Nick Cohen

Daniel Hannan ought to be afraid of a hard Brexit - and so should you

Daniel Hannan ought to be afraid of a hard Brexit - and so should you
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The British people, whose good nature is so frequently abused, could have done with hearing today’s argument from Daniel Hannan during the referendum campaign, could they not?  Before he and his band of zealots received authorisation to manage our economic and political future it would have been good manners if they had told us how far they wanted to go.

All the way, seems to be the answer now.  In the bluff language of a drunk roaring on friends in a barroom brawl, Hannan tells us on the Spectator website not to be ‘wusses’. So what if, and contrary to what they told us last year, Brexit now means crashing out of the single market and customs union. Why are you frightened of that, you wusses, you wimps, you bedwetting liberal pussies?  Manly Britain can just muscle its way into the World Trade Organisation and accept it tariffs. It wouldn’t be ‘the end of the world’.

Churchill said a fanatic is a man who ‘can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject’.  Having been fanatical about the EU all their lives Hannan and his sect cannot change the subject to the difficult and painstaking conversation we need about protecting our livelihoods.

Rather than acknowledging difficulties, the fanatic dismisses the single market with the nonchalant confidence of the single-minded. Hannan breezily tells you not to worry about Britain’s need to avoid massively complicated global trade negotiations by staying in the EU’s customs union. Norway ‘stands outside,’ he booms, and it manages well enough.

So it does. Hannan somehow forgets to mention, however, that Norway is a member of the single market. Many Tories however, and most ominously, Theresa May herself, reject the sensible Norwegian compromise because Norway still follows parts of EU law and accepts freedom of movement.

‘How pathetic it is,’ Hannan continues, for scaredy cats to think ‘Brussels holds all the cards’. Unfortunately for the luckless Hannan, as he was preparing this piece, Professor L. Alan Winters,  one of our foremost authorities on international trade, was describing our weak hand to the Commons Trade Committee. We ‘are very, very heavily dependent on the EU market’ and the EU is not anywhere near as dependent on us, he said. In these circumstances, it is easy to see who can play the tough guy at the trade negotiation poker table, and it certainly isn’t Mr Hannan's Britain.

Not that he can see it. Hannan assures us British exporters who suffer from a complete break from Europe could be compensated from the money raised by tariffs on EU goods. He doesn’t appear to grasp that the WTO restricts subsidies for exporters for reasons which ought to be obvious.

I could go on. But the practical point is one does not simply walk into the WTO any more than one simply walks into Mordor. Indeed, having attempted what Hannan has not, and tried to understand the WTO rules on ‘tariff rate quotas,’ walking into Mordor seems a stroll in comparison.

The psychological point is more telling. Astute readers will have noticed something very strange about Hannan’s piece for us: he is violently defending a policy he does not believe in. Blink and you could miss it, but Hannan says he is a ‘liberal Tory,’ who favours Britain following the Swiss model, not dropping out the single market and customs union entirely. The Swiss example necessitates paying for access to the single market by allowing EU nationals to live and work in the UK, as Switzerland does,  and by paying into the EU budget.

Fine. Good. This, too, is a sensible compromise. But Hannan’s liberalism cannot hold. He ought to be arguing against all those on the Right, who want to crash us out of the EU. But he can’t. To use his own language, he’s too much of a wuss to pick a fight with fellow Conservatives. Rather than having the courage to argue against his own side, he goes along with the extremists, just as the centre-left did in the noughties as the far left prepared to take over the Labour party.

The leavers are filled with a dangerous over-confidence. They did not expect to win the referendum. They half expected turmoil to follow when they did. Now in their moment of triumph they have convinced themselves that all the predictions of ‘project fear’ were illusory. This is an arguable point considering that the pound has crashed, the Bank of England has been compelled to cut interest rates to the lowest level, well, ever, and we have not actually left the EU. But arguing relevant points is as much a weakness for Mr Hannan as grasp of detail.

His faction has always been marked by its cockiness and intolerance of criticism. Unfortunately for us, his faction is now driving this country to an unknown destination without knowledge of or thought for the consequences

Written byNick Cohen

Nick Cohen is a columnist for the Observer and author of What's Left and You Can't Read This Book.

Topics in this articlePoliticsbrexit