There is currently much debate about Brexit in the Irish media, mostly from the Pro European Union side with scare stories about how Ireland's economy will fall off a precipice should Britain decide to exit the European Union on June 23rd. The debate, this side of the water at any rate, seems to be devoid of any balance.
Peter Hitchens is a columnist with the Mail on Sunday and has written several books including The Abolition of Britain and The War We Never Fought. He has kindly agreed to do an interview which includes discussion on Brexit, Energy and Climate and a host of other issues. Questions by Owen Martin.
Q: I’m probably one of the few Irish people who voted Yes in the original Lisbon Treaty Referendum, but voted No in the second one. The Lisbon Treaty had reasonable stated aims :
• It shall work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.
The problem was that the European Union simply did not honour its pledge. Going back to the early days of the European Union, was its original intention to be a force for good, e.g. to prevent wars etc ?
PH: You need to read Christopher Booker and Richard North’s ‘The Great Deception’, and also Hugo Young’s ‘This Blessed Plot’, for a discussion of the origins of the EU. There is no doubt that these are *political* not economic, born out of a desire to create a supranational body which will, slice by slice and generally very quietly, remove power from national governments. This Utopian project claims to intend to end war. All Utopian projects have such claims. But given that one of the world’s worst wars, the American Civil War, was fought to maintain a supranational government against secession, one has to doubt its validity.
Q: The Remainers will say that UK has a seat at the table and should be influencing EU policy not pulling out. That with perseverance, you can bring the changes in the EU that are for the better of everyone ?
PH: I have never found this persuasive. Outsiders have plenty of influence on bodies, especially if they have something to give, and something to take away. The old Leninist ‘Who Whom?’ test suggests that a single member of the EU has very little influence. The defence of specific national interests is not allowed for in the QMV system, nor is it meant to be.
Q. Is there a breaking point for the EU ? A lot of people thought the Greek and Irish crises would spell the end of the Euro and/or EU, and then similarly the refugee crisis but instead it’s 2016 and we are talking about EU expansion.
PH: I think this is a ‘Eurosceptic’ fantasy. The founders and maintainers of the EU have always had a burning political purpose and are prepared , quite properly, to make sacrifices for it. The EU may well decide to create a ‘Core Europe’ whose members will proceed to a much more complete integration, while second-class members remain much as they are, but that is just a sensible adaptation.
Q. One of the arguments in favour of the EU is that it helped Eastern European countries such as Poland escape Communism. I also heard the same argument made about Portugal [Note: the Portugal argument was made on BBC Newsnight this week].
PH: I know of no evidence that the EU played any significant part in either process. Portugal, of course, was never a Communist country.
Q. Is the rise of the far right and left around Europe a natural reaction to EU’s plans for ever closer union ?
PH: No, it is largely a response to mass immigration. Most people couldn’t care less about ever-closer union..
Q. In Ireland, we have the whip system. Those who fundamentally disagree with their Party on issues are forced to either conform, run as independent or form a new Party. In the event the Remain side wins, do you foresee a breakaway group formed by Brexitiers from different parties ?
PH: I doubt it. Tories are absurdly loyal to their party, more loyal to it than they are to their country. Why change now?
Q. Despite installing hundreds of billions of Euros worth of renewable infrastructure, carbon emissions are rising throughout the EU and the EU is more dependent on fuel imports than it was in the 1980s. Electricity Prices are skyrocketing resulting in industry jumping ship to America and Asia. The recent finding by UNECE Compliance Committee that the EU failed to ensure proper public participation in Ireland’s energy plans has been largely ignored by the European Commission. They now have backtracked on biofuel targets. It’s environmental policies has been a mess from start to finish, yet as Colm McCarthy has said, when faced with a problem, the modern political solution is to repeat the same mistake double-fold. Even if Britain does stay in, won’t resentment grow throughout Europe anyway ? And isn’t this how Empires throughout history (if we can class European Union as one) collapsed in the end, rather than through plebiscites ?
PH: Possibly. As I don’t take the man-made climate change case very seriously, or regard these policies as being effective in dealing with it even if it is a genuine threat, I don’t much care. Dogma of all kinds drives nations and crowds mad.
Q. Norway supplies something like a third of EU gas imports and 11% of its oil imports. Norway and Iceland are the third and fourth largest exporter of fish to the EU. Switzerland are one of the top exporters of goods to the EU. All three countries are outside the EU. Obviously, EU needs these countries more than they need EU. But these countries have another thing in common, namely they all have some form of direct democracy (granted Norway’s is only advisory rather than legal). Do you see direct democracy as a better system than plain vanilla democracy we have in Britain and Ireland ?
Q. The British media, and indeed in Ireland, portray Ireland as net beneficiaries of the EU. However, if you do the sums, we received about €9 billion in terms of farm subsidies and road funding but an ex IMF official has stated that the ECB forced Ireland to pay €8 bn to unsecured bondholders which we did not have to pay. If you throw in EU Directives like Renewable and Water Directives, that have pushed taxes up further, it’s hard to see how Ireland is economically better off inside the EU ?
PH: I do not know enough to comment on this. I had the impression that Ireland, like Poland now, had been an EU favourite (as a pro EU ‘Anglo-Saxon’ state) and was rewarded with huge infrastructure grants . But I have never looked into it. What a pity so much of it was spent on hideous motorways, and so little on railways and trams.
Q. If UK do leave the EU in June, do you have any faith in the current British democratic system in solving the problems that you highlight ?
PH: I have no faith in the existing political parties. I have given up any sort of active politics, since the absurd survival of the Tory Party in 2010 when it ought to have collapsed and split. I merely write the national obituary.
Q. In the event of Brexit, how do you see Irish and British relations ? Will we see borders in Northern Ireland again ?
PH: I hate the word ‘Brexit’, which conjures up in my mind the picture of a disgusting laxative breakfast cereal. I do not think Britain can leave the EU.
Q. Quite a lot of the arguments made against Brexit both in UK and (particularly) in Ireland refer to the short term negative economic impacts that would result. Is this type of thinking a symptom of the wider culture of today that puts short term gain ahead of long term interests ?
PH: Yes. I am amazed that the fundamental question of independence barely arises. The level of the debate is woeful and tedious, bald men arguing over possession of a comb.
Q. This week, a small community in Donegal found their local environment, one of the most scenic places in the British Isles, altered forever by a large industrial windfarm. This is a place where one could not get planning permission for a garden shed let alone something of this size. There seems to be a total disconnect between laws made by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels and the people that they eventually impact on.
PH: Indeed. This is what empires are like. It is a great paradox that the Irish struggle for freedom has ended with Ireland becoming a German province. The only compensation for a nationalist is that England has become one too.
Q. You are a vocal critic of the Tory Party in its current guise. One thing they have done though, which no other British Party apart from UKIP would have done is offered a referendum on EU Membership.
PH: This offer was not genuine, and made in the confident belief that the Tories would not win a majority in May 2015.
Q. They have also abolished subsidies for wind energy which the SNP and Labour criticised them over. Are these signs that the Tories still have some capacity to reform in the future ?
PH: Not fundamentally, no.
Q. Is part of the problem, especially in these times of social media and headline driven media, that a complex message is much harder to get across than a simpler one ? This would apply as much to Parties on the Left as on the Right ?
PH: A complex message is almost impossible to get across. NB James Carville’s first rule of political survival ‘While you’re explaining, you’re losing’.
Q. Is the climate change movement simply a new religion ?
PH: It is certainly a new public dogma, and it is a lot more risky to express doubts about it than it is to be a fashionable atheist. But as it does not require its devotees to improve their own selves, it is more of a cult than a religion.
Q. When J.Corbyn took over as leader of Labour, his aims included renationalising railways and Royal Mail as well as setting up a National Investment Bank to revitalize British manufacturing. It could be argued that these are reasonably sound policies. However, European Competition law would likely not allow him to implement them. Mr Corbyn is now campaigning to remain in EU. Does this show lack of decisiveness on his part ?
PH: Alas, yes.
Q. Mr Corbyn was once a defender of coal workers rights, but has now bought the Green Party / EU anti-coal climate change line. Are the traditional Labour Party roots been torn apart and if so, can they ever achieve electoral success again ?
PH: I do not think it has anything to do with electoral success. A party genuinely committed to these aims which fought hard enough might win an election. But few have the nerve to take the risk. Real politics dies when a country is taken over by the EU. All parties are compelled to accept the EU position, or the media and the establishment culture shouts them down and declares that they are ‘extremist’. You know politics is dead when the media spend more time attacking the opposition than they do criticising the government.
Q. The Greens get about 2-3% of the vote in both Britain and in Ireland but quite a lot of their policies get rammed through nonetheless. How can a minority movement with such little support wield such power ?
PH: Your guess is as good as mine. People want and need to believe in something. So they do.
Q. I’m in my 30s and can just about remember as a child seeing “Made in England” on the back of spoons and knives. Now, steel factories are closing in Britain. Is it the death knell for British manufacturing ? What is the wider cultural impact from such closures ?
PH: They probably weren’t actually made in England, just finished there. Nicholas Comfort has written an interesting book on the death of British manufacturing industry, a 60-year process of bad luck, incompetence and bad decisions, finished off by the EU.
Q. England is concerned understandably about the level of immigration into the country. But isn't a certain level of immigration required to maintain a growing economy ?
PH: No .We have a million young people doing precisely nothing, and abort 180,000 healthy babies every year.
Q. Hillary Clinton, President Obama and Cameron were mainly responsible for the war in Libya which has created so much instability in the world. Yet all three are very popular with voters. Is the reason weak political opposition or just ineffective media ?
PH: Both, but add very poor levels of education, and the dreadful conformism which pervades a society in which TV is the main medium of instruction.
Q. Are the modern economic ideals of continuous growth really realistic and/or sustainable ?
PH: I suspect not, but I have no expertise in the matter.
Q. The polls are continuously being proven wrong- the British General Election and the rise of Trump for example. Credit Ratings Agencies have also proven to be completely wrong. Most, if not all, of the predictions made by “climate change experts” have failed to materialize. Are we living in a world where too much faith is placed in “experts” ?
Q. There is increasing discussion in Ireland about the growing rural/city divide, that people in towns and cities should not be subsidizing those who live in rural areas. But while taxpayers subsidize a lot of things they often don’t like, only certain things get singled out. The cost of prisons and foreign aid for example are not up for discussion. Why do you think this is ?
PH: Because such campaigns invariably have a sectional or political purpose, and seek to focus minds on the subject where they want to influence opinion. Huge amounts of money and time are spent on manipulating the public mind. It is one of the prices we pay for the absurd system of universal suffrage democracy. You have to get people to think they want the things they are going to get anyway.
Q. You’ve written an excellent book “The Abolition of Liberty” which helps explain the rise of crime in the past century. There is also a problem with the massaging of official crime statistics, since proven to be the case here in Ireland too. Was crime more of an issue in elections in the past and why isn’t it an issue now ?
PH: I don’t believe it was. Almost nobody has read my book. If they did, the debate about crime and punishment in our societies would be wholly different, rather than the ignorant drivel we have now. I suspect most people have now got used to living in a more disorderly society than we had before, and one in which all freedom will have to be constrained to cope with this.
Q. Quite a lot of Irish readers will probably wonder what the function of the Monarchy is in the 21st century although the visit by the Queen to Ireland in 2011 was warmly welcomed here (with few exceptions). How do you see her role ?
PH: To occupy a space in politics which politicians will otherwise seek, and should never have, that of respect and love. The constitutional monarchy is like the King on the chessboard, powerless, but also occupying space which no other can occupy. Nobody understands this any more, and the monarchy rests only on the personal popularity of Elizabeth II . I doubt it will long survive her.
Q. Michael O’Leary (a fervent Remain campaigner) once said that the local newsagent would soon be a thing of the past and this was an example of sound free market economics winning out. Would you agree ?
PH: Yes. This is why I do not support free market liberalism.
Q. Would you say it’s harder growing up now than in the 1950s ?
PH: Undoubtedly. The children of today are far less safe, far less free, far less well-educated, far less in touch with their roots and past, and presented with an economic and political landscape of terrifying uncertainty.
Q. Albert Einstein is quoted as saying that “it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity”. Do you see technology as a great enabler or is there a cultural / social cost to relying too much technology ?
PH: I think technology should be our servant, not our master. I wince to see the transformation of humans into zombies by mobile telephones.