We are just under three weeks away from the referendum on whether the UK should continue to be a member of the European Union. For years, one of the strongest critics of the EU has been the Conservative MEP, Daniel Hannan. This weekend he is in Northern Ireland to make the case for us to leave the EU, I caught up with him in Belfast earlier this morning.
I began by asking him how the campaign overall was going and are there any parallels with the Scottish referendum, in respect to polling tightening in the final weeks? Hannan admits that the referendum at this stage could go either way, but for him that’s why he is campaigning every single day because he feels that it is very close and that the Leave campaign has a real shot of winning on June 23rd but the key thing is turnout on polling day.
The Conservative MEP also touched upon what he believes are the Remain campaign’s tactics in this referendum, which he believes is to frighten people into voting to stay. He told me that the Remain side aren’t really saying anything nice about Britain or the EU, but just simply pandering to a natural risk adverse attitude that some people have, which he believes would be really for Britain if voters fell for that strategy and not stand up to what he believes to be bullying and scaremongering.
I put to him David Cameron’s charge on SKY News on Thursday night that voting to leave was a leap into the dark for Britain.
Unsurprisingly, Hannan believes that remaining has more unknowns than leaving. He told me that the Prime Minister cannot tell people what Britain’s budget contributions will be five years from now or what bailouts are we going to be dragged into. Hannan argues that the Eurozone and Schengen situations are continuing to deteriorate and people like Cameron cannot tell us what will happen. It is for these reasons that the UK is better off outside the EU, so that it is not linked with any spreading crises.
For Hannan, leaving is what he calls “a leap back into the light,” with Britain trading with allies in Europe, but having control over its own affairs like New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
I put it to him that with a majority of people in Scotland & Northern Ireland likely to vote to stay in the EU, is his campaign not simply going to provoke a constitutional crisis within the UK?
The Conservative MEP does not think that is a likely outcome, as told me that it is unlikely that somebody who voted to stay in the UK in 2014 would be so determined to join the Euro that they would support independence after a British withdrawal from the EU. He also thinks that in Northern Ireland it is unlikely that a shift in constitutional sentiment will occur here either.
He did have some interesting points to make about the land border with the South which he dubbed as the Remain campaign’s local version of “project fear.” Hannan argues that the stories around old border arrangements returning are simply scare tactics, he told me that no politician in Dublin or London believes in resuming a physical border between Northern & Southern Ireland. In addition to this, he points out that the current Common Travel Area brings together EU and non EU territories (Isle of Man) and long pre-dates our membership. Hannan simply dismisses this as a local version of “project fear,” intended to scare people.
We moved onto the prospect of a second referendum on EU membership if the result on June 23rd is close. For him, he believes that this is the opportunity to leave and that certainly in his political life time there will not be another vote on this issue.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs