This is the second in a series republishing our 14 most-read posts/blogs of the year to date.
From day one of the Brexit result political commentator Peter Hitchens expressed bafflement as to how anyone could believe that Britain could go it alone when not one part of the establishment was behind it.
Two years later, when he had been proved uncannily right, Laura Perrins asked him about his prediction.
Now Hitchens’s contention not only still holds but the picture becomes ever more bleak. Not only has the Conservative Government resiled from its main commitments but, irony upon irony, the party has never been more split than it is today – with a Parliamentary party at war with itself and an increasingly ‘remainer’ government disastrously out of touch with the party in the country, its Brexit-dominated grassroots. As a plan to save the party, it’s proved to be a dud.
Laura Perrins: Peter Hitchens, on February 4, 2016, in a blog headed ‘Why I won’t be voting on Referendum Day’ you said: ‘If we voted to leave, who would implement the decision?’
You pointed out: ‘What’s more, it’s increasingly difficult to imagine our much-diminished country managing to walk alone again on its atrophied and shrivelled leg-muscles, weakened by years of non-independence. I myself am baffled as to how a referendum could decide the issue, when huge majorities in both Houses of Parliament, plus the great bulk of the media, plus businessmen (traditionally utterly ignorant about politics) plus the civil service, the education sector, and the judiciary, are committed to our continuing membership.’ (My emphasis.)
You were not confident that the referendum would pass, but as each day goes by it looks more likely that you will be proved correct when you said a referendum could not decide the issue, given all the institutions that are against leaving the EU.
Do you ever get sick of being proved right?
Peter Hitchens: If I let myself get angry about this, I would be permanently enraged. As it is, I decided some years ago that I had no power at all to influence events, and that all my causes are probably lost. My motto these days (stolen from a passage in Claud Cockburn’s wonderful memoir I, Claud) is ‘In between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well have a glass of champagne’. In any case, everything I said was obvious at the time, as it is obvious now. It required no great prophetic powers to see that a referendum, if it voted yes, would lead to an almost permanent constitutional crisis. The whole ghastly thing was held to save the Tory Party, not to save the country.
L P: You also said: ‘If there were a real desire in this country to leave, then there would be a serious political party which had that purpose at the centre of its manifesto, and was capable of winning a Commons majority.’ Do you believe that if this was the case, leaving would be simpler than what we are witnessing right now?
P H: I am not sure it would be ‘simpler’. The task is very complicated. But a government which had sought election on such a policy would have spent a lot of time working out what sort of exit it wanted. Take a simple example. I would be quite happy to stay in the Single Market if we could get out of the European Arrest Warrant and the other interferences with our real independence in matters of law and justice. Yet Mrs May (who believes in leaving neither of these things) thinks that people like me care more about the Single Market than we care about the EAW, and so tries to appease them with wild promises that we will leave the Single Market, while quietly seeking to remain within the EAW. Half the problem we face now is that there are so many different ideas of what departure involves, and nobody thought much about them when they voted, not least because the Leave side did not expect to win, and many of those who joined it did not much want to win, let alone take responsibility for implementing a vote to leave.
What’s more, there is zero compatibility between globalist free marketeers who somehow fancy that free trade will automatically make us an export power again (though we make almost nothing that anyone wants to buy, and a much more likely result is that we import even more stuff we can’t afford than we do now), and see this as the vital element of independence; and people who yearned for a Britain which was still self-governing in small day-to-day matters (such as me). Both these more or less incompatible factions unexpectedly found themselves together on the victorious side thanks to an unexpected surge of Labour votes, whose main concern was neither of these things. Their concern was mass immigration (which they had never been able to protest against in any normal election). But alas this has already happened, and not very much can or will be done about it now.
Add to that the fact that the whole thing is being implemented by a government which does not really believe in the policy, and so feels bound to overcompensate by hurrying and overdoing things, and you have a perfect swamp of confusion and cross purposes.
L P: The latest news is that Britain is prepared to stay tied to the customs union beyond 2021.
I understand you believe the best way to resolve this is to remain part of the European Economic Area (EEA). Why so?
P H: Because it would work and requires no detailed, lengthy negotiation. As my friend Christopher Booker tirelessly explains, there is no other workable way to cope with the huge problem of non-tariff barriers, technical rather than customs obstacles to cross-border trade with the EU. It frees us at a stroke from about 75 per cent of EU law, and even provides an opportunity to limit immigration. There’s going to be a compromise in the end anyway. Why not pick one we know will work, as it works for Norway?
L P: Finally, on a different subject, there are reports that police officers could be armed in rural communities ‘to deal with the ongoing terrorist threat’.
This is a major break with ‘policing by consent’ and the tradition that police officers are unarmed in Britain. Should we be concerned about the increased militarisation of the police force in Britain?
P H: Well, of course we should, but it is a symptom rather than the disease. The disease, explored in my book The Abolition of Liberty, lies in the abandonment of preventive policing, responsive to the needs and desires of law-abiding people, and its replacement by a state militia, whose first task is to protect the state and which reacts to crime and disorder (if at all) only after they have happened. This is useless and hopelessly inefficient, and would not be a success if we had 10million police officers and 10,000 helicopters to rush them to crime scenes (which we don’t and won’t). The police cannot unburgle or unmug you after these crimes have happened. Their job is to prevent them from taking place, and they can only achieve that by going back on (unarmed) regular foot patrol, which they did very successfully for more than a century before Roy Jenkins abolished this method in 1967. In my view an armed constable is a contradiction in terms, and a misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of English policing.
L P: Thank you very much.