Introduction

Introduction

Social attitudes in post-Brexit Lockdown Britain

The early months of 2020 were momentous. At the end of January, the UK terminated nearly 50 years’ membership of the European Union (EU), after the outcome of the December 2019 general election broke the parliamentary stalemate that had hitherto made it impossible to bring the Brexit process, instigated in 2016, to a conclusion. Then just seven weeks later, on 23 March, the UK and devolved governments announced that there was to be a UK-wide lockdown in the wake of an outbreak of a new disease, COVID-19, that was proving highly infectious and had already resulted in loss of life. In short, one of the most momentous public policy decisions taken since 1945 was followed almost immediately by the biggest public health crisis in a century, a crisis that is still leaving its mark on the country’s social and economic life some 18 months later.

Historians and social scientists will doubtless be assessing the significance and long-term consequences of both Brexit and the pandemic – and their relative importance – for many years to come. For a project like British Social Attitudes (BSA) which has been endeavouring since 1983 to trace how the climate of public opinion evolves in the wake of social, economic and political change, such a confluence of events poses an obvious, immediate question – what imprint, if any, has it left on the country’s social attitudes? After all, the debate about Brexit aroused many a passion in the years leading up to the UK’s withdrawal and we might imagine that both ‘Leavers’ and ‘Remainers’ will have reacted strongly – if perhaps differently – to the eventual outcome. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic saw the state intervene in social and economic life on a scale unprecedented in peacetime, an experience that might be thought to have challenged – or, perhaps, reinforced – people’s views about the proper role of government in a 21st century society. These questions are the central preoccupation of this year’s BSA report.

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