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Abstract

Even though populist movements typically thrive in political, economic, and/or social crises, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be difficult for populists across Europe to politicize and mediate. The extent to which populists have been able to capitalize on the pandemic has varied from country to country. This article will examine how European populist movements in three European countries—the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy—have responded to the pandemic, and how they will likely fare in their upcoming national elections.

Crises usually bode well for populist movements. Populists often mediate and politicise crises for electoral advantage. An example of the political opportunities presented by crises can be observed in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis, which was followed by the Eurozone debt crisis in 2011/2012. These economic crises disrupted national economies, as well as national politics across the globe. Populism movements sprang up, specifically right-wing populist parties. Notable examples were the Brexit Party in the United Kingdom and the Tea Party, followed by the election of President Donald Trump in the United States.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered political, healthcare, social, and economic crises across the globe. We would therefore expect populist movements to have leveraged the chaos and disorder which has beset national and international governing institutions. However, the extent to which populists have been able to capitalise on the pandemic has varied across countries. This article begins by defining populism according to Cas Mudde’s ideational interpretation of populism. Then, recent populist movements in Italy, Spain, and the UK will be examined in an effort to determine how populism in each country has, or has not, responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. These three countries were chosen for case studies since they were among the European countries to be hit first and worst by the pandemic, especially during the first wave. Therefore, there is considerably more research on the health crises and resulting political dynamics within these countries than there is on countries that have not suffered as severely or were hit by the pandemic later.

Understanding populism

Populism is perhaps one of the most contested and frequently undefined terms in politics. Indeed, the term is employed to refer to a wide range of movements across political contexts that challenge established governing institutions. What’s more, populism is rarely claimed by parties or movements as a self-descriptor. In view of the lack of consensus around the meaning of the term, this article employs Cas Mudde’s ideational interpretation, which posits that populism juxtaposes ‘the elite’ and ‘the people’ by condemning the former and celebrating the latter. In other words, populism is ‘a thin-centered ideology that considered society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite,” and which argues that politics should be an expression of the volonté générale (general will) of the people’.[1]Mudde and Kaltwasser describe populism as ‘thin-centered’ because it is an ideology that is frequently attached to other ideologies and can take many forms, depending on the political and social contexts in which it is invoked. ‘Thick-centered’ ideologies on the other hand, like liberalism, socialism, or communism, are less amorphic. Unlike populism, these ideologies are ‘coherent ideological traditions’ that form their own, independent discursive frameworks.[2]

The COVID-19 pandemic gave rise to a new wave of populism

Italy

Italy was the first Western country to be hit by the pandemic, in January 2020. COVID-19 was particularly deadly there partly because, in 2019, Italy had the oldest population in Europe, with 22.8% of its people aged over 65 and, according to a 2017 report, 71% of those over the age of 65 had at least two underlying health conditions. Almost half of this age-group took at least five different medicines a day.[3] As of 9 September 2021, Italy reported 4,571,440 total COVID-19 cases and 129,515 deaths.[4] What’s more, the economic strain of the pandemic plunged the country into its deepest recession since World War II: in 2020, Italy registered the worst fall in GDP in the Euro area with an 8.9% contraction.[5]

The Italian government, led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, declared a state of emergency on 30 January 2020, and on 9 March 2020 implemented a national lockdown. Conte’s government received domestic and international support for its containment measures. Initially, this led to increased trust in the government in Italy. In December 2019, 42% of Italians reported a positive opinion about the government. By February 2020, this percentage increased to 71%.[6] However, by June 2020 (during phase two), this percentage decreased to 60% (albeit still higher than pre-pandemic). The data collected from these opinion polls are especially relevant to an examination of the political consequences of COVID ‘since Covid-19 has been the central – if not the only – topic on the political agenda of all parties and institutions for most of 2020’, therefore ‘it is possible to read the variations in this…data as clearly connected to the pandemic’.[7]  Nonetheless, the fluctuating feelings of the Italian public towards their government have painted a complicated picture for the post-COVID state of populism in the country.

Populism in Italy

Populism has been a strong force in Italian politics. In 2018, the aggregate proportion of votes for populists in the general election hit nearly 70%.[8] ‘No other major West European democracy has witnessed such levels of support for populists’.[9] One possible explanation for this is Italians’ historical distrust towards government institutions:

<EXT>Such a tradition of disaffection [towards the government] has its roots in the formation of the unitary state of 1861. Following this, the Catholic Church and large sectors of southern elites took a firm position against the new polity and its elites. The original lack of legitimacy of the new state and its institutional weakness initially nurtured anti-institutional and anti-political sentiments in the population. Fascism simply fanned the flames.[10]</EXT>

Anti-establishment political ideologies and rhetoric have flourished in the generations since unification. Indeed, in the March 2018 election, two populist parties, the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Lega (formerly the Northern League), won a combined majority of votes and parliamentary seats. As a result, these parties joined forces to form a government. In 2019, Lega gained 34.3% of the vote in the 2019 European Parliament election. M5S is a right-wing anti-establishment party that opposes immigration, the EU, and globalism. However, the party also supports policies that are traditionally championed by political parties on the left, including universal basic income, and environmentalism. Lega is a right-wing populist party that emphasises nativism, nationalism, and conservatism. Another notable populist party that grew significantly during the pandemic is Brothers of Italy. In September 2020, this far-right populist party was so successful in regional elections that it ‘ended 25 years of leftwing rule in the eastern Marche region’.[11] In fact, current opinion polls indicate that Brothers of Italy has overtaken Lega.[12] The Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni is now slated to succeed Mario Draghi as Prime Minister in the 2023 general elections.

Changing strategies

While COVID ravaged Italy, its populist parties carefully positioned themselves in opposition to the Conte administration, which was finding renewed favour from the public. Lega’s strategy was to attack the EU, ‘insinuating that supranational institutions were conspiring to damage the Italian economy’.[13] Lega also blamed Chinese nationals and immigrants for the outbreak of the virus, using the opportunity to call for more stringent border protections.[14]

Another notable political consequence of the pandemic can be observed in the Italian public’s feelings towards the EU. According to survey data collected by the European Parliament in June 2020, only 23% of Italians reported that they were satisfied with the measures taken by the EU to date against COVID-19, which ranked as the lowest satisfaction rate in the EU.[15] Italians also reported the lowest levels of satisfaction, 16%, with regard to the solidarity between EU Member States in fighting the pandemic.[16]

In other words, only 16% of Italians felt that other Member States were pulling their own weight in the fight against the pandemic. The European Parliament conducted the same surveys in June 2021. This time, 51% of Italians reported they were satisfied with the measures taken by the EU to fight the pandemic and 44% reported that they were satisfied with the solidarity between EU Member States.[17] The growing approval for the EU in Italy was reflected by the swearing in of the current Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, the ex-head of the European Central Bank, in February 2021. Following the collapse of the Conte administration, Draghi received backing from across the political spectrum in Italy, most importantly from M5S, the largest group in Parliament. Even though Draghi’s government may represent a departure from traditional Euroscepticism in Italy, populist parties throughout the country have by no means lost ground as a result of the pandemic. The general elections in 2023 will be the next test of the strength of populism in Italy, post-pandemic.

Spain

Like the United Kingdom, Spain has been one of the worst-hit countries in Europe, especially at the start of the pandemic. As of 9 September 2021, 4,887,394 cases and 84,928 deaths were reported there.[18] As a result, on 14 March 2020, the Spanish government declared a state of emergency and implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the world.[19] These public health measures, which inevitably reduced civil liberties and economic progress, were leveraged by populist parties in Spain.

Populism in Spain

From the start of the pandemic, the far-right party Vox (Voice) has been among those to politicise the crisis and the Spanish government’s response. Founded in 2013 as a split-off from the right-wing People’s Party, Vox opposes multiculturalism, immigration, feminism, Islam, and autonomous communities. The party is economically liberal, a soft Eurosceptic, and draws heavily upon Catholicism. Vox gained prominence in the 2019 Spanish national elections held in April and November, where the party received 10.3% of the vote in the former and 15.1% in the latter.[20] It has since become the third largest political party in Spain. For the purpose of examining the responses of populist parties to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vox is particularly salient because of how its leaders adjusted their political strategy over the course of the pandemic.

New strategy during COVID-19

Over the course of the pandemic, Vox changed its political strategy. A paper published by José Javier Olivas Osuna and José Rama in June 2021 analysed speeches given by Vox party leader, Santiago Abascal between March and June 2020, the first wave of the pandemic.[21] Their analysis draws upon the core dimensions of populism: antagonism, morality, the idealisation of society, popular sovereignty, and personalistic leadership.

After analysing the transcripts of the debates for the approval and extension of the state of emergency in Spain to combat the spread of the pandemic, Osuna and Rama conclude that ‘in comparison with Vox’s political manifestos, the idealised depiction of society lost relevance … whereas the moral and antagonistic dimensions largely increased their salience’.[22] Osuna and Rama explain that, while Abascal increased morality and antagonism references in his speeches, he did so in order to delegitimise the Spanish government and its pandemic interventions. Without making any specific comments about the pandemic itself, he accused the government of spreading disinformation and harbouring a secret agenda, which allegedly included ‘eroding the unity of Spain and trying to establish a communist authoritarian regime’.[23] Further, throughout the first wave, as ‘the number of populist references increased, the tone of his statements also became more hyperbolic and aggressive’.[24] For example, particularly salient excerpts from Abascal’s speech on 3 June 2020, include,

<EXT> Mr. Sánchez, you can’t disguise this: tens of thousands of dead Spaniards due to sectarianism and criminal negligence by this Government and millions of Spaniards ruined…[25]

…We know where your Government stands, […], forging new agreements with all of Spain’s enemies …, of course: with ETA, with the Basque Nationalist Party and with Republican Left of Catalonia, with those who have only ever been concerned, are and will be concerned by Spain going down in flames and who have taken advantage of this epidemic to advance their goals of destruction and division of Spain.[26]

I believe that Mr Iglesias wishes a civil war, […], I believe that in his vanity and fanatism is capable of provoking a tragedy in Spain, but we are not going to fall into his provocations.[27]</EXT>

The populism espoused by Abascal during this period proved to be contagious. In fact, Abascal’s rhetorical style influenced the communication styles of other populist and even non-populist party leaders in Spain. Pablo Casado, the leader of the People’s Party, a conservative and Christian-democratic party, abandoned the anti-populist features he usually employed in his speeches and replaced them with populist antagonism and morality features.[28] Party leaders across Spain adopted Abascal’s communication style in order to attack and delegitimise other political parties in Spain, including Vox. Indeed, Abascal’s populist rhetoric was politically attractive.

As Spain, along with most Western countries, begins to enter the post-pandemic world, populism has taken on a different agenda within the country. As in the United Kingdom, post-pandemic populism in Spain is now focused on perceived threats to personal freedom and civil rights. As people become more frustrated with ongoing pandemic restrictions, coupled with the fact that – all thanks to vaccines and the government-enforced containment measures – the virus no longer poses an existential threat to the country, populists in Spain have seized the opportunity to deploy ‘freedom populism’. On 4 May 2021, Isabel Diaz Ayuso, the incumbent Madrid Community President and member of the People’s Party, won the regional election in a landslide vote. As a result, she will govern alongside Vox in Madrid for at least two years. She ran on a platform that promised to ‘liberate’ Madrid from the pandemic restrictions implemented by Spain’s socialist government.[29] Throughout her campaign, she posted videos on Twitter of the owners of Madrid’s well-known bars and restaurants, saying ‘Madrid is freedom’ and ‘We are more alive than ever’.[30] Clearly, this new brand of late to post-pandemic populism, or ‘freedom populism’ has proven to be much stronger in Spain than in the United Kingdom. Ayuso’s overwhelming electoral victory is indicative of the newfound vitality of the populist post-COVID wave in Spain.

The United Kingdom

The UK presents a key case study for examining the impact of COVID-19 on populism in Europe because populists across the continent drew upon British anti-EU arguments in their own political arenas. Additionally, the changing strategies of populist politicians in the UK during the pandemic provide key insights into highly effective rhetorical strategies employed by anti-establishment actors seeking to politicise COVID-19.

The UK has been one of the worst-hit countries throughout the pandemic. As of 9 September 2021, it reported a total of 6,978,126 COVID-19 cases, the second highest case rate in Europe, after Russia, and a total of 133,229 COVID-19 deaths, the second-highest deathrate in Europe, again after Russia.[31] However, the high impact of COVID-19 on the British public was not easily leveraged by populist parties.

Populism in the UK

Even before the onset of the pandemic, populism in the UK was alive and well. This was perhaps best exemplified by the 2016 vote on the referendum to leave the EU, resulting in ‘Brexit’, when on 31 January 2020 the UK became the first and only country to date to withdraw from the EU. Brexit was largely led by the Brexit Party, which was founded in November 2018 by Nigel Farage and Catherine Blaiklock. They advocated for a ‘clean-break Brexit’ or a ‘no-deal Brexit’ in which Britain would withdraw from the EU entirely and move to World Trade Organization trading rules if a free trade agreement was not agreed upon. The Brexit Party argued that a complete exit from the EU would finally allow Britain to ‘reshape’ its future by resuming sovereignty over its ‘laws, borders, money, fishing and defence’.[32] The Party’s political ideology was founded upon populism and Euroscepticism. It drew its support from former UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters, which was not surprising, especially since Farage had led UKIP, a Eurosceptic party, from 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2016. There was also support for the Brexit Party from Conservative Party voters as well as from members of left-wing parties, such as the Respect Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party.

The popularity of the Brexit Party among British voters was especially evident at the UK’s contingent at the 2019 European Parliament election, held on 23 May 2019. The Brexit Party won the most votes and became the largest single national party in the European Parliament, being the dominant choice of those who had voted to leave the EU. Voters who voted to stay in the EU were not nearly as unified in their party choices, as these voters were split among the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party of England and Wales, the Scottish National Party, and the Labour Party, among others. On 6 January 2021, the Brexit Party re-registered under a new name, Reform UK.

New strategy during COVID-19

Throughout the first wave of the pandemic, UK populist politics failed to leverage the crisis. The traditional anti-establishment rhetoric employed by populist movements was not well suited to the unprecedented challenges brought forth by the pandemic, especially during the first wave. Indeed, the Brexit Party/Reform UK saw no significant increase in its political support by the end of the first wave (May 2020) or by the middle of the second wave (March 2021).[33] Nonetheless, by November 2020, Brexit Party/Reform UK rebranded its party focus. The party’s new objective was to oppose lockdowns. In an email to supporters in November 2020, Farage painted a bleak picture of the consequences of a national lockdown:

The new national lockdown will result in more life-years lost than it hopes to save, as

non-Covid patients with cancer, cardiac, lung and other illnesses have treatments delayed

or cancelled again. Suicides are soaring. Businesses and jobs are being destroyed.[34] 

The Brexit Party/Reform UK’s anti-lockdown rhetoric had many supporters, as evidenced by multiple demonstrations, often thousands strong, across the UK between April 2020 and August 2021.[35] These lockdown protests focused on the perceived futility of lockdowns and frequently linked lockdown restrictions and the COVID-19 vaccine to various unfounded, anti-science, and anti-establishment conspiracy theories. As anti-vaxer and conspiracy theorist Piers Corbyn told attendees at an April 2020 protest at Shrewsbury College, ‘We all know the lockdown has failed us. It has caused misery… We’ll have more deaths from loneliness, suicide and people being kept out of hospital’.[36] At an October 2020 protest in London, protestors held signs that falsely linked COVID-19 to 5G, compared health restrictions to life under Nazi Germany, and denied the existence of the virus among other anti-lockdown, messages.[37] Piers Corbyn told these protestors, ‘Bill Gates wants vaccinations to control you and to control women’s fertility to reduce world population. That is his game and he’s going to get loads of money off it, and you will pay with your money and your life. We say, “No.”’[38]

Yet such anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown movements in the UK do not represent the general attitude of the British public towards COVID-19 public health measures. By the end of June 2021, nearly 44 million people in the UK, or 83.3% of the adult population, had received at least one vaccination, and 32 million people, or 60.9% of the adult population, had received two doses.[39] The Office for National Statistics collected data from 28 April to 23 May 2021 and reported that only 6% of adults in Great Britain reported vaccine hesitancy.[40]

Indeed, the anti-vaccine movement in the UK is not nearly as strong as its counterparts in Europe or the US. Nonetheless, the UK anti-vax movement should not be dismissed. It is the result of a new brand of populism within the UK – a populism focused on distrust of the political and scientific elite and a renunciation of pandemic safety restrictions in the name of personal liberty and conspiracy theories. Meanwhile, the pandemic has been severely jeopardising the public health of the entire country for nearly two years.

Conclusion

Populism typically thrives in political, economic, and social crises. The COVID-19 pandemic presented national governments across the globe with all three types of crisis, on top of a transnational public health disaster. However, populist movements in Europe did not necessarily capitalise on the pandemic. As indicated by the three countries examined in this paper, Italy, Spain, and the UK, populist politicians had to change their strategies and rhetoric in order to preserve their political relevance during and after the pandemic. And even if not entirely comprehensive, such comparisons across countries have the potential to be helpful for EU policymakers seeking to address differences in political responses to the pandemic.

In Italy, the country hit the worst of the three in terms of the incidence of COVID-19 deaths per million population (2,145.73), populists were not able to make as much headway as their British and Spanish counterparts. It seems that the existential threat posed by the pandemic, especially during the first wave in Italy, made the politicisation and mediation of populist actors untenable, and Italian populist politicians kept a low profile during the height of the pandemic. However, the COVID-specific brand of ‘freedom populism’ (of course the objective of ‘freedom populism’ is hardly novel, it is the same anti-establishment argument, just re-clothed to suit pandemic-related discontent) which grew in the UK and Spain has gripped Italy as well. Besides enduring the country’s horrific death and infection rates, Italians have also suffered from a severe economic downturn. People are anxious to recover economically, and continuous lockdowns undeniably preclude swift economic improvement. In this context, populist politicians, armed with ‘freedom populism’, are poised to leverage the disquiet within the population. Indeed, the country is predicted to swing back to right-wing leadership in the 2023 general election.

Populist politicians in Spain were considerably more successful at leveraging the pandemic than those in the UK. In terms of incidence of COVID-19 deaths per capita, both countries were hit similarly hard (1,999.02 per million population in the UK and 1,809.4 million in Spain). Perhaps the difference in political dynamics can be attributed to the difference in the strength of scientific voices and institutions within the two countries. The UK leads Europe in the field of biotechnology, and even developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was approved for use in the UK vaccination programme in December 2020. While Spain plans to roll out its own COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this year, the country is nowhere near the biotech giant that the UK is. It is conceivable that this contextual difference contributed to the different success rates met by populist politicians in the two countries.

In the UK, whose most visible populist movement recently achieved its goal of officially withdrawing the country from the EU, populist politicians had to redirect their anti-establishment talking points. Of course, the politicians of Reform UK did not change their strategy from Brexit policies to anti-lockdown policies simply because of the potential political opportunity presented by COVID. Brexit was dropped because it had succeeded. Indeed, the pandemic seems to have occurred at a convenient time for populist politicians in the UK who needed a new focus, post-Brexit. Nor can the influence of populist, anti-lockdown rhetoric and conspiracy theories issuing from the US be overlooked. Former US President Trump’s repeated denunciations of the scientific and biological facts of COVID-19 had international consequences, and these are readily observable in the UK. The political influence of the US on the domestic political dynamics of other national governments is certainly not new. However, as Europe begins to emerge from the pandemic, EU policymakers should be especially vigilant against potentially pernicious political rhetoric from opportunistic actors within the US and elsewhere.

As Europe recovers from the pandemic, it is likely that populist political movements will only grow stronger. Now that the biological existential threat of COVID-19 is receding, populist mouthpieces can retroactively criticise national governments and transnational institutions, rightly or wrongly, for failing to act in the best interests of the public. Populist politics are often condemned for a host of legitimate reasons – they are prone to xenophobia, exclusivity, conservatism, and exploit ignorance and desperation among vulnerable communities. However, condemnation will likely do little in the face of the populist movements that are likely to gather  steam in the coming months and years in Europe. Populist political leaders are often savvy political entrepreneurs who thrive in contexts where people feel oppressed, unheard, and unseen. If EU policymakers intend to combat post-COVID populism, they too need to be attuned to the fears of a European public which is desperate to return to their pre-pandemic lives.

If you would like to read more on relevant EU topics such as strategic autonomy, enlargement, or EU-China relations, feel free to check out other Future of Europe Journal articles here.

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[1] C. Mudde and R.C. Kaltwasser (2017), Populism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Oxford University Press), pp. 5–6.

[2] Mudde and Kaltwasser, Populism, p. 6.

[3] A. Amante and C. Balmer (2020), ‘COVID-19: Why has the pandemic affected Italy so badly?’, World Economic Forum, 17 December, https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/12/italy-death-toll-pandemic-covid-coronavirus-health-population-europe/.

[4] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (2021), ‘COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of week 35, updated 9 September 2021’, https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/geographical-distribution-2019-ncov-cases.

[5] Euronews (2021), ‘Italy politics: Former ECB chief Mario Draghi sworn in as prime minister’, 13 February, https://www.euronews.com/2021/02/12/former-ecb-chief-mario-draghi-appointed-italy-s-next-prime-minister.

[6] G. de Ghantuz Cubbe (2020), ‘Assessing the political impact of Covid-19 in Italy’, EUROPP, 29 September, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2020/09/29/covid-19-italian-politics/.

[7] de Ghantuz Cubbe, ‘Assessing the political impact’.

[8] M. Vercesi (2021), ‘Why is Italy more populist than any other country in western Europe?’, The Loop, 12 July, https://theloop.ecpr.eu/why-is-italy-more-populist-than-any-other-country-in-western-europe/.

[9] Vercesi, ‘Why is Italy more populist’.

[10] Vercesi, ‘Why is Italy more populist’.

[11] A. Giuffrida (2020), ‘Far-right Brothers of Italy close to snatching Marche region from left’, The Guardian, 22 September,  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/21/far-right-brothers-of-italy-on-course-gain-marche-region-from-left.

[12] A. Giuffrida (2021), ‘Success of far-right Brothers of Italy raises fears of fascist revival’, The Guardian, 3 August,  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/03/success-of-far-right-brothers-of-italy-raises-fears-of-fascist-revival.

[13] D. Bonansinga (2021), ‘Has the pandemic changed populism in Italy? – Populism in action’, Populism in Action Project, 17 May, https://more.bham.ac.uk/populism-in-action/2021/05/17/has-the-pandemic-changed-populism-in-italy/.

[14] Bonansinga, ‘Has the pandemic changed populism in Italy?’

[15] European Parliament (2020), ‘Plenary Insights – June 2020’, EUROPA, June, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/atyourservice/files/beheard/eurobarometer/2020/plenary-insights-june-2020/en-plenary-insights-june-2020.pdf.

[16] European Parliament, ‘Plenary Insights’.

[17] European Parliament (2021), ‘Resilience and recovery: Public opinion one year into the pandemic’, EUROPA, June, https://doi.org/10.2861/297253.

[18] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ‘COVID-19 situation update worldwide’.

[19] La Moncloa (2020), ‘El Gobierno decreta el estado de alarma para hacer frente a la expansión de coronavirus COVID-19 [Consejo de Ministros/Resúmenes]’, 14 March, https://www.lamoncloa.gob.es/consejodeministros/resumenes/Paginas/2020/14032020_alarma.aspx.

[20] P. Taggart and A.L.P. Pirro (2021), ‘European Populism Before the Pandemic: Ideology, Euroscepticism, Electoral Performance, and Government Participation of 63 Parties in 30 Countries’, Italian Political Science Review/Rivista Italiana Di Scienza Politica, 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1017/ipo.2021.13.

[21] J.J. Olivas Osuna and J. Rama (2021b), ‘Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain’, EUROPP, 25 June, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/06/25/vox-covid-19-and-populist-discourses-in-spain/.

[22] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain’.

[23] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain’.

[24] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain’.

[25] J.J. Olivas Osuna and J. Rama (2021a), ‘COVID-19: A Political Virus? VOX’s Populist Discourse in Times of Crisis’, Frontiers in Political Science, 3. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpos.2021.678526.

[26] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘COVID-19: A Political Virus?’

[27] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘COVID-19: A Political Virus?’

[28] Olivas Osuna and Rama, ‘Vox, Covid-19, and populist discourses in Spain’.

[29] S. Zabala (2021), ‘Be aware of freedom populism’, Al Jazeera, 25 June, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/6/25/beware-of-freedom-populism.

[30] Zabala, ‘Be aware of freedom populism’.

[31] European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, ‘COVID-19 situation update worldwide’.

[32] C. Tindall (2019), ‘Election 2019: What are the Brexit Party’s policies – apart from the obvious’, The Conversation, 2 December, https://theconversation.com/election-2019-what-are-the-brexit-partys-policies-apart-from-the-obvious-127694.

[33] G. Bobba and N. Hubé (2021), ‘Populism and Covid-19 in Europe: What we learned from the first wave of the pandemic’, EUROPP, 20 April, https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2021/04/20/populism-and-covid-19-in-europe-what-we-learned-from-the-first-wave-of-the-pandemic/.

[34] BBC News (2020), ‘Nigel Farage: Brexit Party to focus on fighting lockdown’, 2 November,  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-54777346.

[35] For accounts of some of these demonstrations, see Reuters (2021), ‘Scuffles and arrests as anti-lockdown protesters march through London’, 20 March, https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-protests/scuffles-and-arrests-as-anti-lockdown-protesters-march-through-london-idUSKBN2BC092; D. Gayle (2021), ‘Anti-vaccine passport protesters storm Westfield mall in London’, The Guardian, 29 May,  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/may/29/anti-vaccine-passport-protesters-occupy-westfield-mall-in-london; BBC News (2021), ‘London protests: Thousands march through capital in day of protest’, 26 June, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-57623110..

[36] R. Mills (2020), ‘Police explain response to anti-lockdown protest in Glastonbury after Piers Corbyn disputes it was broken up’, SomersetLive, 26 April, https://www.somersetlive.co.uk/news/somerset-news/piers-corbyn-protest-glastonbury-police-4080293.

[37] N. Vassell (2020), ‘Thousands of protesters in London after capital moved to tier 2 rules’, Metro, 17 October, https://metro.co.uk/2020/10/17/thousands-of-protesters-fill-london-streets-after-capital-moved-to-tier-2-rules-13438503/; N. Murphy (2020), ‘Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters crowd into London as tier 2 restrictions hit’, Mirror, 17 October, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/thousands-anti-lockdown-protesters-crowd-22862195.

[38] R. Lott-Lavigna (2020), ‘Anti-lockdown conspiracy theorists march in London as new tier 2 rules hit’, Vice.com, 17 October, https://www.vice.com/en/article/93w9ke/standupx-anti-lockdown-protest-anti-mask-london.

[39] M. Townsend (2021), ‘Vaccine hesitancy wanes despite thousands joining “Freedom March”‘, The Guardian, 27 June, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/26/vaccine-hesitancy-wanes-despite-thousands-joining-freedom-march.

[40] Office for National Statistics (2021), ‘Coronavirus and vaccine hesitancy, Great Britain’, 9 June, https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/healthandwellbeing/bulletins/coronavirusandvaccinehesitancygreatbritain/28aprilto23may2021.

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