December exit date.”

HOPE not hate CEO Nick Lowles said:

“Very little progress has been made on key negotiating points such as the level playing field commitments, while in areas such as fishing not even a draft text of our position has been published. That puts us far behind schedule.

"If we cannot agree a trade deal in time, the UK risks a double economic hit caused by a no-deal Brexit and a coronavirus-induced recession.

“We have only one chance to ask for an extension, and that has to be done by the end of June. The government must urgently act to protect businesses and communities across the country.”

The Poll

The data for the poll can be downloaded here.

Conducted by Focaldata, polling 2,032 UK adults, fieldwork was completed between 7-9 April 2020.

Why do we think there should be an extension?

Best for Britain is a cross-party campaign group whose objective is to maintain the closest possible relationship with the EU, ensuring long-term economic prosperity and preventing hard-fought rights and protections being watered down as the UK leaves the bloc.

1. No time to negotiate

With the deadline for requesting an extension due at the end of June, when the country will 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.

2. Economic disruption

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.