A few weeks before the referendum I attended a Vote Leave gathering at the top of the Millbank Tower. It was a nice crowd; I was already starting to have my doubts about the whole thing, but then MEP Daniel Hannan stood up and gave a typically-brilliant speech about how the City of London had been financial powerhouse of the world and has risen again under Thatcher and her heirs.
Free of the EU, he said it would be the centre of a new global order of free trade, opening up Britain ever more to India, China and beyond. And I remember thinking: this is really not what I want from Brexit, and it’s pretty much the opposite of what a lot of Brexit supporters want. Luckily, we won’t win, I thought, otherwise with all these contradictions we’re really screwed.
The Conservative Party has long been an alliance of classical liberals and conservatives, united in stopping socialists getting into power. But as the great realignment has developed, politics has reverted it much more to the pre-industrial Tory v Whig model, and that alliance is going getting shakier.
I suspect that those underlying divisions between Tory and Whig visions of Brexit are going to be strained by the Government’s offer to allow three million Hong Kong Chinese a pathway to citizenship. The idea seems to have received unquestioned support among Conservative MPs, while some liberal Tories have gone further.
In CapX Sam Bowman came up with the idea of building a new Hong Kong 2.0. here in Britain, a charter city with a similar legal jurisdiction as the Isle of Man or Channel Islands.
A similar scheme has since been suggested by Bruno Macaes in The Spectator, while editor Fraser Nelson has argued that it’s “absurd now to think that Tories quivered at the idea of granting free movement to three million in Hong Kong… the best-educated and most highly skilled and productive immigrants any country could ask for”.
It’s true, of course, that the Hong Kong Chinese are more law abiding and better educated than people here.
But creating a good society is not just like hiring the best performers for a company. You need people to have a sense of ‘we’ too. Look at the USA, which contains the bulk of the world’s most brilliant people in every field, not just in overall numbers but per capita — and it’s a complete mess because they hate each other.
I’m sure the people currently living on the Humber or Thames Estuary aren’t as economically productive or well-educated or in other measurable ways useful as the Hong Kong Chinese — but they’re still our people. If even our rulers stop believing that, we really are in trouble, and I suspect a lot of voters will start to notice.
Hong Kong’s citizens perhaps are our people in an imperial sense, but then multiculturalism is a form of imperialism. Plenty of emperors, tsars and kings have imported population groups wholesale to establish a new bourgeoise and boost trade.
Democracies need to at least have some veneer of consent from the people living there; as it is, the proposal is currently quite popular, although if anything like 3m people took up the offer I suspect that would change quite quickly and we would be back to the years of immigration being a major issue once again (and after all the hassle of Brexit, too.)
I fear that a lot of Brexit voters are not going to like this Whiggish Global Britain our leaders have in store for us.