‘Nobody wants to deal with the mess’: Manchester academics react to Brexit

After the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on Thursday 23 June, many people were left disappointed at the result, including two academics at the University of Manchester.

Vote Leave won the referendum with just a 51.9% majority compared to the 48.1% of votes for Remain, while the turnout was the highest since 1992 with 72% of people voting.

David Cameron announced his plans to resign as Prime Minister just over an hour after the results were revealed which Professor Dimitris Papadimitriou (above left), Professor of Politics and expert on EuroZone Politics at the University of Manchester, said shows that ‘nobody wants to deal with the mess’ created by Brexit.

He said: “In many ways it’s probably better that the people who advocated deal with it.

“My reaction (to Brexit) is one of disappointment because I have always argued that Britain would be better off as part of the EU.

“It’s not only the future of British membership in the EU, it’s arguably the future of the whole country.

“That’s why I think people were wrong to call the referendum in the first place.”

Yet Professor Papadimitriou also claims that the result did not come as a ‘major surprise’ to him.

He said: “Britain’s disassociation with Europe has been in the making over a long period of time, perhaps for the last couple of decades.

“So, in a way, the more benign Eurosceptism that you see in everyday coverage of the EU and everyday coverage of people from different countries and immigrants and so on is something that has obviously affected the way people see themselves and see Europe.

“What we saw yesterday was the expression of this otherness, if you like.”

Even before the result was officially announced Brexit was clearly on the cards as major issues with Britain’s choice began to be revealed.

The value of the pound dropped by 10%, the lowest since 1985, making Britain lose its position as the fifth largest economy in the world, moving to sixth position below France.

Later, calls for two leadership contests were made as Cameron announced his resignation and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for his handling of the Remain campaign which, Professor Papadimitriou argues, will put him ‘under tremendous pressure’.

He said: “In the short-term it [Brexit] will bring economic difficulties and a political crisis, the beginning of which we started seeing today.

“I think the Labour leadership will come under tremendous pressure over the next few days.

“It was clear during the campaign that he [Corbyn] was not entirely comfortable with the Remain case.

“In my mind, the longer-term will be more likely to see more introverted, less tolerant and quite frankly more populist political discourse.”

Discussing the possibility of a second referendum due to such a narrow margin in the vote, Professor Papadimitriou said: “Referendums are problematic constructions in my opinion because obviously they turn very complicated issues into simple answers.

“Once you go for these black or white options, which I don’t think it was helpful in this case, you have to accept either black or white.

“You can’t then say ‘no, it was a bit grey’.

“So I don’t see how this vote can be over-turned by another referendum.

“That’s democracy for you, it comes with responsibility doesn’t it?”

Calls have been made for a second Scottish independence referendum after the Scots voted overwhelmingly in favour of the UK to remain in the EU, while Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuiness, has called for a referendum on a united Ireland after Northern Ireland also voted heavily for Remain.

Across England areas including London and Yorkshire also saw the majority voting to stay in the EU, resulting in a petition calling for a second referendum.

The petition passed the 100,000 signatures needed to take it to Parliament just four hours after Brexit was announced, crashing the government’s website due to the high volume of traffic.

Professor Papadimitriou said: “I think that what appears to have happened, of course it’s too early to say with certainty, is that not enough pro-European votes were galvanised, particularly among the young, because of course it’s one thing to say that you are pro-Remain, it’s a different thing to go out and vote.

“More importantly is that working-class Labour stronghold areas voted massively against the EU and that is something that has to reflect badly on the Labour party and its ability to make a strong enough case for Remain.

“I think the rest of Europe is very wounded. I mean there are clearly lessons to be learned from what happened in Britain.

“It is a reflection that the EU was not working properly. It has lost confidence with a large number of people, but particularly the poor and that’s something that needs to be addressed.

“I mean, that’s not the British or the outcome to the British referendum, it’s representative of a wider malaise in Europe.

“To my mind the key thing is how disadvantaged groups of society buy in or not into the European project and at the moment it’s clear they don’t.

“What happens is that disadvantaged groups abandon mainstream politics. That hits the left of course, the moderate left, and empowers populism.”

At the end of the interview, Professor Papadimitriou apologised.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be so depressed but it doesn’t look very good.”

Meanwhile another academic at the University has echoed their thoughts.

Professor Diane Coyle, a Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, said she reacted with ‘great sadness’ to the referendum’s result.

She said: “The big problems in future, and especially for young people, are global ones like climate change, epidemics, the mass migration of people, and the EU has been, for all its faults, a way of working together to tackle them.

“The UK will be worse off politically as well as economically, less able to deal with big problems, and it will be worst for the young people (who overwhelmingly voted Remain).”

Arguments have been circulating on social media surrounding the age split of the votes, with many claiming that older generations will not have to live long with the consequences of Brexit.

75% of Britons aged 24 and under voted choose Remain while 61% of voters aged 65 and over voted for Britain to Leave the EU.

Professor Coyle said: “The short-term impact was clear in the currency and stock markets. Summer holidays abroad just got much dearer. Prices of imports like lots of our food will go up. It will be bad for returns on pension funds.

“Longer term, the UK’s exporters will find it harder doing business overseas – everywhere, not just the EU – because we don’t have any other trade agreements. Even if we did, those don’t cover service exports on which Britain is especially dependent. So that means less investment, fewer jobs, lower pay increases.

“It will be bad for all of our universities, and of course Manchester’s have been very successful at attracting students and research funding from Europe.

“It’s a blow for the rest of the EU as well, and will mean more chance of extreme right wing parties doing well in elections, such as the Front National in France, and possibly even other countries leaving the EU.

“The economy is about the average person and everyday spending. It isn’t an abstract thing out there, it’s about jobs and living standards.

“That’s why 90% of economists warned against voting Leave. Now we’ll see the consequences. I hope it isn’t as bad as I fear, but I am not optimistic.”

Images courtesy of BBC and OECDLEEDTrento via YouTube, with thanks.

Related Articles