EU Referendum

EU Referendum: Hannan, the enemy within


As we confront the reality of an EU referendum and the need to produce a coherent exit plan, the absence of a commitment from either of the two main groups, Vote Leave and, is becoming ever-more an embarrassment, holding back development of an effective campaign.

For sure, are now talking about having a plan, although progress on that front is glacially slow and by no means certain. But Vote Leave, under the tutelage of Dominic Cummings, has formally set its face against having one. This opens the way for the "remains" to claim that leaving is a leap in the dark, with jibes that the campaigns don't have an alternative.

Enter Daniel Hannan, writing for the Spectator and its "soppy europhile" editor Fraser Nelson, ostensibly telling us "What Brexit would look like for Britain".

At this stage, it is helpful to know that Mr Hannan is a director of Vote Leave Ltd, an organisation that refuses to commit to leaving the EU, fronted by Dominic Cummings, the campaign director who just happens to be married to Spectator commissioning editor Mary Wakefield. Nothing of this, of course, is disclosed to the reader, but this leaves it open for us to assume that Mr Hannan may have an agenda that he is not too keen on disclosing.

That said, we move on to Mr Hannan's piece. Once past the preliminaries, we find him looking at an alternative to the EU and suggesting that "all the options involve remaining part of the European free-trade zone that stretches from non-EU Iceland to non-EU Turkey". No one in Brussels, Hannan asserts, "argues that Britain would leave that common market if it left the EU".

It is at this point that one has to do a double-take. It is very easy to be sucked into this text without realising what Hannan is doing. But, right from the outset he is suggesting that the final outcome of a Brexit should be participation in a "free trade zone" with the EU.

At face value, this sounds so eminently reasonable that one should have little difficulty accepting that as a proposition. But, it is only when one starts thinking in a little more depth does one begin to understand the poverty of the vision on offer. We are supposed to go through all the turmoil and uncertainty of leaving the EU, just to come away a measly free-trade agreement.

But where Mr Hannan finishes, this is where we in Flexcit actually start – not that this is recognised by Hannan. He is nothing if not consistent in completely ignoring anything we have ever written, from The Great Deception to the present day.

There are several points, therefore, that go by the wayside. Firstly, settling the trading arrangements with the EU upon our exit is only one stage of an ongoing process – the start, not the finish. Secondly, we should be looking for something far more ambitious than just to fit in with the Brussels system. Thirdly, there is far more to our relationship with the EU than just trade.

In Mr Hannan's world, however, time has stood still. The idea of a staged exit is rigorously excluded while he rehearses the same issues he was writing about ten years ago, in terms that have scarcely changed. Laboriously, he goes on a hunt for the ideal "model", with a tedious and somewhat flawed review of the Norway-EEA and Swiss arrangements.

This leads him then to conclude that Norway "gets a better deal than Britain currently does", and – quite wrongly – that Switzerland gets "a better deal than Norway". And upon this flawed assumption, he then drops into an exposition of the better deal fallacy as he assert that "a post-EU Britain, with 65 million people to Switzerland's eight million and Norway's five, should expect something better yet".

"The deal on offer", Hannan claims, "is based on free trade and intergovernmental co-operation". And in his magic scenario, he tells us: "We'll recover our parliamentary sovereignty and, with it, the ability to sign bilateral trade deals with non-EU countries" and: "We'd obviously remain outside Schengen".

Sneakily dishonest in his portrayal, he omits to refer to the conflict between access to the Single Market and the continued adoption of free movement, despite this being one of the most fundamental issues in the entire Brexit debate. This is akin to building an F1 racing car without troubling to add an engine.

Furthermore, in Mr Hannan's "sunlit uplands" where we enjoy all the benefits of his "free trade", he doesn't bother with the rather important constraints of Article 50 negotiations, and with the difficulties inherent in agreeing his "better" deal.

Once again, this is a fundamental issue. We would all like to be able to sit down with the "colleagues" in some agreeable spot and, over the course of a balmy sunny weekend, come to a final agreement on trading arrangements. But in the real world, things don't happen like that. It took 16 years for Switzerland to conclude its package of deals with the EU and, typically, a free trade agreement with Brussels takes five years or more.

Thus, we have two elements – the timescale and free movement – which shape the scope and the outcome of the Article 50 negotiations. You can ignore them, but that makes no sense. Not only would your F1 racing car have no engine, it would also lack wheels.

The thing is, to the causal observer, Hannan's dishonesty is not that obvious. Negotiating a free trade agreement seems eminently plausible, more so when we are told that it would be "in everyone's interest".

To reinforce this legend, we are told that the UK runs a structural deficit with the EU, only partly offset by its surplus with the rest of the world. On the day we left, says Hannan, "we would immediately become the EU's biggest export market. The idea that either side would wish to jeopardise the flow of cross-Channel trade is bizarre".

What is not apparent here, though, is the non sequitur. Fur sure, neither side would wish to jeopardise the flow of cross-Channel trade but, in seeking a deal with the EU, the UK will find that there are substantial elements of any new relationship which are simply non-negotiable.

In this context, the EU is not going to change any fundamental provisions of the treaties to accommodate the UK. Even if it wanted to, it could not do so without going through the treaty revision procedures and that cannot happen within the framework of any exit negotiations.

Thus, the UK will not be given preferential access to the single market, giving the EU the effective status if an immovable object. And, given that is the case, the British government will deal with the reality. Most likely, it will come to an agreement which will be very similar to that enjoyed by EFTA-EEA states (the Norway Option). It certainly will not be any better – not in the short- to medium-term.

In this, and despite Hannan's assertions, the UK is a disadvantage. It cannot block the import of EU goods on technical grounds (being a party to WTO agreements) and neither can it impose tariff penalties without also applying those same penalties to all other nations with which it will want to trade.

The EU, on the other hand – and perfectly legitimately under WTO rules – can exclude UK products unless they follow conformity assessment rules, for which there would be no provisions in place.

Now, it doesn't matter how many times Hannan might write to the contrary – and how many thousands of pounds he is paid for repeating the same points – these are the facts of the matter. The UK, in its exit deal with the EU, will not get a "better deal" than the arrangements it currently enjoys.

It was because of that, and the other issues relating to the real world of Britain's post-exit position, that we wrote Flexcit. This plan did not emerge in its current shape for any arbitrary or whimsical reasons. It was structured the way it is because it represents the best possible fit to deal with the situations in which we will find ourselves.

When Hannan ignores this work, therefore, to come up with his facile, tedious nostrums, this reflects on him rather then on Flexcit. He is simply demonstrating his inability to look outside his own tiny little world and acknowledge that he is not the centre of the known universe.

It is actually people like Hannan  who are holding us back. With his false nostrums, he constitutes the most significant blockage to the adoption of a credible exit plan. Until we do, we will not be able to deal with the lies and the misrepresentations of the "remains",

But then Hannan is the man who most recently is on the record as saying that the EU will not take us seriously until we "vote no". That is, he says, when "proper concessions will be put on the table".

"In the event of Britain voting to leave", Hannan goes on to say, "some kind of associate membership would very quickly be put on the table". With that, "we wouldn't be full members, but we would keep probably the bulk of the economic and financial links to the EU but we would be pulling out of the political union".

However, Mr Hannan's "associate membership" keeps us in the EU, subject to the writ of the European Commission and under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. In a scenario which Hannan clearly has not thought through, this is achieved by "voting to leave" but not actually leaving. He is positing a situation where the "no" vote does not cause us to leave. It simply triggers further negotiations.

The man adds to the confusion in his Spectator piece, talking of many European federalists actively campaigning for Britain to be given an economics-only relationship - what Jacques Delors calls "privileged partnership" and Guy Verhofstadt "associate membership".

Such a relationship would allow "core Europe" to push ahead with a European army, a common tax system and so on, while - so Hannan says - "Britain led an outer tier of some 20 European states and territories, part of a common -market but not a common government".

This is actually a misrepresentation of the scenario. The "second tier" would never be 20-strong, and having the UK lead it exists only in Mr Cameron's dreams. And, in all events, "associate membership" keeps us within the EU, very much as a second-class member.

But it is a measure of Hannan that he is all over the place. Having written loosely about "associate membership", without having got to the bottom of what it actually means, he then writes of Iceland being "much better off outside the EU". And if Iceland can manage, he tells us, "I think we might just about scrape by". Yet Iceland is one of the EFTA-EEA countries, a relationship which Hannan eschews, while at the same time appearing to endorse it.

These are not the actions of a committed "leaver". More likely, we are dealing with a man who blows with the wind, and one who under certain circumstances, is prepared to stay in the EU. As such, he can hardly be trusted not to follow Mr Cameron is the "right" deal is offered. And that rather makes Mr Hannan the enemy within.