Brexit: what impact it will have on the UK, Europe and Hungary?


Conference summary

Matthew Goodwin’s presentation on the causes and consequences of Brexit generated a debate by outlining issues concerning British politics, society and Euroscepticism. The presentation was followed by a roundtable discussion with the participation of British Ambassador to Hungary Iain Lindsay; GSK director of government relations, market access and communications Judit Iglódi-Csató and BBC correspondent Nick Thorpe.

The professor of the University of Kent believes many still misunderstand the main reasons behind Brexit. Interest in fake news spread by fake news and Cambridge Analytica can easily divert attention from the deeply rooted social, political and historical problems that could justify why many voted for leaving the EU. Goodwin explained that contrary to numerous European nations, the British are historically Eurosceptic and have never been able to formulate a strong European identity.

The situation became even worse in the wake of the migration shock, when many Brits – especially the English – felt that immigration and the presence of different, new cultures in their environment threatened their local and national identity. Remainers did not deal with these problems, but focused solely on individual economic risks in their campaign, while Leave voters were exactly those who would have been willing to make financial sacrifices to leave the EU.

In his presentation, Goodwin mainly directed attention to the mass of people generally belonging to the working class that had been fully passive politically in the previous ten years. This almost 2.5 million strong social strata had not felt like any political force represented their voice in past years, but on the Brexit vote they stood up for their own opinion.

Ambassador Lindsay ensured the audience during the roundtable discussion that Brexit negotiations were progressing well and only financial and residence-related issues were being debated. The ambassador joked that “generally one has to pay for joining a club,” not for leaving it – referring to the exit fees the United Kingdom will probably have to pay. He also stated that around 95% of Hungarians currently living in the UK would be able to stay in the country after Brexit, so there is no need to worry.

Judit Iglódi-Csató said she understands the uncertainty among companies and their employees, but she believes that enterprises will be able to cope with the changes because they have to achieve what their shareholders expect from them at all times. The free movement of goods, rules on approval, taxes and customs, and labour mobility are the most important questions for GSK.

Nick Thorpe recounted his experiences to describe how Hungary and Eastern Europe reacted to the Brexit vote. He believes Hungarians were shocked and saddened by the result. Thorpe explained that Hungary’s government recovered from this shock much faster than the people did. He says that Hungary, together with the other V4 members, is striving to replace the United Kingdom in the EU as supporters of a looser cooperation, although it is a significant difference that Hungary does not stand up for legality in a spirit similar to the UK.

Numerous interesting topics came up in the Q&A part of the discussion from the responsibility of David Cameron to the future of British education. When asked whether Hungary could follow the example of the UK with a similar referendum, Nick Thorpe simply said that he highly doubts Hungary would ever leave the EU.  

The summary was written by Kata Moravecz, intern at Political Capital.