Making social science accessible

18 Sep 2020

Politics and Society

The government has substantially squandered the trust people were willing to grant it over the management of Covid-19 and are in danger of losing further trust if they fail to deliver an effective Brexit deal and trade deal, new academic research shows.

Drawing on evidence from focus groups conducted during the summer of 2020, the report from the UK in a Changing Europe, ‘Will getting Brexit done restore political trust?’ finds:

  • The Covid-19 crisis has had a major impact on trust by diverting public attention onto both the government’s direct management of the pandemic and its fallout for the economy, the health system and education. (There are high levels of latent trust in government to protect people in a crisis) As failings in managing Covid-19 become more strongly evident that latent trust gives way to returning doubts and sarcastic humour at the government’s expense.
  • The prime minister and his government are trusted on the issue of Brexit, but the benefit from that is limited as Brexit is largely seen as already done by Leavers and Remainers and credit for that allocated happily by the former and fatalistically by the latter; voters on both sides of the Brexit divide seem ready to move on. Validating further the idea for both Leavers and Remainers that getting Brexit done is a card that has already been played.
  • Battles for public trust in future are likely to be focused on a post-Covid recovery. As for the prospects for the post-Brexit deal (or no deal), anxiety and cynicism were the dominant themes:
  • Most participants expected a need to delay the negotiations (even after the deadline had passed for an extension), many expressed fears over the double whammy of simultaneous economic shocks of Brexit and Covid.
  • There was a widespread cynicism especially among Leavers that government would try to ‘hide behind Covid’ when it came to any negative economic impacts of Brexit.
  • If Brexit is revived in the public mind, through wrangling over trade deals with the EU, there is a risk that it undermines rather than enhances trust in the government, which is heavily premised on having got Brexit done.

Principal investigator, Professor Will Jennings, from the University of Southampton, said: “Our research suggests that citizens granted the government considerable trust at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, but that has started to fray in response to perceived confusion and mismanagement.

“There are warning signs from our focus groups that trust will be eroded further if the government does not deliver an effective deal by the end of December that allows it to confirm that it has truly got Brexit done.”

You can read the full report here.


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