British Public Overwhelmingly Support Closing the UK Border (and Have Since Pandemic Began)

February 11, 2021
By The Redfield & Wilton Strategies Research Team
Coronavirus | Coronavirus Lockdown Measures | Coronavirus Restrictions | Health
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From 15 February, travellers entering the UK from 33 red-listed countries will have to quarantine in a Government-approved facility in a bid to combat new strains of the coronavirus. Yet there has been criticism that the UK Government has been slow and disorganized when it comes to new border controls, and one week before the introduction of hotel quarantines, the Government had not signed a single ‘quarantine hotel’ contract. A negative test to enter the UK, which soon will include additional tests on Days 2 and 8 of quarantine, has only been required for a matter of weeks while other countries have required testing for months. Quarantines for international arrivals were not even required until 8 June 2020. As the vaccination program accelerates in the UK, there is fear that new mutations might derail the UK’s attempt to escape the crisis.

In a poll conducted last week, we found that the majority (59%) of the British public do not think border restrictions are strict enough. Approximately a fifth (22%) think they are appropriate, and only 7% think they are too strict. 12% say they don’t know.

There is little divide across the political spectrum. The majority of both 2019 Conservative voters (63%) and 2019 Labour voters (56%) think the Government’s current border restrictions are not strict enough.

When asked about the latest changes, the vast majority (80%) agree that the new policy of quarantine hotels only for those who arrive in the United Kingdom from certain ‘red-list’ countries does not go too far.

Again, support of tighter border restrictions crosses party political lines with 85% of 2019 Conservative voters and 72% of 2019 Labour voters saying the quarantine hotels policy does not go too far. However, there is a clear age dimension to responses, with 43% of those aged 18-24 saying the Government’s new policy goes too far, compared to only 7% of those aged 55-64.

The new policy only applies to international arrivals from a list of 33 countries identified as potentially having mutant strains of the virus, and anyone who has been in those countries in the last 10 days can only enter the UK if they are British or Irish nationals, or if they have residence rights in the UK. However, some have argued that the borders need to be closed entirely, especially as the prevalence of the virus in the UK declines and vaccination rates in other countries lag behind.

78% of the British public would support the United Kingdom fully closing its borders, including 45% who would strongly support total closure. Only 6% of the public would oppose.

Opposition is remarkably low across age groups and support is united across political parties. 78% of 2019 Conservative voters and 79% of 2019 Labour voters support the full closure of borders.

Support for total border closure has been high since very early in the pandemic. In late May, before the mandatory quarantine for international arrivals was even introduced, half (50%) of the British public wanted the UK Government to not let anyone into the country, while 41% supported letting people in and asking them to self-isolate. Again, there were little difference along political party lines, with pluralities of voters for each of the major parties supporting total border closure.

Home Secretary Priti Patel recently revealed that she argued for borders to be shut in March, when case numbers in the UK were much lower than other European countries. In April, two-thirds (66%) of the British public said they would feel uncomfortable with the UK keeping its borders open to people traveling from other countries, assuming the coronavirus situation in the United Kingdom was under control. Support for closing the borders at the time has always been high, and new research has further found that international travel had the ‘biggest impact’ on deaths in the first wave of the pandemic.

The British public, including voters of all political persuasions, have consistently supported tighter border restrictions and even the full closure of the border since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. While the Government has implemented realistic new restrictions such as mandatory testing and quarantine hotels for some travellers, the British public overwhelmingly appears to support less realistic actions such as a full closure of the border.

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.

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