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Book Review: What Next

 

“What Next” by Daniel HannanOn June 23rd, 2016, the people of the United Kingdom, against the advice of most politicians, big business, organised labour, corporate media, academia, and their self-styled “betters”, narrowly voted to re-assert their sovereignty and reclaim the independence of their proud nation, slowly being dissolved in an “ever closer union” with the anti-democratic, protectionist, corrupt, bankrupt, and increasingly authoritarian European Union (EU). The day of the referendum, bookmakers gave odds which implied less than a 20% chance of a Leave vote, and yet the morning after the common sense and perception of right and wrong of the British people, which had caused them to prevail in the face of wars, economic and social crises, and a changing international environment re-asserted itself, and caused them to say, “No more, thank you. We prefer our thousand year tradition of self-rule to being dictated to by unelected foreign oligarchic technocrats.”

The author, Conservative Member of the European Parliament for South East England since 1999, has been one of the most vociferous and eloquent partisans of Britain’s reclaiming its independence and campaigners for a Leave vote in the referendum; the vote was a personal triumph for him. In the introduction, he writes, “After forty-three years, we have pushed the door ajar. A rectangle of light dazzles us and, as our eyes adjust, we see a summer meadow. Swallows swoop against the blue sky. We hear the gurgling of a little brook. Now to stride into the sunlight.” What next, indeed?

Before presenting his vision of an independent, prosperous, and more free Britain, he recounts Britain’s history in the European Union, the sordid state of the institutions of that would-be socialist superstate, and the details of the Leave campaign, including a candid and sometimes acerbic view not just of his opponents but also nominal allies. Hannan argues that Leave ultimately won because those advocating it were able to present a positive future for an independent Britain. He says that every time the Leave message veered toward negatives of the existing relationship with the EU, in particular immigration, polling in favour of Leave declined, and when the positive benefits of independence—for example free trade with Commonwealth nations and the rest of the world, local control of Britain’s fisheries and agriculture, living under laws made in Britain by a parliament elected by the British people—Leave’s polling improved. Fundamentally, you can only get so far asking people to vote against something, especially when the establishment is marching in lockstep to create fear of the unknown among the electorate. Presenting a positive vision was, Hannan believes, essential to prevailing.

Central to understanding a post-EU Britain is the distinction between a free-trade area and a customs union. The EU has done its best to confuse people about this issue, presenting its single market as a kind of free trade utopia. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A free trade area is just what the name implies: a group of states which have eliminated tariffs and other barriers such as quotas, and allow goods and services to cross borders unimpeded. A customs union such as the EU establishes standards for goods sold within its internal market which, through regulation, members are required to enforce (hence, the absurdity of unelected bureaucrats in Brussels telling the French how to make cheese). Further, while goods conforming to the regulations can be sold within the union, there are major trade barriers with parties outside, often imposed to protect industries with political pull inside the union. For example, wine produced in California or Chile is subject to a 32% tariff imposed by the EU to protect its own winemakers. British apparel manufacturers cannot import textiles from India, a country with long historical and close commercial ties, without paying EU tariffs intended to protect uncompetitive manufacturers on the Continent. Pointy-headed and economically ignorant “green” policies compound the problem: a medium-sized company in the EU pays 20% more for energy than a competitor in China and twice as much as one in the United States. In international trade disputes, Britain in the EU is represented by one twenty-eighth of a European Commissioner, while an independent Britain will have its own seat, like New Zealand, Switzerland, and the US.

Hannan believes that after leaving the EU, the UK should join the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and demonstrates how ETFA states such as Norway and Switzerland are more prosperous than EU members and have better trade with countries outside it. (He argues against joining the European Economic Area [EEA], from which Switzerland has wisely opted out. The EEA provides too much leverage to the Brussels imperium to meddle in the policies of member states.) More important for Britain’s future than its relationship to the EU is its ability, once outside, to conclude bilateral trade agreements with important trading partners such as the US (even, perhaps, joining NAFTA), Anglosphere countries such as Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand, and India, China, Russia, Brazil and other nations: all of which it cannot do while a member of the EU.

What of Britain’s domestic policy? Free of diktats from Brussels, it will be whatever Britons wish, expressed through their representatives at Westminster. Hannan quotes the psychologist Kurt Lewin, who in the 1940s described change as a three stage process. First, old assumptions about the way things are and the way they have to be become “unfrozen”. This ushers in a period of rapid transformation, where institutions become fluid and can adapt to changed circumstances and perceptions. Then the new situation congeals into a status quo which endures until the next moment of unfreezing. For four decades, Britain has been frozen into an inertia where parliamentarians and governments respond to popular demands all too often by saying, “We’d like to do that, but the EU doesn’t permit it.” Leaving the EU will remove this comfortable excuse, and possibly catalyse a great unfreezing of Britain’s institutions. Where will this ultimately go? Wherever the people wish it to. Hannan has some suggestions for potential happy outcomes in this bright new day.

Britain has devolved substantial governance to Scotland, and yet Scottish MPs still vote in Westminster for policies which affect England but to which their constituents are not subject. Perhaps federalisation might progress to the point where the House of Commons becomes the English Parliament, with either a reformed House of Lords or a new body empowered to vote only on matters affecting the entire Union such as national defence and foreign policy. Free of the EU, the UK can adopt competitive corporate taxation and governance policies, and attract companies from around the world to build not just headquarters but also research and development and manufacturing facilities. The national VAT could be abolished entirely and replaced with a local sales tax, paid at point of retail, set by counties or metropolitan areas in competition with one another (current payments to these authorities by the Treasury are almost exactly equal to revenue from the VAT); with competition, authorities will be forced to economise lest their residents vote with their feet. With their own source of revenue, decision making for a host of policies, from housing to welfare, could be pushed down from Whitehall to City Hall. Immigration can be re-focused upon the need of the country for skills and labour, not thrown open to anybody who arrives.

The British vote for independence has been decried by the elitists, oligarchs, and would-be commissars as a “populist revolt”. (Do you think those words too strong? Did you know that all of those EU politicians and bureaucrats are exempt from taxation in their own countries, and pay a flat tax of around 21%, far less than the despised citizens they rule?) What is happening, first in Britain, and before long elsewhere as the corrupt foundations of the EU crumble, is that the working classes are standing up to the smirking classes and saying, “Enough.” Britain’s success, which (unless the people are betrayed and their wishes subverted) is assured, since freedom and democracy always work better than slavery and bureaucratic dictatorship, will serve to demonstrate to citizens of other railroad-era continental-scale empires that smaller, agile, responsive, and free governance is essential for success in the information age.

Hannan, Daniel. What Next. London: Head of Zeus, 2016. ISBN 978-1-78669-193-4.

Here is a half hour talk by Daniel Hannan at the Heritage Foundation in December 2016 about learning from the Brexit victory and an impassioned argument for free trade.

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Members have made 17 comments.

  1. Profile photo of John H. Member

    I am pleased to see the verb “devolve” used correctly, meaning “pass, yield, return, give back,” and I am especially pleased to see “elitist” used rather than “elite”.

    • #1
    • March 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm
    • Like3 likes
  2. Profile photo of jzdro Member

    John Walker: Central to understanding a post-EU Britain is the distinction between a free-trade area and a customs union.

    I’d no idea, and can’t thank you enough.

    • #2
    • March 16, 2017 at 5:14 pm
    • Like4 likes
  3. Profile photo of Percival Thatcher

    John Walker: For four decades, Britain has been frozen into an inertia where parliamentarians and governments respond to popular demands all too often by saying, “We’d like to do that, but the EU doesn’t permit it.”

    And that more than anything else is sufficient reason to tell the EU to take a hike. Handing off the power to act in the interests of the people to unelected, unreproachable puddingheads in Brussels may be called many things, but participatory democracy is not one of them.

    • #3
    • March 16, 2017 at 5:45 pm
    • Like3 likes
  4. Profile photo of James Gawron Thatcher

    John,

    I just listened to Hannan’s address at Heritage. I’m not sure I can stand that much good sense beautifully delivered all in one short half hour. Gd bless Mr. Hannan. I’ll never eat a chicken sandwich without thinking of him and all that is right and just in our mutual enterprise of Freedom.

    Thanks very much for bringing this to our attention.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #4
    • March 16, 2017 at 6:05 pm
    • Like8 likes
  5. Profile photo of Valiuth Member

    Britain join NAFTA? Don’t they know that if they do they will lose trade to Mexico?

    • #5
    • March 16, 2017 at 8:30 pm
    • Like2 likes
  6. Profile photo of genferei Member

    I recommend All Out War for those wanting a look behind the scenes of the Brexit referendum.

    • #6
    • March 17, 2017 at 2:42 am
    • Like1 like
  7. Profile photo of Phil Turmel Thatcher

    genferei (View Comment):
    I recommend All Out War for those wanting a look behind the scenes of the Brexit referendum.

    I added this and What’s Next to my Amazon queue….

    • #7
    • March 17, 2017 at 7:02 am
    • Like2 likes
  8. Profile photo of The Reticulator Member

    John Walker: Did you know that all of those EU politicians and bureaucrats are exempt from taxation in their own countries, and pay a flat tax of around 21%, far less than the despised citizens they rule?)

    No, I didn’t know that. Reminds me of our GOP Congress exempting itself and its staff from ObamaCaare.

    Reminds me of when Benjamin Franklin was sent to England to try to remove the exemption from taxes for the powerful and wealthy Pennsylvania proprietors. He was nowhere near ready to vote “Leave” at that point, though.

    I’m glad I now have the term “smirking classes” to add to “oppressor classes” and “ruling classes” to describe these people.

    • #8
    • March 17, 2017 at 8:17 am
    • Like3 likes
  9. Profile photo of Titus Techera Contributor

    I like MEP Hannan. I’m glad Vote Leave won.

    I’ve no doubt that a ‘Free Trade all the way’ Tory Party is going to collapse fairly soon, possibly losing the next election.

    In ways no one has asserted & defended publicly, BREXIT is about making Britain something the British can believe in, a country with a future. MEP Hannan does not know what that might be, so far as I can tell, or won’t say.

    British politics is full of the signs of a structural crisis: The Lords have to be destroyed & God only knows what put in place, given the Blair reforms & the new anti-BREXIT threats. The SNP in Scotland & the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are making all the ugly noises you might expect & it’s not at all clear that there is any political will to retain those regions, which are neither real countries, nor provinces of Britain. If they end up run by anti-UK parties, as Scotland now is, what then?

    That leaves England & Wales, a Tory stronghold, but the Tories have no idea what it means to have politics in England & daren’t try to persuade the English of what politics might mean beyond the NHS. Even at the core, there is a crisis. The former Tory PM believe leadership means temporizing; this is now not possible; the new Tory PM–does she have any interest in really transforming Whitehall? Else, how govern?

    • #9
    • March 17, 2017 at 2:06 pm
    • Like3 likes
  10. Profile photo of Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    John Walker: Fundamentally, you can only get so far asking people to vote against something, especially when the establishment is marching in lockstep to create fear of the unknown among the electorate. Presenting a positive vision was, Hannan believes, essential to prevailing.

    This is one of the things that I wish got more attention: Britain reasserting its sovereignty through Brexit was not a matter of turning its back on the world, but letting it choose how to engage the world on its own terms. Those terms likely involve more engagement than the eurocrats allowed. As Matt Ridley put it “I hope we choose the world, not just a continent.”

    Sovereignty is not the same as disengagement or retrenchment.

    • #10
    • March 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm
    • Like6 likes
  11. Profile photo of John Walker Contributor
    John Walker Post author

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    The SNP in Scotland & the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are making all the ugly noises you might expect & it’s not at all clear that there is any political will to retain those regions, which are neither real countries, nor provinces of Britain. If they end up run by anti-UK parties, as Scotland now is, what then?

    The economic reality of an independent Scotland within the EU after the rest of Britain (or just England and Wales) has left may cause second thoughts to voters inclined to separate. Hannan observes,

    According to the Scottish government, Scotland’s exports to the EU are worth £11.6 billion per year, compared to £15.2 billion for those to the rest of the world, and £48 billion to the rest of the UK. Moreover, if Scotland applied to join the EU as a new member, it would be doing so without the UK rebate, and without the opt-out from accepting the euro.

    In opting to leave the UK and join the EU, Scotland “would be voting to link itself to a secondary market (the EU) rather than its primary one (the rest of the UK.)” Of course, decisions of this kind turn on many questions beyond economics.

    • #11
    • March 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm
    • Like6 likes
  12. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    It’s gratifying to hear Hannon speak of the Anglosphere. In that natural alliance of values and language, there is great strength and hope for prosperity in the future. I hope Ms. May and Mr. Trump are able to herd the cats in their respective foreign offices to secure greater cooperation in trade and foreign affairs generally. It would be good to include the Aussies and New Zealand. But start with US/UK.

    • #12
    • March 17, 2017 at 4:55 pm
    • Like2 likes
  13. Profile photo of Charles Mark Member

    Titus Techera (View Comment):British politics is full of the signs of a structural crisis: The Lords have to be destroyed & God only knows what put in place, given the Blair reforms & the new anti-BREXIT threats. The SNP in Scotland & the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are making all the ugly noises you might expect & it’s not at all clear that there is any political will to retain those regions, which are neither real countries, nor provinces of Britain. If they end up run by anti-UK parties, as Scotland now is, what then?

    It’s gratifying to see Sinn Féin get a dishonourable mention here. But “ugly” isn’t close to describing that appalling Party which represents the antithesis of just about everything for which any decent conservative stands and which- going by recent polling- has a realistic prospect of bringing its brand of thugocracy into government in the next five to ten years. Any American who has any misty-eyed notions about that bunch being “freedom fighters” needs to do some research.

    • #13
    • March 17, 2017 at 6:22 pm
    • Like3 likes
  14. Profile photo of Titus Techera Contributor

    Charles Mark (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):British politics is full of the signs of a structural crisis: The Lords have to be destroyed & God only knows what put in place, given the Blair reforms & the new anti-BREXIT threats. The SNP in Scotland & the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are making all the ugly noises you might expect & it’s not at all clear that there is any political will to retain those regions, which are neither real countries, nor provinces of Britain. If they end up run by anti-UK parties, as Scotland now is, what then?

    It’s gratifying to see Sinn Féin get a dishonourable mention here. But “ugly” isn’t close to describing that appalling Party which represents the antithesis of just about everything for which any decent conservative stands and which- going by recent polling- has a realistic prospect of bringing its brand of thugocracy into government in the next five to ten years. Any American who has any misty-eyed notions about that bunch being “freedom fighters” needs to do some research.

    America unfortunately is the land where there’s still some romance surrounding Mr. Gerry Adams, though possibly nothing like it used to be…

    • #14
    • March 17, 2017 at 7:06 pm
    • Like2 likes
  15. Profile photo of Titus Techera Contributor

    John Walker (View Comment):

    Titus Techera (View Comment):
    The SNP in Scotland & the Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland are making all the ugly noises you might expect & it’s not at all clear that there is any political will to retain those regions, which are neither real countries, nor provinces of Britain. If they end up run by anti-UK parties, as Scotland now is, what then?

    The economic reality of an independent Scotland within the EU after the rest of Britain (or just England and Wales) has left may cause second thoughts to voters inclined to separate. Hannan observes,

    According to the Scottish government, Scotland’s exports to the EU are worth £11.6 billion per year, compared to £15.2 billion for those to the rest of the world, and £48 billion to the rest of the UK. Moreover, if Scotland applied to join the EU as a new member, it would be doing so without the UK rebate, and without the opt-out from accepting the euro

    In opting to leave the UK and join the EU, Scotland “would be voting to link itself to a secondary market (the EU) rather than its primary one (the rest of the UK.)” Of course, decisions of this kind turn on many questions beyond economics.

    Also, Scotland has neither a currency nor the banking system it would need. Instant-Euro integration is a fantasy.

    But I do not presume crazy ideas won’t come to pass: They do have crazy votaries-

    • #15
    • March 17, 2017 at 7:08 pm
    • LikeLike
  16. Profile photo of Brad2971 Inactive

    Titus Techera (View Comment):

    John Walker (View Comment):

    The economic reality of an independent Scotland within the EU after the rest of Britain (or just England and Wales) has left may cause second thoughts to voters inclined to separate. Hannan observes,

    According to the Scottish government, Scotland’s exports to the EU are worth £11.6 billion per year, compared to £15.2 billion for those to the rest of the world, and £48 billion to the rest of the UK. Moreover, if Scotland applied to join the EU as a new member, it would be doing so without the UK rebate, and without the opt-out from accepting the euro

    In opting to leave the UK and join the EU, Scotland “would be voting to link itself to a secondary market (the EU) rather than its primary one (the rest of the UK.)” Of course, decisions of this kind turn on many questions beyond economics.

    Also, Scotland has neither a currency nor the banking system it would need. Instant-Euro integration is a fantasy.

    But I do not presume crazy ideas won’t come to pass: They do have crazy votaries-

    Before people in Scotland try another referendum, their leaders in the House of Commons may want to take trips to Williston, ND, and Midland TX. There, those leaders may see how close the US is to production cost parity with OPEC nations, as well as how much LOWER oil productions costs are compared to North Sea crude.

    • #16
    • March 17, 2017 at 11:21 pm
    • Like3 likes
  17. Profile photo of Titus Techera Contributor

    I agree about the relative worth of oil. Still, crazy ain’t impossible.

    • #17
    • March 17, 2017 at 11:30 pm
    • LikeLike