Boris Johnson should extend EU trade talks amid coronavirus disruption, poll says

Almost half of those questioned say they would like Britain to rejoin the European Union

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Saturday 11 April 2020 15:36 BST
Johnson touches upon Brexit during coronavirus conference: 'There’s legislation in place that I have no intention of changing'

A significant majority of voters want Boris Johnson to extend trade talks with the EU, which have been interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey.

Some 47 per cent of those questioned by BMG for The Independent said the prime minister should ditch his 31 December deadline to complete talks or walk out of the EU without a trade deal, against just 23 per cent who said he should stick to his timetable. Another 21 per cent said they neither opposed nor supported a delay and 8 per cent did not know.

And there was growing support for rejoining the EU, with 49 per cent saying they want the UK to seek renewed membership less than three months after it left on 31 January, compared to 51 per cent who want to stay out.

At least one planned round of talks between UK negotiator David Frost and his EU counterpart Michel Barnier has been cancelled because of the outbreak, which saw both men infected with Covid-19.

But Mr Johnson and key ministers have repeatedly said that they are sticking to the New Year’s Eve deadline for concluding the transition period to Brexit, which they wrote into law in the EU Withdrawal Act – and the PM has not stepped back from his threat to walk out on talks in June if no progress is being made.

Businesses are increasingly concerned at the prospect of a disruptive no-deal Brexit on 1 January, coming hot on the heels of the economic damage caused by coronavirus.

The government’s most recent economic assessment, issued by the Treasury in 2018, found that departure from the EU without a trade deal could cost the UK up to 9 per cent of GDP over the coming years.

Pauline Bastidon, head of European policy at the Freight Transport Association, has called for an extension to talks saying: “There’s absolutely no bandwidth for anything other than Covid-19. There’s no time, energy, money or interest at the moment to focus on Brexit.”

Support for delay was shared by more than a third of Conservative voters (35 per cent) and Leave voters (34 per cent) taking part in the BMG poll. Some 42 per cent of Tories and 45 per cent of Leave voters thought Mr Johnson should press ahead with his plan to halt talks at the end of 2020, deal or no deal.

Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of Labour voters, 72 per cent of Lib Dems and 66 per cent of Remain backers thought the deadline to conclude negotiations should be pushed back.

And an extension to talks was backed by a plurality of voters in every part of Britain and every age group.

David Frost and Michel Barnier are among those who have caught coronavirus
David Frost and Michel Barnier are among those who have caught coronavirus (Reuters)

The director of the UK in a Changing Europe think tank, King’s College London professor Anand Menon, told The Independent: “What these figures reveal is that a large proportion of the public understand – even if the government still seems not to – that Covid-19 changes everything. And that should include the timetable for ending the transition.”

The CEO of the Best for Britain campaign, Naomi Smith, said: “Since the UK went into lockdown, poll after poll has shown the country is in favour of extending the transition period.

“That includes a sizeable chunk of those who voted for the Conservatives at the last election, who will be dismayed at their party’s refusal to give the the country some breathing room to continue negotiations with the EU once we are in a better place.

“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.

“With senior ministers falling ill, the government lacks the capacity to split its focus right now.”

The poll found support for rejoining the EU up three points to 49 per cent since a similar survey in March, with only a wafer-thin majority now in favour of Brexit.

Support for rejoining was strongest among the young (68 per cent of 18 to 24 year-olds and 59 per cent of 25 to 34 year-olds), people with degrees (60 per cent) and voters from ethnic minorities (67 per cent).

However, there is a majority for staying out in every part of the country except London and Scotland and among all over-55 age groups.

Rejoining is backed by supporters of all major parties except the Tories, 84 per cent of whom want to stay out. Some 8 per cent of Leave voters now say they want to rejoin the EU.

BMG questioned 1,541 British adults between 7 and 9 April

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in