TLR Exclusive Interview with MEP Daniel Hannan
by Pia Varma
Great Britain has always been a fiercely independent European nation, but it is also a nation that plans before it acts. Its Glorious Revolution in 1688 brought forth the English Bill of Rights, in a strategic, parliamentary fashion rather than by a violent, mob revolt. Its enlightenment produced carefully thought-out, thousand-page instruction books like Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which schooled its European neighbors in the importance of replacing old mercantilist attitudes for a more open economic system. One within which they could trade rather than competing for scarce resources.
And although it took many years and much effort, it was also the first European nation to officially abolish slavery in 1833, without any Civil War. Although it thought it best to start with first abolishing the actual slave trade throughout the colonies in 1806. It did this despite the interests of profiteers and the fears critics had that it would fall behind in the global economy and lose its competitive edge in the world. On the contrary, Britain prospered with a more efficient free labor force which worked to pave the way for the industrial revolution.
But now, as Britain finds itself in a similarly momentous crossroads, Daniel Hannan, a 38-year-old leading Pro-Brexit MEP for South-East England, who has spent his entire adult life fighting for British independence, explains why Article 50 is all part of a civilized and very British political process and could actually speed up the timeline to Brexit. After all, the British do love to do things the correct way, all the while still reminding the world that they “never never never shall be slaves.”
Pia Varma of The Libertarian Republic – You have been campaigning for Brexit for a long time. Now that this has been achieved, how difficult will process be of untangling ourselves from the European Union?
Daniel Hannan– There’s inevitably, as with any change, a moment of disruption. Even the most positive changes have that moment of disruption. If you upgrade your house, and you move from a little flat into a nice house, the actual move is still a moment of disruption. If you are a computer programmer and you learn a different type of code then the moment when you’re learning is a time when you’re not earning so there’s an opportunity cost, so of course there’s going to be a short term disruption. But we should keep this in proportion.
We have been threatened with the most extreme economic consequences as an immediate response to the vote. So nevermind what happens when we actually leave but the consensus of the Treasury, the Bank of England and most economists was that we would be in a recession now. 71% of city economists polled one week after the vote were predicting a recession in 2016 which is now technically impossible. We were told that unemployment would rise after the vote, but it has actually fallen and fallen. We were told there would be a collapse in the stock exchange. Well we weren’t told that it was the Italian stock exchange and that the British stocks would be the best performing in Europe. Although I’m not saying its all going to be plain sailing, if we judge people against the predictions they have already made plainly, things are a lot more cheerful then we were led to believe during the campaign.
PV – This is true, many people were predicting Armageddon right after the vote, but we’re all still alive.
DH – Well not only still alive but more start ups have launched since the vote then before it, there have been some really big investments into the UK from European and international firms and we have the highest number of people in work ever in British history. Things are more than okay.
PV –But we’re still in a bit of a limbo period at the moment. Brexit has been voted on but has not actually been executed yet. Its obviously created a great deal of uncertainty in the market. Now there seems to be a new delay that’s cropped up. Can you explain Article 50?
DH – Article 50 was a procedure introduced more than 10 years ago in the Lisbon Treaty. It is the best way of getting out.
Britain could, if you like, unilaterally withdraw and we could do that as a matter of internal law but we’re not the kind of country that breaks treaties and in any situation the goodwill, alliance and welfare of our immediate neighbors matters to us. We don’t want to leave in a way that causes economic shock to the Eurozone. These countries are not only our allies but our suppliers and customers and we want them to succeed. Prosperous neighbors make good customers!
So the article 50 process sets out a deadline. Once you trigger the talks process, if at the end there is no conclusion, then unless there is a unanimous decision to prolong it, exit takes effect automatically within 2 years of the starting process. Which I think is a very good thing. For some reason, a lot of commentators say that as soon as you trigger that all the balance of advantage flows to the 27 [other countries in the European Union] but that is really not the case. If we didn’t have this deadline the other countries could string out the departure process indefinitely, still imposing all the legislation on us, still exacting the budget contributions from us and it really would be the years of uncertainty that Remainers worry about. So that’s the technical process.
The Prime Minister announced a month ago that she would trigger the Article 50 process by the end of March but I think she will probably trigger it a bit earlier. So we’re looking at probably January and February of next year when the stop watch begins as it were. There’s quite a lot of stuff to sort out in that time, not just in terms of the actual departure, such as who pays the pension of British Eurocrats etc., but what kind of relationship do we have in the future with our 27 European allies.
So far press attention in the UK and in Europe has focused overwhelmingly on that one issue of what will be the relationship between the UK and the 27 EU states. Actually, I think the far bigger issue is what will be the relationship between the UK and the 165 countries in the world that are not in the EU, which will to a single approximation account for 100% of the growth this century. And that’s our real opportunity we can get a different kind of approach to trade and investment, we can lower barriers and invite investment. We can be the first big country to open our markets right across the board, something that has so far only been done either by micro-states like Hong Kong and Singapore or smallish states like New Zealand. If we become the first country that becomes a completely open economy, even if we were to do textiles and all the traditionally difficult areas, then we can make Brexit advantageous for the whole world rather than just for ourselves by re-stimulating the stalled trade talks.
PV – There have been concerns by many in the United Kingdom that Europe will now make things difficult for us. If we do focus on building our relationships with the rest of the world, will Europe follow suit?
DH – It is definitely in the E.U.’s interest to have a prosperous free trading Britain next door and vice versa. The Prime Minister is currently in India preparing for a free trade agreement that will come into effect when we leave. But of course we wanted India to have free trade with the E.U. The fact that the E.U. has been delaying this for 9 years was one of the reasons we left but that doesn’t mean that we’re saying lets hope the E.U./India talks fail so we can be proved right. We want to have prosperous neighbors in Europe and, of course, the more they trade with the rest of the world the better for us. We’ve spent 40 years arguing from the inside trying to push the E.U. toward a more open economy and we’ve had some successes but overall it has to be reckoned a failure. Maybe we can achieve more by offering a successful example as a friend than we did with all these decades of vain imprecations from within.
PV – Do you think that during these talks parliament will try to negotiate a kind of “Brexit light” rather than a hard Brexit.
DH – These are very vogue terms at the moment but they are not really based on the options in front of us. This idea has gone around that there is something called the single market and membership of the single market and that having this membership depends on open borders.
The single market is comprised of lots of elements. Some of those elements we should definitely get out of, for example, the common external tariff, the common commercial policy. However, there is a good argument for keeping some of the elements. For example, the real basis of the single market is the prohibition against economic discrimination aimed at the goods of another member. In procurement you’re not allowed to pursue economic nationalism. I’d have thought that is a good thing to keep. So its not really about opting out of the single market. There will be bits of it that we have absolutely no problem with, we want to have friendly and close relations with our neighbors, and there will be bits of it that don’t suit us.
PV – What about immigration? Can you have any compromise or “Brexit lite” when it comes to the movement of people?
DH – The issue about immigration is a completely separate one. If we want to succeed as a country then we need to have a continuing level of controlled legal migration. We need to be able to pick skilled and qualified workers to fill needs in our growing economy. But in order to win the argument for that, I’ve learned as a politician, people just need to feel that ultimately we’re in charge of whose coming in and in roughly what numbers and if they feel that then they will sustain quite a high level of immigration. But if, as is the case with the E.U., they sense that ultimately we have no level of regulation its very hard to win that argument.
PV – The world is definitely in need of good leadership these days. If Brexit goes according to your plan, you will soon be out of a job. Do you have any ambitions of maybe one day becoming the Prime Minister of the UK yourself?
DH – Oh, I love my country much too much to do such a thing.