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Three British expat professors working at HEC Paris react to Brexit vote

28 June 2016

Professors Brian Hill, John Mawdsley and Keith Robson express their opinions on the UK's vote to leave the European Union. As expats working at HEC Paris, they give us a unique perspective of the political situation in their homeland as they peer across the Channel.   

Three British expat professors working at HEC Paris react to Brexit vote

Keith Robson, Professor of accounting HEC Paris: "The UK has shot itself in the foot."

Professor Keith Robson - HEC Paris

 I think this a disastrous result and the UK has shot itself in the foot, with a campaign characterized by half-truths and downright deception. There’s a certain degree of concern about immigration but if you think there should be common markets, then the free movement of capital goods and labour are part of that. Particularly for young people in Britain, I think there’s a huge amount of disquiet about what this means and there’s a very strong generational split between those voting Remain and those in favour of Brexit. Some voted for a leader who appeared to be saying the right things about the need to provide more job opportunities for young people, but at the same time he didn’t support the campaign to remain in Europe very strongly. The possibility of there being a referendum was treated very lightly and I don’t think the government ever thought it would come to that. You don’t promise a referendum if you can’t win it. There may still be a backlash and I hope that, because the referendum has no strict legal status [yet], there might be another vote on the terms of exit. A lot of criticism of the EU, centred around bureaucracy and the fact that EU officials are unelected, is absurd. In Britain our civil servants are also the executives but are not subject to democratic voting either. Overall, the EU leadership is not going to make an exit easy for Britain. Their terms might discourage others to leave but I’m not so sure whether this becomes a general impetus for EU reform.

John Mawdsley, Assistant Professor in strategy: "Leaving Europe is not going to bring back the mining industry."

Professor John Mawdsley - HEC Paris

 I was a bit stunned when I heard about Brexit but more shocked to discover the distribution of the Leave vote on the map, because of the anti-European feeling that has spread across the entire country. I think there is a proportion of people who regret their Leave vote as they didn’t really understand the consequences until now, because the campaign didn’t really focus on what would happen in the case of a Brexit. Leaving Europe is not going to bring back the mining industry or other industries that were nationalized before, yet some people think it will – which is a shame. Among the Brexiters there were those who wanted to leave Europe to stem immigration, because they find it hard to get a job or are not paid much and they feel immigration is to blame for that, but that can be debated until the cows come home.  If this goes through, there’s going to be at least a generation of people negatively impacted. The next prime minister, presumably Conservative, will have something of a poisoned chalice. He or she will face internal resistance from within the party but will have to make Brexit happen to avoid losing credibility. By that point the market may have unravelled and the public turned on the choice. Meanwhile, Europe will survive and I think Germany and France will become stronger within it, in terms of setting rules and regulations. There are obvious cultural differences between Britain, but it’s only when you go to a country so different to the UK like the US that you realize that Britain and Europe are actually very similar - a lot of voters don’t see that. 

Brian Hill, CNRS Research Professor, HEC Paris: "This vote wasn't made after an educated debate."

Professor Brian Hill - HEC Paris

 I think leaving the EU is going to cause a lot more harm than staying in. I am struck less by whether or not we leave but more by the fact that this vote wasn’t made after an educated well thought-out debate. It was a populist vote, indicative of the kind of society forgotten by the elite. Leaders for short term political gain are taking advantage of large swathes of the population without promising anything that’s going to be making life better for them. As a result, I am not angry with people who voted to leave, I am disappointed that this is the way society seems to be going. I don’t think the whole 52 percent of those who voted Brexit will necessarily benefit, and I believe some of them voted against their best interests. I am Scottish and right now the prospect of Scotland asking for its independence and remaining in the EU doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, although as a unionist I would prefer that they stay in the UK. I don’t see my Britishness as non-negotiable and therefore feel European: I like the mix of different European identities living together in relative harmony. If I had to say what I was worried about, it’s more the lack of quality of European leaders. We don’t seem to have people who can cope with this situation very well, on either side of the channel, and in a situation as sensitive as this one, if we don’t have good people in charge, I think they could easily mess this up quite badly.

 



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