Q&A: Daniel Hannan on the biggest Brexit myths and communism’s 100 years of cruelty

By Rob Bluey | The Daily Signal

Daniel Hannan visited The Heritage Foundation in November for a speech on the virtues of free trade and an update on Brexit. The conservative member of the European Parliament for South East England spoke to Daily Signal Editor-in-Chief Rob Bluey about those topics, President Donald Trump, and the cruelty of communism.

Bluey: You have made a strong push for Brexit. Where do things stand today?

Hannan: First of all, thank you. I mean, thanks for having me back, but thank you to Heritage for your support during that time. It was a lonely position to take. Nobody thought we were going to win. You really see who your friends are at moments like that, so it’s not something I’m going to forget.

How’s it working out? Well, I have to say almost all of the predictions of woe that we were given during the campaign have turned out to be nonsense. We were told that house prices would collapse, but they’ve risen. We were told that unemployment would go up by half a million. It’s fallen every month; there’s now more people in work than ever before in U.K. history. We were told that exports would stutter, that manufacturing would collapse. Both have risen. We were told that there would be a technical recession in 2016. We, in fact, grew faster in the six months after the vote than we had in the six months before and finished 2016 as the fastest growing major economy in the world. We were told that there would be a stock exchange collapse. We weren’t told that that would be the Italian stock exchange, and that British stocks would be the strongest performing in Europe.

On every measure, it’s worked out well. The bizarre thing is that people are so locked into which side they were on during the referendum that a number of people just won’t see the good news, and will carry on obsessively repeating and retweeting every prediction, every forecast that suggests that things are going to get worse in defiance of all the good news of the last 500 days that they just choose not to see. By the way, at the top of that list even more deranged than our own remainers, is The New York Times, who are describing a world that no one in Britain recognizes.

Bluey: How about the rest of Europe? What’s the current state of mind of the Europeans as the U.K. goes through this process?

Hannan: Well, of course the Europeans are not a monolithic bloc. There are different countries, there are different tendencies, there are different people. My sense is that most of the member states want a good outcome, an outcome that’s good for them and that maximizes the advantage to them. You know what? So do we. We want our European friends and allies to come out of this process strong and prosperous because if for no other reason than that a wealthy neighbor makes a good customer. We have direct immediate interest in the success of the rest of the EU.

I think most of the national governments recognize that that logic applies both ways around. There are some true believers in Brussels who feel that we have kind of blasphemed against the doctrine of ever closer union, that we need to be excommunicated, and they don’t mind cutting off their nose to spite their face. They don’t mind there being some cost to the 27 counties, as long as there’s a cost to us. If you’re an unelected official, you can afford to think that way, right? There’s no cost to you personally. As far as I can tell, that is the minority.

Bluey: In your speech at Heritage, you talked about free trade. Specifically on the U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement, why do you think that that is so important? And where does it currently stand with President Trump, who has spoken skeptically of free trade?

Hannan: I definitely have some differences in general, philosophically, with this administration on trade. I’m a free trader. However, on the issue of a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement, there is no difference between us at all. The president seems to be personally invested in this in a way that he isn’t with any other country.

He speaks about it with a warmth and enthusiasm that is unfeigned. Look, there is going to be a U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement because both heads of government are committed to it. The question is not whether it happens, it’s what are the contents. Do we use this opportunity to have what the president says he wants, the best and boldest and most beautiful free trade agreement ever? For once, let’s see if those superlatives can be realized in a form of a trade deal that doesn’t just abolish tariffs and other barriers, but that is based on mutual recognition of regulations and ideally also professional qualifications.

You, like every other free market think tanker, for a long time have been complaining about the price of drugs here and the cartels and entrenched position of the FDA. Just imagine a trade deal that said any drug approved by the FDA is automatically good enough for Britain and vice versa. Think of how great that would be for consumers in terms of lower prices, and then generally for the economy because they’d have all that extra money to spend on other things, right?

Sometimes you would be the main beneficiary, sometimes we would, but you can use a trade deal as a deregulatory mechanism. This is what Australia and New Zealand have. They have a trade deal that says what’s good for one country is good for the other. They’ve done really well with it, 25 years without a negative quarter in growth. Just imagine, if the biggest and the fifth-biggest economies in the world did something similar. That really has planetary significance.

Bluey: You described yourself as a free trader. Could you share the benefits that you see from free trade?

Hannan: The real benefit is that it means that people can live at the same standard by working shorter hours because prices fall, which means that you’ve freed up lots of time and resources for them to go and do other things. To make and invent and sell other things. That has been the biggest driver of prosperity ever in the history of our species.

We went along scratching out a living of $3 a day or less until about 200 years ago. Then, we started trading, and we’ve taken off and not looked back. You can see the countries that have done this. China after 1979, India after 1991. Once you embrace global markets and stop trying to produce everything yourself, you just take off. There’s been no poverty alleviation mechanism, no social justice mechanism on a worldwide level anything like it as powerful.

For me, it’s a moral as well as a practical case. Yes, we all get richer, but also we become freer and happier in the process.

Bluey: Let’s talk about something that’s the opposite of freedom. This year marks the 100th anniversary of communism. Could you share your reflections on communism?

Hannan: I was 18 when the Berlin Wall came down, and I actually was able to spend my gap year traveling around much of Eastern Europe and meeting people in this amazing process of transformation the first half of 1990 in most of those countries, what we still called Eastern Europe in those days. I was there was just when the free elections had been scheduled but not yet held, so the communists were still in power and the change was on its way. That experience is partly why I always saw the power of the state, because I can remember the motive force of those crowds being the patriotic one. They were fed up with the Soviet occupation.

Communism, in terms of crude numbers, must be reckoned the most lethal ideology ever devised by human intelligence. The Atlantic slave trade killed maybe 10 million people. The Nazis killed maybe 17 million. Communists killed 100 million people. Some of them were shot into pits, some of them were arrested at night and worked to death in Gulag, some of them were starved as deliberate policy to force collectivization. You don’t get more murderous than that. Why is it acceptable to wear a Che Guevara T-shirt now? Why isn’t that in the same moral category as wearing an Adolf Hitler T-shirt or an Osama bin Laden T-shirt?

The argument that is made is, “Well, we mustn’t confuse socialism with the authoritarian regimes that happened to call themselves socialists.” To see why that is such an absurd argument, try substituting the word fascist. Imagine somebody saying, “Well, we mustn’t make the mistake of judging fascism by the autocratic regimes in the 1930s that called themselves fascists.” We would all see that that was an absurd and self-serving argument. Every communist regime in the world—Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cuba, all the way down—every single one has relied on Gulags, torture chambers, secret police, firing squads. You don’t find a single exception. Maybe the fact that every time the experiment is tried, it ends the same way is telling us something about the nature of what it is we’re dealing with.

Bluey: It’s a profound thing to think about, and thank you for sharing that. I want to ask you one other question. President Trump was elected about a year ago. How has his presidency changed your perspective on America, if it has, or how do you think that it’s changed America?

Hannan: It’s interesting. One thing that’s been interesting is how many people who were very strongly anti-Trump in the primaries have rushed the other way since. I suppose that’s team loyalty and all the rest of it.

One observation I would make is this, all the way through the Obama years, conservatives were making the argument about the importance of the balance of power. The importance of constraints on the executive. The importance of independence of the legislature and the judicial bodies. The left, which liked executive power, poo-pooed all of those arguments. “Who cares about the process, as long as we get the result we want?” Well, maybe now they will understand what it was we were on about.

The great strength of this country is that it has an exquisite Constitution, which was designed to constrain much worse governments than any we’ve known in this century. Maybe, if something that comes out of this is that people, liberals as well as conservatives, now take an interest in what it means to have genuinely limited government, that would be a very good thing.

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons