People in Britain have more confidence in the EU than the UK parliament, reversing a state of affairs that has lasted for more than 30 years, research reveals.
Since the UK voted for Brexit, the proportion of people declaring confidence in parliament has slumped by 10 percentage points to 22% while there has been a seven percentage point rise in confidence in the Brussels-based bloc, to 39%. Confidence in the UK government also fell from 2017 to 2021.
The findings from the World Values Survey (WVS) exploring trust in institutions in 24 nations from Canada to South Korea are likely to boost confidence among advocates of rebuilding links between the UK and the EU.
The former Brexit secretary David Davis said the marked shift was probably a result of “a whiny, unpleasant, bitchy row” in parliament over Brexit since late 2017, “which has been completely unproductive”.
He said UK government crises over the coronavirus pandemic would have added to the slump in trust and suggested that since Brexit, the media – he named the Sun, Daily Telegraph, Times and Daily Mail – have stopped “kicking Brussels all the time” as they did in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
“No one reads about square strawberries or straight bananas any more,” he said.
The boost in confidence in the EU also follows a robust response from EU leaders to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s desire for his country to become part of the bloc.
Only 24% of people said they were “happy” that the UK voted to quit the EU while 49% said they were disappointed.
The findings also show the UK has joined the ranks of countries least likely to have confidence in government and parliament – falling behind France, Germany, Australia, Iran and China.
“Confidence in parliament has halved since 1990,” said Prof Bobby Duffy, the director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, which analysed the figures. “We’re among the least likely of more than 20 countries in the study to have confidence in the government; confidence in the police has fallen sharply, particularly in London; and only Egypt has less trust in their press.”
Confidence in parliament was dragged down by particularly low scores among members of the generation X, millennial and generation Z cohorts.
With only 13% of people saying they have confidence in UK political parties, the nation is on a par with Brazil, Italy and France but well behind Norway (36%), Sweden (32%), Canada (24%) and Germany (23%).
The UK was 23rd out of 24 countries in terms of confidence in the press. Media in Mexico, Italy, Russia and Brazil all enjoyed more than double the level of confidence.
“Some institutions fare better, with our courts system relatively highly rated, and the civil service coming out much better than our political institutions,” said Duffy.
The WVS is one of the largest and most widely used academic social surveys in the world, in operation since 1981. The latest UK data was collected in 2022, with data for other nations collected at various points throughout the latest wave of the WVS, which spanned 2017 to 2022.
“These trends matter,” said Duffy. “The pandemic showed how much we rely on public cooperation in times of crises, with confidence crucial to that, and the review of the Met police concluded ‘public consent is broken’. We need to work hard and quickly to shore up public confidence.”