26 April 2017

Free Exchange: CapX meets Daniel Hannan


Daniel Hannan MEP is a Shakespeare fan, a pioneering advocate of localism, as well as a former colleague of mine on the Telegraph‘s leader-writing team. But he’s most famous as – in the Guardian‘s words – “the man who brought you Brexit”.

Having decided as a student at Oxford that the European Union was turning into a superstate, he dedicated the rest of his career to reversing that process, making the case within the Tory party and beyond it for why we would be better off on our own.

In this latest edition of our Free Exchange podcast, he spoke to me at CapX’s London offices about his career as a Eurosceptic, about seeing Britain through a foreigner’s eyes, and about his next great cause – the defence of free trade.

You can listen to the full episode here, or subscribe via iTunes.

Daniel Hannan on… becoming a Brexit believer (1 min)

“It was Maastricht, really. I was in my first year at university when the EU palpably transformed itself from being a club, an association of nations that was mainly a common market, into being an entity that replicated almost all the functions of a national government – immigration policy, foreign policy, defence, culture, media. And indeed equipped itself with all the attributes and trappings of nationhood – a flag, and a national anthem, and a national day, all that sort of thing. It was no longer possible then to pretend that we were in a voluntary association with friendly countries.”

Daniel Hannan on… British pessimism (4 mins 30)

“One of the things about growing up abroad is that you don’t have this cynicism, this sense of defeatism and decline. I remember being quite shocked as a small boy hearing adults in this country saying, ‘Oh, England has gone to the dogs, it’s all over.’ For me, it was still the country where you flicked a switch and the light actually came on, and you could drink the tap water, and you could pay for things with a cheque rather than a briefcase.

“I didn’t understand then, and I’ve never really understood, why we have this streak of national pessimism and talking ourselves down. That was a large part, I think, of why we went into the EU in the first place – because we thought we couldn’t make a success of it as our own.”

Daniel Hannan on… the long march to Brexit (9 mins)

“There are moments when I look back and think, if I’d known that there wasn’t going to a referendum until 2016, I could have done something more productive with my first two or three terms in the European Parliament. But that’s easy to say with hindsight.

“What we’ve all forgotten was that when Tony Blair won in 1997, he was very clearly committed to taking us into the single currency with a referendum – he was absolutely explicit about that. And not just the single currency. He said there are not going to be any more opt-outs: under my leadership, Britain will never opt-out. We are going to be a full, leading participant of this political project. Of course, we didn’t know then what we know now, which is that if Tony Blair told you today is Wednesday, you would check.”

Daniel Hannan on… localism (14 mins 30)

“Douglas Carswell and I and others published our plan for a radical decentralisation of the state just after the 2005 general election. There was a leadership election going on at that time with five candidates. Four immediately signed up. The one who held out was Ken Clarke, who magnificently flicked two liver-spotted fingers at us and said, ‘The only country that does this is Switzerland, and can you name a single Swiss politician?’. Which of course is the whole point!”

Daniel Hannan on… the NHS (18 mins)

“I came here from Brussels this morning. I didn’t, as I got off the plane, fall to my knees on the Tarmac and say ‘BA has saved my life, they flew me all the way here and they didn’t crash. OK the flight was a bit late, but here I am.’ And the reason we don’t is because we assume a basic level of competence from the pilot and airline. I wish we could do the same when it comes to healthcare. Of course in a country like this we expect a basic standard. Of course our system is going to better than Paraguay’s or whatever. But that doesn’t mean it is as good as it could be.”

Daniel Hannan on…  comparative advantage (27 mins 30)

“It’s been called the only law in the whole of economics that’s both surprising and true. Most people will buy the argument that if we’re really good at financial services and the Chinese are really good at making cars, we should buy cars from them and sell them financial services. What they struggle with is the idea that the Chinese might be better at both – might be more competitive and more productive across the board, in every single field – and yet we’d still benefit from free trade. The best way I heard it described is that Winston Churchill was a brilliant bricklayer. His work at Chartwell was fantastic, and you can still see it to today. But would it have made sense for Churchill to do his own brickwork?”

Daniel Hannan on… free trade (33 mins 30)

“All of those well-intentioned, altruistic people who are protesting G20 meetings and occupying stock exchanges and howling against TTIP – I know that they think that they’re somehow standing up for the poor against the big multinationals, but in practice they’re doing the exact opposite. Nobody benefits more from barriers to trade than the big corporates and nobody gains more from their dismantling than the poorest people on the planet. We need to recapture the moral case for free trade that was made in the 19th century. That free trade is the ultimate instrument of poverty alleviation, of conflict resolution and of social justice.”

You can listen to the full episode here:

Or catch up with our recent interviews with Lord Lawson:

And Peter Oborne:

To automatically receive the latest episode, just subscribe via iTunes.

Robert Colvile is Editor of CapX. His book 'The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster' is out now from Bloomsbury Paperbacks