Democracy

Democracy

Brexit, the pandemic and trust and confidence in government

The effective delivery of public policy, including not least in a pandemic, is often thought to require a reasonable level of trust and confidence in the political system. However, there has been a long-term decline in political trust in Britain, which fell to an all-time low during the parliamentary stalemate over Brexit in 2019. This chapter examines the impact that the delivery of Brexit and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic had on levels of political trust and on some of the debates about constitutional reform in Britain.

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Levels of trust and confidence have risen back to pre-Brexit levels

  • Levels of trust and confidence have risen back to pre-Brexit levels. 23% now say that they trust governments to put the national interest first, up from 15% in 2019 and slightly above the average of 20% recorded between 2010 and 2017.
  • 32% now say that the system of governing Britain needs little if any improvement, up from 20% in 2019, and only a little below the average level of 34% between 2000 and 2014.
  • 44% say they almost never trust politicians to tell the truth, down from 51% in 2019, and similar to the level found in 2013 and 2016.

The delivery of Brexit has helped restore trust and confidence – but only among Leave voters

  • Among Leave voters, the proportion who trust governments to put the national interest first has increased from 12% in 2019 to 31% in 2020. Only 17% of Remain voters share this view.
  • 46% of Leave voters think that Britain’s system of government is in little need of improvement, up from 17% in 2019. Only 24% of Remain voters say the same.
  • Despite a ‘rally-round-the-flag’ effect early on during the pandemic, those who are most concerned about the disease are not more likely to put their trust and confidence in government

Brexit has had little impact on attitudes towards constitutional reform

  • There is little sign that Brexit has discouraged Remain voters from backing referendums on other subjects. 65% of them believe the electoral system should be settled by a referendum rather than decided by MPs – exactly the same proportion as among Leave voters.
  • 42% of people in England back either an English Parliament or regional assemblies, the same proportion as did so in 2015, before the EU referendum
  • 24% of people in England think that Scotland should become independent, much the same as the 22% who did so in 2015.

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