Daniel Hannan: Cameron maligns Brexiteers because he misunderstands them

Daniel Hannan is an MEP for South-East England, and a journalist, author and broadcaster. His most recent book is What Next: How to Get the Best from Brexit.

Everyone agrees that David Cameron made a terrible blunder when he called the referendum. Everyone, that is, except the country at large.

Journalists and politicians, civil servants and diplomats, subscribers to the Economist and the Financial Times, half-clever readers who get their opinions downstream from the Davos schmoozefest – all these people tell each other that the Brexit referendum was the worst mistake any British leader has made since the loss of the Americas. All forget how widespread the desire for a referendum was in 2015.

The Liberal Democrats, who now say that Cameron’s decision was “unforgiveable”, were demanding an In/Out referendum long before he was. Jo Swinson, along with the rest, told us as long ago as 2008 that only “a referendum on the major issue of in or out of Europe” would do. By 2013, plenty of Labour and Conservative MPs were taking the same line, largely in response to pressure from their constituents. There is no dishonour here: it is how a democracy is supposed to work.

Oddly, Cameron appears to have adopted the world-view of his critics. He defends his decision to call a referendum, but he does so…well, defensively. The line he takes in his memoirs is, in effect, that the referendum was forced on him by a combination of public demand and EU inflexibility. He had no choice but to go to the country, though he bitterly regrets the result. He reveals that he phoned EU leaders, as well as Barack Obama, to apologise for the way people voted. He still beats himself up about the whole thing.

For what it’s worth, I have always felt the former Prime Minister gets a tough rap. We forget the state the country was in when he took over: Gordon Brown had left us with a higher deficit than Greece’s. Cameron brought us back from the brink calmly and unfussily. Since stepping down, he has behaved with dignity – unlike, it must be said, every other living former Prime Minister. True, the timing of his memoirs is unfortunate, but that is hardly his fault: Brexit was supposed to have been done and dusted by now.

One thing, though, leaps out of Cameron’s book. He never really got Euroscepticism or Eurosceptics. He sees opposition to European amalgamation as an eccentricity verging on a mild mental disorder. The idea that it might matter to people more than, say, party loyalty leaves him genuinely nonplussed: “Michael [Gove] had backed something he did perhaps believe in, but in the process had broken with his friends and supporters,” he writes, in unfeigned bewilderment.

Gove did indeed pay a high price, because he was convinced that Britain would be better off outside the EU. He acted, in other words, from principle. But Cameron can’t understand how anyone could feel that way, and so puts it down to some sort of character flaw.

Similarly, he writes of the present Prime Minister: “Boris had become fixated on whether we could pass legislation that said UK law was ultimately supreme over EU law.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to him that this question – the essence of what it means to be an independent country – might genuinely matter. Johnson, we are invited to assume, cannot truly have cared about what Cameron describes as the “bugbear of the most evangelical Eurosceptics”. The only explanation for his behaviour, the former leader implies, is careerism.

In fact, Johnson – a long-standing critic of Euro-federalism – was tortured by the sovereignty question. I know, because I spent much of 2015 trying to persuade him to come out for Leave. Never once did he give any indication that he was weighing up which side would win. On the contrary, he kept coming back to the issue of legal primacy. If we could settle that then, as far as he was concerned, we could put up with the rest. But if we couldn’t, then staying in the EU would mean, over time, becoming a European province.

I am pretty sure that, if Cameron had been able to address this issue – the issue that had been the sticking point for Tony Benn, Enoch Powell, Hugh Gaitskell and the other Eurosceptic Long Marchers – he would have won the support, not just of Johnson and Gove, but of the majority of the electorate. But he could never see the problem. He couldn’t – and he still can’t – believe that anyone is genuinely bothered by what he sees as an absurd and abstruse abstraction. No wonder he feels hurt.

Sadly, in his annoyance, he reruns the referendum campaign, angrily accusing the other side of dishonesty. And here, I’m afraid, he diminishes himself. After all, we can all remember that, right up until February 2016, he was solemnly declaring that, if he didn’t get the reforms he wanted, he would recommend a Leave vote. Now he says that will always blame himself for the “enormity” of withdrawal. At least he uses that word correctly, to mean dreadfulness rather than enormousness. But how are we to square that maudlin statement with his previous assurances that he would lead us out if he couldn’t tweak our membership terms? One of the two statements must be untrue.

We all have self-serving biases, of course. We all give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. When Cameron looks back at his previous promises, he doubtless sees them, not as lies, but as part of a standard political campaign. Here, for example, is how he explains his decision to resign as Prime Minister: “Why had I promised I would stay on if we lost? If I had admitted that there was any chance of my stepping down if remain lost, I would have jeopardised the referendum entirely.”

To which I say, “fair enough”. There is a difference between putting the best spin on your intentions during a campaign and calculated mendacity. The word “lie” should, in my view, be reserved for bigger offences than Cameron’s. It’s just that, with such a record, he should think twice before using the word “lie” about what was very obviously an honest mistake in one interview by Penny Mordaunt about whether Britain could veto Turkish accession.

More significant is the question of why he didn’t manage to get a better deal from the EU. This is the question that Remainers almost invariably avoid.

Had Cameron come back with any retrieval of power or, indeed, with a sovereignty amendment of the sort that Gove and Johnson had wanted, he would have won the referendum. But the EU was readier to lose its second financial contributor than to allow any diminution of its federal aspirations.

That inflexibility was the proximate cause of Brexit. It helps explain why, after the vote, it proved so hard for the two sides to agree on a common-market-not-common-government type of association. It remains the biggest barrier to a deal. Yet, bizarrely, it is hardly ever discussed. Even now, many Remainers would rather rail against the other side than face up to the reality of what the EU is turning into. The electorate as a whole, though, knows better.

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Gordon Brown: Boris Johnson ‘is tearing the country apart’ over Brexit and ‘shredding the constitution’

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister, has lambasted Boris Johnson for “tearing the country apart” and “shredding the constitution” by proroguing Parliament.

Questions, he said, are now being raised not simply about what of Brexit the UK is set to endure, but what kind of Britain will be left after it.

Speaking at the launch of the Our Scottish Future think tank in Edinburgh, Mr Brown said the UK constitution was being “shredded”.

He said: “Only four weeks into his premiership, Boris Johnson is not only shredding our constitution but tearing the country apart with no plan to bring people together again and no unifying national project to ever do so.”

‘Broken into pieces’

He continued: “Today I see a Britain that has never been so divided – Leavers versus Remainers, north versus south, cities versus towns, young versus older – a Britain now being broken into pieces by competing nationalisms.

“We now have Scotland-first nationalism, England-first, Northern Ireland-first and Wales-first nationalisms – all challenging the very idea of one United Kingdom and creating divisions.”
The suspension of Parliament is set to come into effect between 9 September and 12 September until 14 October.

Boris Johnson's strategy has moved the Brexit reckoning closer (Photo: Dylan Martinez - Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson’s strategy has moved the Brexit reckoning closer (Photo: Dylan Martinez – Pool/Getty Images)

Critics of the Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament argue that Mr Johnson is attempting to force a no-deal Brexit by limiting the time that MPs have to vote on legislation to prevent it, or to bring forward a vote of no confidence in the government.

However, Mr Johnson said that it was “completely untrue” to suggest that Brexit was the reason for the suspension of Parliament, claiming instead it was to prepare his agenda ahead of the Queen’s speech.

Mr Brown went on to describe the dilemma the government has left Scotland in.

‘Two nationalisms’

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EU leaders will offer Brexit extension to avoid no-deal, Gordon Brown claims

“Scotland is now trapped between two nationalisms: Boris Johnson’s, which is anti-European and ignoring Scotland’s interests — and Nicola Sturgeon’s, which is now so hardline that she now proposes to exit the U.K. customs union, abandon the UK single market and ditch the U.K. pound,” he said.

“This is now about the very survival of the United Kingdom.”

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EU leaders will offer Brexit extension to avoid no-deal, Gordon Brown claims

EU leaders will reportedly offer Britain another Brexit extension next week in a bid to avoid no-deal.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown told The Telegraph he had spoken to several EU politicians who suggested Britain could be given more time to strike a deal with Brussels.

The former Labour leader, who has been a vocal opponent of Brexit, said French President Emmanuel Macron was leading the charge for the deadline to be renegotiated.

“I have actually been talking to some European leaders this week,” Mr Brown said, “I believe that next week the European Union will withdraw the October 31st deadline,” he said.

Macron wavering

Former prime minister Gordon Brown has warned that nationalism is threatening the future of the UK
Former prime minister Gordon Brown said EU leaders were considering a delay. (PA)

“My information is that Macron no longer holds to that deadline. It was really introduced for his campaign in the European elections to make him sound tough.

“And none of the other European Commissioners, including the new President of the European Commission, I believe will hold to that October 31st deadline.

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“I think they will withdraw it. That’s what I believe they should do and I believe they will do.”

A spokesperson for the European Commission, meanwhile, told the newspaper: “Another extension is obviously a possibility and depending on the purpose the EU could be forthcoming.”

Boris Johnson has previously suggested that Britain will leave on 31 October “with or without a deal”.

The Prime Minister is currently facing a series of legal challenges over his decision to suspend Parliament for up to five weeks, ahead of a Queen’s Speech on October 14.

In response to the prorogation, former Conservative leader Sir John Major is seeking to join an action being brought by campaigner Gina Miller, which will be heard at the High Court on 5 September.

Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said he was also joining the legal action against what he called “an unprecedented affront to democracy”.

31 October deadline

Boris Johnson says he wants to bring forward new legislation
Boris Johnson has suggested Britain will leave the EU on October 31 with or without a deal. (Getty)

Critics have claimed prorogation is intended to hamper cross-party efforts to block a no-deal withdrawal from the European Union – an allegation denied by Mr Johnson, who has insisted it is to allow for a Queen’s Speech to set out his agenda.

Mr Johnson warned that efforts to frustrate Brexit on 31 October would be seized on by Brussels to avoid offering a good deal.

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“I’m afraid that the more our friends and partners think, at the back of their mind, that Brexit could be stopped, that the UK could be kept in by Parliament, the less likely they are to give us the deal that we need,” he told Sky News.

He also said there would be a backlash if the 2016 referendum was not respected.

“If we frustrate that mandate, if we stop the UK from leaving on October 31, if that’s what parliamentarians end up doing, it will do lasting damage to people’s trust in politics.

“It will do lasting and catastrophic damage to the major parties in this country and I think this political generation won’t be forgiven for failing to honour that promise.”

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A key driver for Scots voting intentions is not Brexit, it is the Iraq war

Gordon Brown, writing in the Observer, is the latest in a long line of Remainiacs to try and blame a bad thing, in this case Scottish independence, on a WTO Brexit.

I can’t be certain if Gordon Brown simply does not understand what is going on in Scotland, or perhaps he is in denial, or is just stupid. Whichever it is, a reality check is now due. 

The truth is, a key driver for Scots voting intentions is not Brexit, it is the Iraq war. Previously unpublished polling lays bare the impact of Labour’s disastrous war in Iraq on both the Scottish Labour and the British political establishment. The poll was conducted by BMG Research with a sample of 1,041 Scottish voters aged 16 plus, between 31st March and 5thApril 2017.

The poll asked the question: “Thinking about past elections since the war (i.e. since 2003), did the decision to take military action in Iraq influence how you have voted since. Are you more likely, or less likely, to vote for the Labour party because of the Iraq War?”

Key Findings

  • Overall the poll shows that 32 percent of all Scottish voters said they were less likely to vote Labour because of the Iraq war, with 2 percent saying it made them more likely.
  • 41 percent of respondents said that the war was not a factor in their decision on how to vote while 10 percent had not voted since and 14 percent were not sure if the war was a factor.
  • For voters aged 16-24, 34 percent said they were less likely to vote Labour. Notably, just 21 percent said the war was not an important factor in deciding how to vote and 18 percent had not voted. 

The data for younger voters, who would have been infants at the time, is particularly notable. It seems the war has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on Scottish Labour for years and possibly even decades to come.

Blair & Brown – The SNP’s Chief Recruiting Officers

In the 2007 Scottish parliamentary elections, Scottish Labour lost to the SNP by just one seat. In the 2015 General Election (GE), Labour held just a single seat in Scotland.

The 2015 GE polling data highlights the scale of the impact:

  • Almost 1 in 3 Scots, approx. 1,250,000, said they were less likely to vote Labour because of the war.
  • 47 percent of SNP voters, approx. 680,000, said that the war made them less likely to vote Labour. 
  • Of those that did not vote, 24 percent said they were less likely to vote Labour because of the war. These are all big, big numbers. 

The Iraqi war not only impacts which party Scots vote for, but also if voters stay at home. The Iraq war has been a disaster for Scottish Labour.

Iraq And Scottish Independence

The poll also looked at the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum. Overall, 44 percent of “Yes” voters said they were less likely to vote Labour compared with 28 percent of “No” voters who said they were less likely to vote Labour. This gives a spread of 16 percent between “Yes” and “No” voters, highlighting a bias of those unlikely to vote Labour because of the war to vote “Yes” – for Scottish independence. The Iraq war has boosted support for Scottish independence.

Iraq And Brexit

 In the 2016 EU referendum, 37 percent of “remain” voters said they were less likely to vote Labour compared with 31 percent of “leave” voters, giving a spread of 6 percent. The EU/Independence referendum cross-breaks, however, provides the most significant data. A full 51 percent of “Yes”/”remain” voters are less likely to vote Labour because of the war. Of those Scots that want to break-away from the UK but remain in the EU (which did not take part in the initial invasion), 51 percent are less likely to vote Labour because of the Iraq war.

The View From The Door Step

From doorstep conversations going as far back as 2004, I knew many Scots were not only unhappy with the Labour party, and were less likely to vote Labour as a consequence, but they were also unhappy with the British political establishment. Voters will consider various factors, including Iraq, before casting their vote. This is why I commissioned the poll, to get a national picture and what a sad picture it is. 

The Iraq war has caused voters to abandon Scottish Labour in droves in favour of the SNP. It has damaged our union, fuelled Scottish nationalism and increased support for the EU. How any politician could miss the “Iraq factor” in Scottish politics is beyond me. Yet, here we have a former Labour PM trying to blame it all on a WTO Brexit. Gordon Brown and Scottish Labour have been wandering the political wilderness for years. If this is their standard of debate, I would suggest that is the best place for them.

Regarding comments from former Prime Ministers Sir John Major and Theresa May, it is understandable to an extent that they are not au fait with the nuances of Scottish politics. The leader of the Scottish Tories, Ruth Davidson has also echoed these concerns. To explain how she is so out of touch is somewhat harder to explain away. Sadly, I feel they are nothing more than a cabal of pro-EU, anti-democracy extremists peddling a “project fear” message that the union is at risk in a do-or-die attempt to prevent a WTO Brexit.

Worst of all, I fear Tony Blair’s legacy will not be Iraq, but an independent Scotland because of Iraq.

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Johnson bypasses the broadcasters to talk directly to voters

Yesterday’s announcement of a relaxation of the immigration rules for scientists from around the world was noteworthy for two reasons.

First, because it’s a good idea, long overdue and likely to be popular.

Second, because of how the message was delivered.

There was a press release, and an accompanying evening news package by the BBC, filmed on a Prime Ministerial visit to a fusion power research centre in Oxfordshire. But before either of those went out, the actual announcement took place online, in a Facebook Live broadcast by Boris Johnson.

The video itself was short, hitting key messages on police and NHS spending before trailing the headline news, leaving the detail for the official release shortly afterwards. The fairly simple set contained a few nods to his fans (and detractors) The flag, the ministerial red box (rapped pointedly when he spoke of getting to work) and, nestled away at the back, a red bus.

No, not that red bus. Nor the now-famous red buses built out of painted wine boxes. Rather a red, double-decker, London bus featuring the Back Boris 2008 logo – a memento of the mayoralty which influenced him so much, placed carefully where a TV had stood earlier in the day.

It’s the use of this video as the first point of announcement for an important policy that is particularly significant. It’s no secret that some political broadcasters have at times been a bit antagonistic, and that there are some tensions in the relationship already. More generally, what every politician really desires is an opportunity to communicate their message directly to voters without edit, limit or interpretation.

Breaking news through a social media broadcast, unfiltered, therefore makes sense. Between Facebook and Twitter this clip was seen by at least 450,000 people throughout the course of the evening, which isn’t bad given there was no pre-publicity to warn the audience in advance. My understanding is that this is a first experiment, and there will be more such broadcasts from the Prime Minister, the audience of which will be closely studied in Downing Street.

In an age which values authenticity, this is an approach with potential, particularly for this Prime Minister. Johnson opens with an invitation, the emphasis on the personal nature of the conversation and the privileged access being offered to viewers: “I’m speaking to you live from my desk in Downing Street”. He has built his career on being distinctive, engaging and entertaining; he’s the Government’s most notable media asset. It would be madness to lock that away behind bland scripts and anonymised official statements.

Previous examples of leaders seeking such direct communication with voters spring to mind, some more successful than others. Stanley Baldwin, the UK’s earliest adopter of broadcasting as a political tool; Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous ‘fireside chats’; Harold Wilson’s sometimes ill-advised penchant for television (complete with the affectation of a pipe); Ronald Reagan’s extraordinary run of over 1,000 daily radio commentaries on current affairs prior to becoming President. David Cameron, of course, had WebCameron – sometimes a bit stagey, but always more at ease than Gordon Brown’s rictus efforts at YouTube. There are lessons from each, and all underscore that no politician can afford to stand still while the media changes around him.

It’s encouraging to see the Prime Minister’s team exploring and trying out new ways to cut through to the electorate. Making sure they maintain message discipline while allowing his personality to show will be the key. Relax it too much and it loses its bite; structure it too closely and it risks looking like a hostage video, turning off fans who want to feel they are seeing their Prime Minister as he really is. Get it right, and these broadcasts could have a really big impact.

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Some more friendly advice from me for Boris Johnson

The next few weeks will see an outpouring of advice for Boris Johnson. All the commentators who’ve spent the last few weeks denouncing him as a walking disaster, womaniser and serial liar will rush to tell him to redeem himself by doing what they want.

Which makes me, as someone impartially opposed to his politics, who found him good fun and a chance for a new start in our deadlocked nation, feel justified in offering my more friendly advice. Britain’s only human politician who finds himself in a deep hole deserves it.

A new Prime Minister will have a short honeymoon before the carping commentariat get back to grinding their axes. Anyone is better than Theresa, and it will be nice to have a human in charge instead of a badly-programmed robot. The Conservative Party will rally round with its usual mixture of loyalty and and grovelling servility. The electorate will like a new start out of a deadlock which frustrates them.

So use that happy period – the only one you’ll get now that misery has become the national mood – to make a real new start and rally the people. They’re fed up with bickering deadlock and the long rearguard action of the recalcitrant Remainers. They can’t see why nothing has been done about their vote to Leave.

A new Prime Minister and a new Government can’t be doomed to pushing Theresa’s deal for a fourth time. It’s dead, deceased, and inoperable. So it’s right to demand a new negotiation from the EU which they’ll probably refuse, saying Theresa’s is as far as they’ll go. That puts them on the wrong foot.

React by doing the old Macmillan trick: announce the end of austerity, more borrowing and turn the spigots on to boost the economy. Then call an early election. That makes it shit or bust, but the lesson of Gordon Brown is that it’s better than struggling on with no majority and no mandate. A government with a majority of two can’t carry on. You have no alternative.

The Remainers are wrong footed and (for the moment at least) Labour is in a mess which can’t be cleared up quickly. A leader determined on Brexit can undercut Farage’s party, while the Lib Dems are still tainted by the Coalition and their support for the euro. The excitement would delay the onslaught of carping which builds as the honeymoon ends.

Denounce the intransigence of the EU. Show that “No Deal” would be its fault, ask for the nation’s backing for a fair deal, wave the patriotic banner, bash Corbyn and Boris can win. Then go back to the EU with new proposals which should include a promise never to impose a customs border in Northern Ireland, leaving them free to incur the odium if they want to.

Add in a dollop of criticism of the damage agricultural protectionism does to developing countries, a promise of full rights to EU migrants who can support themselves and whatever covert trade deals we’ve been able to arrange against EU rules. Don’t threaten overtly not to pay Theresa’s ransom money – that will only unite them; just keep it covert, indicating that we’ve got to be prosperous to pay up.

That’s a high-risk strategy. But Boris is a risk-taker and what’s the alternative? Only humiliating rejection by a stultifying EU, a long, whimpering failure as the country slumps back into bickering decline and a fun Prime Minister turns pathetic.
Photocredit: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

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