One final rant

And one for the road – a final rant on the subject of Brexit. Last of the year, I promise. ‘We’re all Brexiteers now.’ In the Cabinet, and across much of the Tory party. It’s a brave Tory who stands out. There’s been a coup, but coups don’t just happen. This one has been building many a year, and an eminence behind it has been Daniel Hannan, blogger, writer, arguer, obsessive. Though it pains me to say it, he’s done a brilliant job. Given the fact that he read history at my college in Oxford some 25 years after me, I guess I should be proud of him. That’s not easy.

The Guardian’s Long View piece of Hannan back in September makes fascinating reading. His case against the EU was ‘an upbeat argument of direct democracy and free-market capitalism’. He showed in conversation ‘no anxiety at all about the manner of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, or the scale of the diplomatic and economic challenges facing the country’. A current (Remain voting) Cabinet minister is quoted as observing that there’s no guarantee the agitation will now stop. ‘None of these people are builders, they are destroyers.’

In an earlier post, back in the summer, I referred to a Hannan article in the Telegraph painting a picture (‘rosy’ wasn’t in it) of what Britain would be like in 2025 if only we voted Leave. It was a post-Imperial paradise. Destroyers too often are dreamers.

The Guardian puts the by comparison ruthless and contrarian UKIP view: ‘the narrow Hannanite case for Brexit – mostly about deregulation and sovereignty – was a sideshow to the main event: a chorus of economic and cultural discontent’.

Back in the summer we often heard the sovereignty argument, in the crude form of ‘take back control’, but it wasn’t because people longed for a deregulated, free-trading economy – rather, they’d been bought into another Hannan obsession, disparaging elites, scorning expertise.

Let the people speak, another obsession – but only if they’re on message. The role of the press in ensuring that they are, including the regular exposure the Telegraph has given to Hannan, continues to be unexamined.

And Hannan all the while remains blissfully unaware of how immigration ultimately won the day for his side. (To quote the Guardian, his book Why Vote Leave ‘contains (but) a single sentence on immigration’.) Of course he doesn’t – he’s well aware. But such has been his obsession, all arguments, however unpalatable, were means to an end – and now he’s achieved that end, and a bizarre bunch of outsiders are now insiders.

Every day the chaos unfolds. We want free trade – but without a customs union. We will trade under WTO rules, but short of negotiating tariffs across the board, a task for a decade, and a recipe for many a disaster, we will have to accept arrangements as they stand. EU tariffs, EU quotas. Supply chains are international these days, manufacturers import and export components all over the world, as well as finished items. Motor manufacturers buy on a just-in-time basis, and for them tariffs and the delays they cause could be disastrous. A ‘ bonfire of regulations’ would mean exclusion from many areas of trade which require such regulations, on an EU and worldwide basis: there can be no such bonfire.

Absurdities pile on absurdities.

Back to Hannan, and a UKIP view: ‘So locked up in his own world that he can’t see what’s on the end of his well-formed aquiline nose.’ A little unfriendly, but probably spot on.

He muses on ‘the natural intelligence and fair-mindedness if the British people’. He grew up in Peru, and if there is such a thing as an old-school expat mentality, then Hannan has it. In Roger Scruton’s words, ‘the expat mentality is belonging to the old country, and the inability to accept that it is changed beyond repair.’

The Guardian article is the best explanation I’ve yet encountered of how a subversive element can insinuate and propagandise, and use leverage within parliament and press to stage what is more or less a coup, seizing a moment – and finding itself despite all the flummery to the contrary caught in the headlights.

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