Daniel Hannan

Daniel Hannan: Brexit will be a gentle process

Daniel Hannan: Brexit will be a gentle process
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This is the transcript of speech delivered by Daniel Hannan during the Spectator's second Brexit debate. Full coverage of the event can be found here

I heard today what must be reckoned to be the single worst argument that we’ve had from any major figure on either side of this campaign. It came from Ed Balls. What he said is, we should vote to remain in and then reform it. Why has nobody thought of that before, what a good idea! Think of the story of our involvement with the European Union these past four decades. If you have been listening for at least five minutes to politicians of any party, they will all have given you the same line. Yes, I’m in favour of Europe but not this one, we want one that gives more powers back to the national parliament, we want one that is an association of states collaborating in the common interest where we can … Great, fabulous. By what measure are we any closer to that goal? How many times do we have to go through this fantasy of trying to change it into something different from what it was designed to be and what was written into its foundation charter?

Think of the story of the last two years. David Cameron criss-crossed across Europe, travelling from one capital to another, trying to get a better deal. And what did he come back with? Not one power was repatriated, not one of our budgets were reduced, not even a new treaty – the thing that he said was the minimum definitive sign that something had changed. That’s how intractable the European Union is, that’s how unable or unwilling they are to make significant concessions and so I want to ask Ed Balls just one question: if this is how the European Union treats us now, the second largest contributor when they are about to vote on whether to leave, how would we be treated the day after voting to stay?

Voting to stay in is not the same as voting to stay put. Voting to stay in means acquiescing in all political, military, fiscal and economic union that Eurocrats openly cite as their immediate goal – harmonisation of taxes, harmonisation of welfare, harmonisation of military capacity. Malcolm Rifkind says we are excluded from political union, we haven’t got a treaty but we have a promise that we will at some stage be told it doesn’t really apply to us. Well that’s a very easy concession to make but the plan for political union set out again and again, most recently by Mrs Merkel regularly is that the Commission becomes a kind of cabinet, the Council of Ministers becomes a senate or bundestag representing the member states and my parliament becomes the main legislature of the continent. There is no way that we could be excluded from that as long as we are full participants in all of those institutions. The words are meaningless unless there is a hard and substantial repatriation of power. We just had our best chance to get such a repatriation, we failed and that’s why the only way of having a different kind of relationship, one where powers begin to flow back is by voting to leave on 23 June.

There isn’t a status quo on the ballot form. Think of it rather as a fork in the road, one road leads to the kind of relationship you joined with the EU by every other European state… that is to say, a Common Market and not a common government. Every country outside the EU – the Isle of Man, Norway, Switzerland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Monaco, Serbia, all of them, all of them are part of a European free trade area, not one of them freezes tariffs or trade agreements. The only country not part of that European common market that is geographically in Europe is Belarus which is said to go in with Britain. I don't think anyone is seriously suggesting that if Britain withdraws from political structures in Brussels we would be moving ourselves from that Common Market which – yes Malcolm, even Albania – includes every other country in Europe, that’s the point that Michael Gove was making. So that’s road number one, free market not political assimilation.

The other road, that means going along with the plan to complete political merger. Think how it would be received in Brussels if we vote to stay in, the country that has been the biggest headache, the most sceptical member of state would have embraced its European integration. We’d have vindicated the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, who declared that Britain belongs to the European Union. The idea that I could go back after a vote to remain and start objecting to this or that measure of centralised power - I would be laughed at - and with good reason. People would say look, Hannan, you asked for pitiful changes, you didn’t get those, your country has voted for unchanged membership terms, don’t come expecting more reform. So that’s the choice we face. We can choose either a free market relationship or political union. Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled, that will make all the difference.

We have a few days left in this campaign and I think we can be pretty sure that the people urging us to remain will give us more and more of the uncertainty, the doubts, the pessimism. If we vote to leave it will be World War Three, it will be economic collapse, it will be ecological catastrophe, I mean they couldn’t up the ante or it would be the end of Western civilisation. Then it becomes as serious as it could get – we’d never get to host the Olympic Games again, that’s how serious it is! Then the Prime Minister said, sorry the Chancellor said it would be very, very bad news for pensions, which it will be I suppose if it is pensioners with the surname Kinnock.

Over the next few days I want to propose Project Cheer. I don’t want to talk about wretched and evil times, to spend the next few minutes with stories of atrocities and abominations in Brussels. No, I want to conjure for you the vision of an internationalist Britain linked by language and law and history and by custom to every continent and archipelago. Britain raises examples to more distant horizons. I want to give you a vision that is democratic where we have that sublime right to hire and fire the people who pass our laws. I want the security which in a necessarily uncertain world has taken back control so that we can mitigate those ourselves rather than passing power to people who may not have our interests at heart. I want you to think of a vision of a prosperous Britain, straightening its back after years spent doubled under EU regulation and I want you to think about a global vision, interested and involved in the affairs of every continent including Europe, every continent on this planet which over the last decade has grown spectacularly except Antarctica and Europe. In fact if you count Britain’s trade as indigenous to the Antarctic there is only Europe, or there is only the eurozone. This is no place for a country like ours, merchant people, maritime people, a people linked in every way to more distant continents across the seas.

If we do take the road to globalism and independence it won’t be a sudden process, it won’t be, there’s no magic wand. It will be a gradual recovery over time, as the leader of the Remain campaign Lord Rose frankly admitted. It won’t be a step change, it will be a gentle process, he went on to say before his horrified spin doctors shut him up. He went on to say after five years you’ll notice absolutely no change, after ten years you’ll see the beginnings of some change and then after fifteen years, then, that’s when you’ll see a change. And Lord Rose was absolutely right, Brexit is a process not an event. It means that we can begin to follow a different trajectory, we can begin to reorder it away from an exhausted eurozone.

It doesn’t mean that we turn our backs on our friends and allies in Europe. As Suzanne says, we will remain members of the Council of Europe, of Nato and so on, we don’t have the option of whatever the clichés are, of raising drawbridges and so on. We have always been by our history and our geography a global country and in fact I think it would facilitate improvement in the relations between us and our European allies once we are no longer bickering all the time about the EU. I can’t think of the last time we had a serious row with another European country about something other than the European Union, once you take that issue off the table I expect that our diplomacy will become a great deal easier.

So let me leave with a quote from Winston Churchill on this subject. He said: 'We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not combined. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed. And Should European statesman address us in the words which were used of old – “Shall I speak for thee to the King or the Lord of the Host?” – we should reply with the words of the Shunamite woman: “Nay sir, for we dwell among our own people.”'

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