Two-thirds of Brits want Brexit transition extension to keep focus on coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Fra

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference, at 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Frank Augstein/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Two-thirds of people in the UK want the government to request an extension to the Brexit transition period in order to focus on the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new opinion poll.

There was agreement that an extension to the transition period should be requested across all age groups, social grades and UK regions, as well as a number of Conservative and Brexit Party voters.

The polling, conducted by Focaldata poll for Best for Britain and HOPE not hate, found two-thirds of Brits (64%) agreed with delaying the Brexit transition period to allow the government to focus on tackling coronavirus, compared to a third (36%) who want the Brexit transition period to end at the end of the year.

A majority of support for an extension came from those that voted Labour (84%) and the Lib Dems (83%) at the last election, but also had the support of nearly half of those who voted Conservative (44%) and a fifth of Brexit Party voters (19%).

The same polling also found that Brits want the government to seek membership of the EU Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) for medical emergencies, after it emerged earlier this month that the Department for Health had been unsuccessful in lobbying No 10 to remain a member.

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The EWRS was set up in 1998 to ‘allow exchange of information on risk assessment and risk management for more timely, efficient and coordinated public health action’.

A total of 65% of people, including 55% of those who voted Conservative at the last election, want the government to seek membership of the EWRS.

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“It’s simply not reasonable to expect we will have tied up negotiations with the EU by the end of the year while dealing with a warlike emergency. Nor is it desirable,” said Best for Britain CEO Naomi Smith. “By thinking it can complete both challenges at once, the government would be setting itself up for failure with profound economic consequences.

“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.

“This is the case across all age groups and UK regions, which explains why the government is facing calls to extend the transition period from such a wide variety of pressure groups.

“The country is simply not in a place to weather two storms at the moment.”

“EU schemes like the Early Warning and Response System and the ventilator procurement programme are critical tools for responding to this urgent public health crisis.” added HOPE not hate CEO Nick Lowles. “Healthcare workers are doing a fantastic job, but they cannot fight this disease alone. They need all the help they can get.

“The government must put politics aside and urgently seek participation in these schemes. It would be foolhardy for ideology to get in the way of practical measures to keep people safe.”

Ian Murray MP, Labour deputy leadership candidate, said that it was now impossible to “secure a Brexit deal that protects businesses and workers before the end of the year”.

He said: “This is not a time for constitutional politics. This is a time for working together, both within the UK and with the EU.

“The UK government needs to formally apply for an extension to the transition period so that all focus remains on addressing the coronavirus outbreak.”

It comes as Scottish and Welsh governments called for Boris Johnson to “hit pause” on Brexit.

The SNP’s Philippa Whitford said it would be irresponsible and “an act of economic and social self-harm” to continue “hurtling” towards the transition deadline.

A UK government spokesman said: “Our top priority as a Ggovernment is to slow the spread of the coronavirus, protect the NHS and keep people safe - we are working around the clock to do so, with all four nations together providing unprecedented financial support for businesses, workers and the self-employed.

“We remain fully committed to the negotiations. Last week, the UK and EU shared draft legal texts and discussions with the commission are continuing.

“The transition period ends on 31 December 2020, as enshrined in UK law, which the prime minister has made clear he has no intention of changing.”