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6 June 2022

Why is the biggest Brexiteer now saying the UK should have stayed in the single market?

Daniel Hannan is blaming Remainers for not compromising instead of himself.

By Jonn Elledge

I haven’t checked the news today but, in what I’m pretty sure must be the most important development in politics right now, at the end of last week the prominent Brexiteer, Baron Hannan of Kingsclere – otherwise known as Daniel Hannan – wrote a column for the Telegraph. In it, he argued that ministers are missing the opportunities presented by Brexit to deregulate the economy (a pretty damning attack on anyone who happens to be Minister of State for Brexit Opportunities right now). Instead of making the most of such opportunities, readers may be surprised to learn that the Tories are “pursuing semi-socialist economic policies which… condemn us to long-term poverty”.

This, of course, is mostly the usual liberal Leave nonsense. The noteworthy bit, though, is the headline: “We should have stayed in the single market, but rejoining it now would be madness”.

Daniel Hannan, you’ll recall, has spent much of his political career railing against the EU’s lack of democracy, despite being first an elected MEP, then later a life peer and unelected member of the House of Lords. Concerned observers may recall that I spent several months in 2016-17 writing a weekly column under the puntastic title “Hannan-fodder”, in recognition of the way that this ostensibly bland and decent-seeming man could leave liberal, left-leaning pro-European types frothing at the mouth. This talent of Hannan’s was on show again over the weekend, as many of the internet’s most prominent Remainers – Andrew Adonis, James O’Brien, Ian Dunt – shared Hannan’s latest utterances in a “NOW you finally tell us” sort of a way.

In some ways this is pretty strange – partly because Hannan was explicitly saying Britain shouldn’t go back into the single market in his article; but mostly because this is not the first time Hannan has said the single market was, once upon a time, a good thing. There exists a clip from before the referendum of him using the phrase “absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the single market”, which goes viral every now and again precisely because it turned out to be such a horrendously bad guide to what everyone, Hannan included, would go on to talk about.

The reason Hannan’s most recent column provoked such a reaction, I think, is that his thesis seems to typify the problem with both him and the broader Leave tendency he represents: that they are only willing to speak out when there is no danger that doing so might actually make a difference. If Baron Hannan had really wanted Britain to remain in the single market, then he could have used his influence to push for it in the months after the referendum – but he didn’t. He may have occasionally described the kind of compromise he’d assumed would, magically, come into being. But I don’t recall Hannan ever suggesting to the many Brexiteers who interpreted a narrowly won referendum as a mandate for the most radical Brexit possible and as a means to drag the government to the right, that they couldn’t have everything their own way. Telling your allies that they’re wrong, after all, is painful. Much easier instead to blame the lack of compromise on Remainers and the left, two groups who famously had a huge degree of influence over Theresa May’s thinking.

Now, though, the danger has passed, and Hannan can announce for all to see that he was always in favour of single market membership, but that it’s too late now – without any risk of anyone calling him a traitor. Refusing to accept responsibility; pretending interest in policy, while actually focusing on culture war; desperately scrambling for ways to blame the opposition, when it was abundantly clear the problem was coming from inside his own party… Hannan is like an avatar of everything that has happened to the Tory party since it set up that referendum.

Still, I suppose it’ll all work out for the Conservatives in the end. Now let me check the news to see what else is going on today…

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[See also: Imperial measures are a painful parody of the Brexit I supported]

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