On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Claire Jones, Financial Times Frankfurt Bureau Chief, followed an invitation of Frankfurt School students to talk about Brexit and its threats and opportunities for the Eurozone as well as the United Kingdom. The event was organised by Frankfurt School’s student initiative FS Economy and Politics. They regularly invite guest speakers to talk about current events and the intersection of politics and business.
Claire Jones started the Q&A part of the evening right away, prompting a lively discussion with the audience. With a diverse group of students, the questions reigned from the political to the personal, with many showing shock and incredulity that it could have come to Brexit at all.
Students asked about the reputation of UK universities, famously among the best in the world, and the chances of German business schools profiting of the Brexit chaos. The reporter conceded that it might get more difficult for UK universities to attract top researchers and students, due to visa problems and a general anti-intellectual sentiment that had taken root. However, she also made clear that universities like Oxford or Cambridge had been building their reputation for several hundred years and were therefore likely to adapt to a post-Brexit world.
Asked about the reasons for holding a referendum on such a divisive topic at all, Claire Jones tried to explain the mood in the country and specifically in the conservative party. David Cameron’s attempt to pacify backbenchers and stave off a UKIP party on the rise had led to the ultimately faulty conclusion that a referendum would result in a backing of the UK’s EU membership and silence critics. The referendum campaigns and the following deal negotiations had shown that the times were tough for people of the centre grounds.
One of the big issues Claire Jones described when talking about the reasons for the Brexit vote, was the lack of definition of what it meant to leave the European Union. “Because Brexit was so ill defined ahead of the referendum in 2016, everyone could take their grievances and dreams and hang them on the hook of Brexit”, she explained. With a faulty design like that everyone had to decide for themselves, what Brexit would mean, ranging from a soft Norway style cooperation to a very hard Brexit and dreams of becoming a second Singapore.
Another question that was on the mind of a lot of students concerned the consequences of Brexit for the rest of the EU. Many were worried that the departure of one country might trigger similar issues in other countries. While Claire Jones saw reasons to believe that the example of Brexit might scare others she also stressed the importance of standing up against anti-EU sentiments and improving communication. “A lot of people all over the EU aren’t aware of the benefits that EU membership brings and EU leadership is not doing a good job communicating its perks”, she explained.
Disclaimer: At the event Claire Jones was speaking in a personal capacity and was therefore not necessarily giving the views of the Financial Times.