Speaking to Varsity from the comfort of his Hampshire home, Daniel Hannan has opted for a cosy gilet. His luxuriant ermine robe, accompanying his appointment to the House of Lords earlier this month, stays in the closet.

After 21 years as a Conservative MEP, Lord Hannan is living proof that it can take quite some time to get out of the EU. This truth dawned on millions of coronavirus vaccines in January when Brussels briefly banned European-made jabs from crossing into Northern Ireland, after contract squabbles with Cambridge-based AstraZeneca.

As President of the Initiative for Free Trade, Hannan’s dim view of the decision shocks precisely no one.

“Export controls are almost never justified… I say ‘almost never’ because I would make an exception when a country is in a full-scale war. But other than in that situation, where you are consciously trying to hurt the other country to make them surrender, they are always self-harming.”

Having grown up in Peru under Velasco’s military junta, characterised by extreme tariffs and an economy swamped with state monopolies, Daniel is no stranger to the risks of trade barriers. It will take more than a pandemic to change his mind.

“Whether it’s PPE or vaccines or food, no country will happen to be sitting on everything it needs all the time,” he asserts, denying that the controls are in even the EU’s interests, let alone Ireland’s. “The Germans will need to buy some stuff from Romania and get something else from Morocco and something else from Korea. It’s in everybody’s interests to keep this going.

“We could fill every bit of storage in this country with what we thought was the relevant PPE, the relevant materials to make a vaccine … and then a slightly different bug comes along, and we find we’ve got all the wrong stuff.”

Our conversation shifts from free trade to free speech: namely, the appointment of a university “free speech champion” announced recently. The role would combat no-platforming with powers to fine universities deemed to be strangling free expression.

But surely the decision about which ideas are worth discussing on campus should be up to the universities themselves, not up to government bureaucrats?

“Yes. There is such a thing as free association. Nobody should be obliged to invite anyone that they don’t like,” reasons Lord Hannan. “But equally, if somebody else down the corridor from you invites someone that you don’t like, that’s not your problem. You don’t get to prevent them from coming.”

“Universities should be the temples of the Enlightenment.”

Surrounded by meticulously organised and colourful bookshelves, Daniel is a prolific author himself. In his 2013 polemic, How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters, he relentlessly advocated free exchange of ideas.

“The idea that somebody that you don’t like might still have a useful thing to tell you comes very unnaturally to people. You see that on social media. […] We have to be taught that, because our instinct is to start from ‘do I like the person talking?’, not from ‘is what has been said logically consistent?’

“Universities should be the temples of the Enlightenment!” he gesticulates. “They should be the places above all that are broadcasting this idea […] that is not innate: that life is better if we listen to people who we don’t like.”

Joined by his young son and reclining on a sunlit sofa, this decidedly calm version of Daniel Hannan is hard to reconcile with the one who authored such fervent attacks on the House of Lords. Peers were branded “inconsequential nobodies” in his 2008 book The Plan. So … why accept a place among their ranks?

“I think that a wholly appointed chamber is indefensible,” sighs the 49-year-old baron. “The primary purpose of the legislature is to hold the executive to account, so the idea that half the legislature is appointed by the executive... if that happened in Zimbabwe or somewhere, we would all condemn it as autocratic.

“Having spent the last 21 years as a [Eurosceptic] MEP, I’m familiar with the argument of ‘why are you there when you don’t believe in it?’ I’ll give the same answer now as I gave then: it would be outrageous to say that a legislative chamber should be open only to people who have one particular point of view.

“It would have been outrageous to say that the European Parliament should have been open only to people who believed in a united Europe, and it would be equally wrong to say that the House of Lords should be open only to people who believe in an appointed second chamber. That would rule out, for example, having any Lib Dems there. It would rule out having any Labour Party people there, if they were sticking to their party policy. Does anyone really think that that would make it a better chamber?”

“The people who are least at risk from the disease have suffered most from the lockdowns.”

The video that launched Daniel to prominence – a European Parliament address to Gordon Brown entitled “The devalued Prime Minister of a devalued government”, lambasting his alleged overspending – has now garnered over three million views. Twelve years on, he continues to warn against ignoring the ballooning debt.

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Mountain View

“Reports of the journalism industry’s death have been exaggerated”

“We’ve disproportionately punished young people. The people who are least at risk from the disease have suffered most from the lockdowns, and the eventual settlement of debts should reflect that. But there’s no question that there will be a debt there. […] The question of ‘who is eventually going to pick up the tab?’ is not an argument to be having in the middle of the crisis. We can defer that conversation. But what you haven’t done is to abolish the tab.”

Quite. No matter what, we can’t abolish The Tab.