Public overwhelmingly support UK-EU collaboration to combat COVID-19 New research shows the majority of Britons want government to seek an extension to the Brexit transition period because of the COVID-19 pandemic

13 June 2020

About 4 mins to read

New research from the Health Foundation has found overwhelming public support (95%) for the UK to work closely with the European Union (EU) to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research, conducted by Ipsos MORI as part of a wider survey on people’s experiences during the pandemic, found 77% of people surveyed believe the UK should work ‘very closely’ with the EU to combat COVID-19, with a further 17% agreeing it should work with the EU ‘fairly closely’.

Of those surveyed, almost all of those who voted Remain in the EU referendum (99%) supported working closely with the EU to combat the pandemic, and over nine in ten (91%) of those who voted Leave also supported closer collaboration.

In addition, the survey indicated public support for an extension to the Brexit transition period to allow the government to focus on COVID-19, across two sample groups. Among the first sample, who were told that the transition period for leaving the EU would end on 31 December, over half (54%) said the government should request an extension, while 40% said it should not. The second sample received additional information on potential delays to the supply of medicines and medicinal products in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in line with government assessments. Among this sample, the proportion thinking the transition period should extend increased to two-thirds (65%), with 31% saying it should not extend. Overall, young people (aged 18-24) were far more likely to advocate an extension (85%).

The Health Foundation, an independent charity, is warning of the heightened risks of ending the transition period on 31 December 2020 without a trade deal or an extension being agreed, as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic. The Foundation, alongside the King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust, has previously highlighted that a ‘no-deal’ exit from the EU could cause significant harm to the NHS and social care services. Government assessments have suggested leaving the EU without an agreement could worsen the workforce crisis in health and care, drive up demand for already hard-pressed services, hinder the supply of medicines and other vital supplies, and stretch the public finances which pay for health care.

The charity today highlights that ending the transition period on 31 December before a trade deal is agreed risks delays to medical supplies, thus adding pressures on the NHS and social care system that will be trying to manage winter pressures, for example, arising from seasonal flu and a potential second wave of the virus. 

The representative survey found that those who voted Remain in the EU referendum were unsurprisingly more likely to advocate an extension to the transition period because of COVID-19, but around three in ten Leave voters also agreed this was necessary to allow the government to focus on managing the pandemic. Specifically:

  • 79% of those who voted Remain advocated for an extension to the transition period. This increased to 85% of Remain voters in the group who were informed of the implications for the NHS of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit
  • 66% of Leave voters did not want an extension to the transition period, while 29% advocated an extension. Advocacy of an extension increased to 39% of Leave voters in the group informed of potential implications of ‘no-deal’ for the NHS, while 58% said there should not be an extension
  • 56% of people who did not vote in 2016, including those who were too young to vote, supported an extension, increasing to 72% in the group informed of potential implications for the NHS.

Jennifer Dixon, Chief Executive of the Health Foundation commented:

'COVID-19 has put the government, the economy, the NHS and social care under intense pressure. As we emerge from the first wave, health and care services face major challenges in restarting and adapting services.

'This winter a no-deal Brexit could exacerbate already acute shortages in the NHS and social care workforce and create new avoidable shortages of medicines and vital supplies. This would come at the same time as the health service is facing significant pressures from seasonal flu, supporting people recovering from COVID-19, tackling the large backlog of patients who didn’t receive care during lockdown, and potentially coping with another wave of infection from the coronavirus. This would be a vicious, and avoidable, combination of risks.

'The public understandably prefer protection from risks that can be anticipated and avoided. This research suggests the public clearly prioritise the management of the coronavirus pandemic, and collaboration with the EU.'

About this research

A nationally representative sample of 1,983 people, aged 18 and over in Great Britain, were interviewed via telephone on the Ipsos MORI CATI Omnibus survey between 1 and 10 May 2020. Quotas were set and data weighted to ensure a nationally representative sample of people aged 18 and over. Quotas were set on age, gender, government office region and working status. This data has been weighted to the known offline population proportions for age within gender, government office region and working status, social grade and education level. 

Media contact

Creina Lilburne
07941 156 827

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