One word is all it takes to become the victim of a smear campaign.
Some Remainers are still re-litigating the Brexit referendum – and using the pre-referendum period to make claims about the nature of the UK’s exit from the European Union. One of the most common ‘memes’ is that prominent Vote Leave supporter Daniel Hannan actually praised or supported the UK remaining a member of the EU Single Market pre-referendum, but has cynically abandoned this position post-referendum.
This “hypocrisy” is apparently supposed to prove that there is no mandate for the UK leaving the Single Market following the result, or at the very least that one of the most high profile Leave supporters is a liar.
However, this meme is a deliberate smear - it takes Hannan’s words out of context, both within the same interview in which he made them, and his published book on the topic. In this article I want to look at the origin of the smear, how it was peddled since, and what Hannan actually said, and meant.
The purpose of doing this isn’t to defend Hannan per se, or criticise anyone innocently using it on social media without knowing its origin. Rather, it’s to give you an insight into the level of deliberate dishonesty it takes to come up with a smear like this in the first place. And, hopefully it will get you to ask this question: if the folks at Open Britain really believe they are right about the nature of the UK’s exit from the EU, why do they need to smear people to back up their claims?
Origin of the smear
Jan 2016: Pre-Referendum
The very first usage of the claim is the Stronger In campaign during the EU referendum. On Jan 7 2016 it published a video mash-up of so-called hypocritical claims made about the Single Market by Leave supporters – as prominently reported here by The Guardian. This video included a very short 3-4 second clip of Daniel Hannan saying the following (taken from a live interview with Channel 4 news on May 12 2015, 7 months earlier):
This was presented by Stronger In as some sort of “gotcha”, or something they unearthed – of course Daniel Hannan had already published the unedited video of the whole interview on his own YouTube channel months earlier - a rather unusual way of keeping this view under wraps.
Nov 2016 & Jan 2017: Post-Referendum
After Leave won the referendum 51.9% to 48.1%, Stronger In reformed as “Open Britain” and made the exact same claims again about Hannan (and others) on Nov 27 2016, announcing it was releasing "a new video".
Of course, this wasn’t a “new video” at all, in the case of Hannan's comments, it was the exact same video released 11 months earlier - that voters had been able to take into account during the referendum campaign itself, and which a majority of voters at least indirectly rejected by voting to Leave.
In a typical example of most mainstream coverage, The Huffington Post reported the Open Britain press release like this: “Open Britain Exposes All The Times Brexiters Promised We Wouldn’t Leave The Single Market”. The fact it wasn't a new video wasn't mentioned, nor that Open Britain didn't provide any links to the original videos/interviews in their full context so the claim could be properly evaluated
The smear itself
The smear breaks down into these basic components:
- Hannan says: “absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”
- The implication is that the UK would remain full members of the Single Market even if it voted to leave the EU
- Hannan now says the UK shouldn’t be a member of the Single Market, or doesn’t have to be
- Ergo, he’s a hypocrite/liar/changed his tune, and voters were misled
- This bolsters the argument that the UK should remain in the Single Market after it Leaves the EU
Why the claim is a smear
First - yes Hannan did make the statement attributed to him - the video isn’t made up or "fake news". However, his use of the term “Single Market” is extremely likely to be because he misspoke towards the end of a live TV interview. And he misspoke by one word – saying “Single", when he meant to say "Free". That’s it. The smear instantly collapses once you take this into account.
Open Britain and anyone using this meme would have you believe that mis-stating one word overrides what Hannan said elsewhere in the very same interview, in numerous published opinion pieces on the internet, and in his best-selling, 240 page book ‘Why Vote Leave’ (see below for more on a comparison to the book).
The video is deliberately truncated at the start.
Word for word, Hannan actually said this: “But to repeat, absolutely nobody is talking about threatening our place in the Single Market”. The part in bold – “but to repeat” was cut out of Open Britain's video because it would raise an obvious question – what statement was Hannan repeating from earlier?
“Single Market” is deliberately taken out of context, within the same interview.
What Hannan was repeating was a much broader and precise statement from the beginning of the interview. Bear in mind that Open Britain had to have listened to this - which is less than 1 minute into the interview - and then deliberately chosen to ignore it. Note the use of the words "Free Market", not "Single Market":
I'll unpack this statement into Hannan's key points:
- Post-Brexit, the UK's position would be within a “Free Market” in Europe – i.e. NOT the Single Market of the European Union
- The deal the UK would negotiate would be similar to that of Switzerland (NOT a member of the Single Market)
- Alternatively, the deal would be similar to that of the Channel Islands (NOT a member of the Single Market, though it is partially inside it for trade in goods)
- The deal would respect 3 of the “4 freedoms” of the Single Market – free movement of goods, services and capital (NOT people)
- The UK would gain the ability to sign bi-lateral trade deals with countries outside the EU - so by implication, the UK would also leave the EU's Customs Union
Clearly Hannan is referring to a free trading arrangement with the EU post-Brexit, perhaps similar to Switzerland. As this proposed deal would involve only 3 of the freedoms, it would not be membership of the current Single Market. Later in the same interview (5 mins 08 secs) - which is the origin of the smear - Hannan refers to his prior statement - "but to repeat" - but then as I noted above, erroneously uses one word – single, when he should have said free:
To prove this beyond what I think is any reasonable doubt: in the same interview (5 mins 49 secs), Hannan says the costs of the Single Market outweigh its benefits, and correctly re-states his original position that the UK won’t be excluded from the “Free Market”:
So if you are keeping score, Hannan refers to a "Free Market" twice, and says the costs of the Single Market outweigh its benefits. When repeating his statement about the Free Market from earlier, he uses the word “single”, erroneously - and only once - in the context of a live TV interview, with a reasonably hostile interviewer and a quite passive-aggressive guest presenting the Remain viewpoint.
In the context of the whole interview, Open Britain were deliberately deceptive in using this 3-4 second video as if it represented Hannan's position on the Single Market - especially as Hannan's free market statement comes first, is more detailed, his misspoken error is only in the context of repeating this first statement, and he later goes on to repeat "free market" in his final comments.
The claim is also taken out of context based on Hannan’s book, ‘Why Vote Leave’
If you want to know what someone really believes and want to check if they misspoke once during a live TV interview (which I am making the case for), anyone honest would check what they have said or written on other occasions about the same subject. Daniel Hannan has never – so far as I can discover – explicitly said the UK would remain a member of the Single Market, either on television, on Twitter, online or in print.
In his 'Why Vote Leave' book, he is consistent with everything he did say in this interview about a free market – and leaving the Single Market. He makes a distinction between access to the Single Market within a European free trade zone, and membership of the Single Market:
“We can say with some certainty that the costs of regulation in the EU outweigh the benefits of the single market” ('Why Vote Leave', Location 1066 in Kindle Edition)
“What is the alternative [to EU membership]? Well, all the options involve remaining part of the European free trade zone that stretches from non-EU Iceland to non-EU Turkey … when every non-EU territory from the Faroe Islands to Montenegro has access to the European free trade area it would be preposterous beyond words to claim that the UK, uniquely, would be denied full market access” (1534)
“It’ll be for the UK’s elected representatives to set the precise terms and conditions of our future relations with the EU. All we can do is set out some broad, obvious guidelines: we’d retain free trade with the single market” (1741)
And this position has been quite consistent post-referendum, e.g. in an article on ConservativeHome on 1 Sep 2016 - Repeat after me. Single market membership and single market access are not the same thing:
"We keep being told that the only way to retain full access to the single market after Brexit is to join the European Economic Area (EEA), alongside Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. But this isn’t true. Most European states and territories, from the Isle of Man via Switzerland to Turkey, have full access to EU markets".
Now of course you can disagree with his viewpoint - even vehemently - but what you can't do is pretend that it has been inconsistent on the basis of a delibereately deceptive out of context 3-4 second video clip.
Do you disagree with Daniel Hannan? Fine - no problem. But don't use this smear as a basis to do so.
It might seem relatively trivial to take such time analysing this particular smear out of the thousands out there – but I think it is indicative of how they can poison any reasonable discussion and debate. On the basis of this video - bam - Hannan is now a stone cold liar and you can't listen to a word he says anymore.
This type of smear is also especially immoral. It is very difficult to refute (because it has a grain of truth), so this lie can get halfway around the world before the truth gets its boots on. This is especially true on social media.
Whilst those sharing the meme on Twitter/Facebook probably don’t know any better, the people at Stronger In / Open Britain who created this smear knew exactly what they were doing: trying to destroy Hannan's reputation just to advance a political goal that has now arguably been rejected by a majority of the British public.
Open Britain should should apologise. And, until they do, you know you aren’t going to get an honest debate about the UK’s future relationship with the EU from them.
Full disclosure: I have no personal or professional connection with Daniel Hannan, though I have met some of his Vote Leave colleagues and supported the Vote Leave campaign. A full PDF transcript of Daniel Hannan’s interview with Channel 4 news can be found here for the first time. You can also watch the full interview on YouTube.