18 days have passed since that memorable Friday morning when it was announced that the British electorate had voted to leave the European Union. Those 18 days have been rife with speculation, disbelief, disappointment and downright shock. As the dust begins to settle, and the post-Brexit hangover starts to lift, people are left wondering: what next?
This week, on Monday 11th July, the Franco-British Chamber in partnership with Hogan Lovells hosted a roundtable Brexit themed event entitled ‘Brexit: What next?’ The event welcomed speakers Sharon Lewis, the Global Head of Hogan Lovells’ Finance Practice, and Sophie Loussouarn, an alumna of the Ecole Normale Supérieure (Ulm) and Oxford (Wadham College), also considered somewhat of an expert in the field of the British Constitution and economy. Marc Lhermitte, Partner of EY Global Lead International Location Advisory Services also joined the panel, offering his expertise on assessing the competitiveness and attractiveness of countries, regions, cities and sites as well as advising multinationals in their site selection strategies. Marc is also on the board of the Europe + Foundation and is a member of the European Executive Council. Finally, Stanislas Roux Vaillard, partner in intellectual property at Hogan Lovells offered some insight into patent litigation and is mainly involved in national and multi-jurisdictional patent litigations, mediations and arbitrations, representing international clients. With help from moderator, James Palmer, Co-founder and Managing Partner of H2D Advisory (Stratégies & Communications) the debate certainly offered plenty of food for thought thanks to the expansive backgrounds of all of the panel members.
Sophie Loussouarn kicked off the debate with an affirmation that the result of the Referendum was a protest vote against immigration and globalization, a statement which was clearly seconded by the majority of our audience. The disparity within the British public was also considered to be a determining factor in the decision for Britain to leave the EU due to the division in the UK based on education, geography and age/generational issues, as well as the cultural gap between the Westminster elite and the general public.
With the British political system under intense scrutiny from all corners, and a resignation from members of political parties every other day, Sharon Lewis argues that it would be imprudent for a Prime Minister to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary debate, and a democratic decision being made. From her advantageous position as a ‘legal expert’, Sharon also added the fact that many legal professionals do not believe the vote to have been legally binding. Undoubtedly, there are still (if not more) uncertainties in the aftermath of Brexit.
Marc Lhermitte laid out some of the financial and real estate related outcomes of Brexit. Unsurprisingly, he told our audience that there was a very immediate and brutal reaction in real estate and financial markets, which was supported by James Palmer, who shared an anecdote of a friend who had to drop a house sale by 250,000 pounds just last week. An interesting point from Marc, however, was that what is bad in these sectors for the UK isequally bad for Europe as a whole; conversely, 45% of the UK’s economy relies on foreign direct investment, which, if weakened, could also be bad for the UK.
A thought provoking point raised was a question regarding the possibility of the UK becoming an off-shore tax haven, which was met with the apparently obvious response, that the UK already was, due to it being part of Europe but neither in the Schengen nor Euro zones. Marc did go on to say, however, that Europe is in a beneficial position, due to therapidly decreasing value of the pound, thus making cities such as Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris (even) more attractive.
Stanislas Roux Vaillard however, prefers not to focus on the potential nightmares that Brexit could bring, instructing the audience instead to look to the future, and to continue to get as much out of Europe as possible. His overall message was: lobby, take advantage of Brexit and try to make a seemingly ‘bad’ situation into one that is beneficial to your business. Stan also told the audience of meetings he has attended with a view of eradicating national patents in favor of wider European patents, thus allowing Europe to compete with other patents rather than other countries.
Sharon Lewis closed the debate saying that Brexit has certainly been a blow to the UK and Europe, but that the only way forward is to respect the decision of the British public. With so much still to be decided on, however, such as the triggering of Article 50, the formation of a new government by newly appointed PM Theresa May, Labour’s discontent with Jeremy Corbyn and the possibility of the petition for a second EU Referendum being brought to parliament, it seems that we are not quite out of the woods. A lot remains to be decided, and as Sharon rightly stated: “all this debate has shown us is that there remains a lot still to be debated”.