Brexit during the Coronavirus Crisis

March 26, 2020
Coronavirus | Foreign Policy | The European Union

Many Britons entered this year, as they did in recent years, expecting Brexit and the negotiations surrounding the UK’s exit from the European Union to be one of the key issues that would dominate headlines throughout the year. As the coronavirus crisis has brought life in Britain to a standstill, Brexit now seems a distant memory, a problem that many Britons may now remember nostalgically as trifling.

Even so, it is worth reflecting on whether attitudes towards Brexit have shifted as a result of this crisis. Do people think being outside of the EU has made a difference to the UK’s response to the crisis? Have people’s opinion of the EU itself changed? Do they think the transition period, during which EU laws continue to apply in the UK, should now be extended beyond its December 31 expiration date?

Most respondents (42%) to our recent poll on coronavirus in Great Britain thought Brexit has made and will make no difference to the government’s response. 29% of respondents thought it will make it easier to effectively react to the crisis, and the same share thought it will make it harder to effectively react.

Which of the following statements is closest to your view of the UK Government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak so far?

We saw a similar response to a similar, but differently phrased, question on the speed of the UK’s response.Being outside the European Union means the UK Government can deal with the coronavirus… 

Such thinking should be unsurprising. After all, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union has only been partial so far. At the same time, the EU has done little on its own to combat the outbreak, with most nations undertaking measures largely on their own. In this hour of crisis, the EU has largely seemed irrelevant. 

In fact, most countries have violated certain spending rules by the EU in their attempt to alleviate the economic damage amid this crisis. Respondents almost entirely agreed that, if it came to it, the UK should, too, ignore those rules, including rules on State Aid, to provide needed financial support to UK businesses.

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? The UK government should be able to provide financial assistance to UK business who need support because of the coronavirus, even if it breaks EU state aid rules.

And respondents were more than happy to divert its continuing obligations to the EU during the present transition period towards fighting the coronavirus.

During the transition period, the UK, as part of its obligations must pay the European Union £1billion (NET) per month. Which of the following comes closest to your view?

Thinking further down the line towards the end of the present transition period, respondents to our poll were split on whether to extend its current expiration date or let the transition expire without an agreement on the future relationship between the UK and the EU.

Some people have argued that given the coronavirus crisis, the UK should extend the Brexit transition period in June to give the UK and the EU more time to work out a deal. Other people have argued that the UK should leave on the agreed date on December 31st with or without an agreement. Which of the following would you support the UK government doing?

Such a narrow division indicates a tricky decision for the Government. With members of the Government and EU negotiator Michel Barnier all contracting coronavirus, such a delay may seem tempting, especially given the current economic crisis.

Nevertheless, thinking back to the crisis of the last three years, a solid majority of respondents expressed happiness that the United Kingdom had ultimately left the European Union.

When it comes to the UK leaving the EU, which of the following comes closest to your view?

In this respect, members of the public may be happy that the nation has moved on. Imagine how frightening it would have been if the present crisis had hit this country while it was undergoing its internal turmoil over Brexit. Going forward, whatever path allows the UK to move on quickly from both the present and the previous crises may be the most appealing.

This poll is part of Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ ongoing research into public opinion on the coronavirus outbreak and government’s reaction to the crisis. Further results from our polling in the UK, USA, Italy, France, Spain and Germany is featured here.

Data tables for this research can be found here. To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.