Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th January, 2017
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016
I don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th December, 2016
For Liberals, 2016 has been a grim year. The EU Referendum provided a narrow win for Leave and the dogs of hate and prejudice were thereby released. Over in America, Donald Trump became President-elect, thanks to that country’s arcane electoral system. Several EU member states started to question the principle of free movement following a huge influx of refugees and migrants. But one of the worst things of all has been the performance of Theresa May since she took office as UK Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation. Although she was a lukewarm Remainer in the Referendum campaign, she has embraced the agenda of UKIP and the rabid Tory Right Brexiteers in her pursuance of the goal of a “hard” Brexit — in other words, for seeing a situation in which Britain will leave both the European single market and the customs union, even though this will have a devastating effect on the UK economy, especially the financial sector. She has put our EU partners’ backs up by the arrogance of her negotiating strategy, for example demanding that Britain retain a strong influence in Europol, and she has set an unrealistically tight deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which will not leave sufficient time for the preparation of a nuanced negotiating position (for which the UK does not have sufficient qualified civil servants anyway). Even more disturbing is Mrs May’s apparent determination to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that British legal experts were instrumental in its formulation and only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the ECHR. Moreover, it’s not only our European allies whom Theresa May is alienating. After the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an important speech criticising Israel for its settlements policy in occupied Palestine, Mrs May told him off, like some third-rate headmistress. The depth of her incompetence and stupidity is being revealed on a daily basis, yet still she blunders on, convinced that she knows best. The irony is that is was Mrs May who years ago warned the Conservatives that they were seen as the Nasty Party. Well, if the Prime Minister’s 2017 wish list comes about then it is going to prove itself to be even nastier.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th December, 2016
A full six months have elapsed since Britain’s EU Referendum, yet the public is still being kept in the dark about what Brexit would mean. Prime Minister Theresa May refuses to divulge her “plan” (even to the Queen, which is surely a violation of convention). But many of us suspect that Mrs May still doesn’t have a clue about what should or should not happen. Alas, the clock is ticking towards her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50. Meanwhile, the Brexiteers have realised that the term “Hard Brexit” (whereby the U.K. would abruptly leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union) might sound a little off-putting, so they are trying to rebrand it as “Clean Brexit” — a euphemism that makes it sound sane, even desirable. George Orwell ought to be alive today to write about how language corrupts thought in post-truth Britain. It’s not just all the fanciful statistics that get bandied about, most of them plucked from the sky. The really invidious thing is the way that Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers are distorting language to persuade the public that somehow leaving the EU will be good for us. Never mind the fact that the EU has helped maintain peace in Western Europe for 70 years. Or that the UK economy has sunk from 5th in the world to 7th (or even 8th, according to some calculations) just since June. Or that the vultures in the United States and indeed some other EU member states are salivating at the rich pickings that may be waiting for them if the City of London loses some of its prime position. No, Farage, May and the three ghastly Brexit Ministers will continue to try to con us with soothing words, to make us believe that the future will be brilliant once we have achieved our “freedom” from the “dictatorship” of Brussels. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. But it is serious, and Brexit will only be stopped if people stand up and shout, “No, that’s not what we wanted, at all!”
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th December, 2016
Jack “HackneyLad” Shenker has been providing some of the most incisive and independent journalism coming out of Egypt since he first set off for Cairo as a young freelancer in the twilight yeas of the Hosni Mubarak presidency. Because he was there to watch the decline and fall of Mubarak and his state security infrastructure, as well as the joys and tears of Egypt’s Revolution, then “second choice” Morsi’s ascendancy to the highest office, followed by the reimposition of the old order under General Sisi, he had a ringside seat to the tumultuous changes affecting the Arab world’s largest state. He was also dug deep enough into the real Egypt of the common people, rather than the Europeanised elite of Zamalek, in order to really hear and report what was happening on the street and in the torture chambers of police stations and prisons. Thus he was able to produce this magnificent portrait of a land and its people, The Egyptians (Penguin RandomHouse, £15.99), which should be the first port of call for anyone wanting to get an understanding of the complexities of modern Egyptian society and who has the time and dedication to devote themselves to reading the book carefully, as it deserves. It is part reportage, part political and historical treatise, and pulsates with the individual life stories of Egyptians who have fallen foul of the system, because they did not have the wasta or influential connections to get by. There is much to make one despair in Egypt’s modern history: so much injustice, corruption, violence and sheer inhumanity. And yet, the author emerges, as do I after 30 years of regular assignments and travels there, loving Egypt and its people, warts and all.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd December, 2016
This evening the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine, including East Jerusalem. The vote was 14:0, with the United States abstaining. Earlier in the day Israel had been putting heavy pressure on the US to veto the resolution, but in a rare demonstration of determination Barack Obama obviously declined. It is as well that the vote came now, as Donald Trump would certainly have vetoed the measure, had it come to the vote after his inauguration. Some people might argue that a UNSC resolution is of no real significance, but there I would have to disagree. For the first time in several years the rest of the world has made clear to Israel that its continued settlement activity is contrary to international law and should cease. It also effectively gives the green light for countries, including the UK and other EU member states, to ban trade in settlement products and to take other appropriate measures. Several members of the UNSC believe that it is now almost too late for a two-state solution to be possible in the Middle East, largely because of the settlements, but they would still like to try to make it happen. Britain should now take an important step forward in recognising the state of Palestine, as two-thirds of the UN member states have already done. For too long Israel has been able to get away with violeting both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements with regard to the West Bank and Gaza and it is high time it was forced to stop.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st December, 2016
Copeland is a UK parliamentary constituency that I still associate in my mind with Jack Cunningham, MP, rather than his successor, Jamie Reed, who has resigned, thereby triggering another by-election. Mr Reed says he feels he can serve people better working in the nuclear energy sector, where he has headed. Ah, yes: Sellafield. Not a choice I would have made, but it’s a free country. Meanwhile, the name Copeland has conjured up a couple of memories for me. The first was a day trip to Whitehaven with a scout troop from my school, Manchester Grammar; I think the scoutmaster must have had some link with the place, as I can’t think why else he would have organised a visit there, on a Sunday, no less. I remember wandering around the town, under a grey sky, finding little to appreciate other than a rather striking church. Much more attractive was Keswick, added to Copeland constituency under boundary changes. As described in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, I went on a week’s camping trip to the Lake District in my first year at MGS, and discovered that me and camping did not mix. But I did enjoy visiting Keswick, and bought my one and only souvenir from there: a tiny, kitsch, fold-out book of photos, which I presented to my adoptive mother, who didn’t seem very impressed. Anyway, depending on when the by-election is called, I hope to renew my acquaintance with the place after half a century — and will encourage others from London to come along.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th December, 2016
Six months ago I thought the world had gone mad, but now I know the world has gone bad. For Liberal Democrats and others of good faith 2016 is proving to be an annus horibilis like no other in living memory. First there was the Brexit vote, followed by Donald Trump’s election “victory”, confirmed today by the US electoral college. But today has itself been a real stinker: the assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey by a Turkish policeman outraged by the agony of the siege of Aleppo; a mosque bomb in Zurich; a truck careering into a Christmas market in Berlin. How much horror awaits to unfold over the 12 days left of the year? Yet absolutely the wrong reaction to all this would be to throw our hands up in the air and say there is nothing we can do about the global espousal of hatred, violence and post-truth politics. That is the way to let a 21st century version of fascism take hold. No, all people of good faith need to stand up and say, “No, no, no!”. Let’s make a premature New Year’s resolution now to make 2017 a year of hope, not a year of despair.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th December, 2016
Today Liberal Democrat headquarters announced the results of the all-member ballots for elections to internal federal committees — the first since the Party moved to One Member One Vote (OMOV). Though the turnout was predictably low, the numbers who took part were considerably higher than in previous internal elections by local party federal conference representatives, thus improving their democratic legitimacy. It was interesting to see that women polled particularly well in the elections, as well as a number of BAME candidates, showing that members have taken the diversity message to heart. I was delighted to be comfortably re-elected to both the International Relations Committee and the ALDE Party Council*, for which I thank sincerely all those who voted for me. The LibDems are the most genuinely international of all Britain’s political parties and it is essential that we nurture our links with sister parties in Europe and the wider world. I will post regularly on this blog about those links and the various events and conferences that I attend as one of the Party’s elected representatives.
* The governing Council of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th December, 2016
Earlier this week I was one of the speakers at a Global Diplomatic Forum event in London on the foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump becoming US President. The other members of the panel were the new Latvian Amnassador to the Court of St James’s and the Conservative MP, Daniek Kawczynzki. By chance, the Ambassador and I were seated on a sofa on one side of the Chair, Andrew Wilson, while Dan Kawczynski was alone on another the other side, and that was exactly how our alignment went when it came to the discussion. Mr Kawczynski set the tone by focusing his opening remarks on why a Trump presidency is welcome and how we should engage more with Russia. It is disconcerting how pro Putin so many right wing Conservative as well as UKIP politicians are. The Ambassador countered with a resume of how Latvia suffered under Soviet Occupation and I spoke of what I had seen of Russian encroachment in Georgia this summer, as well as the assassination of journalists and liberal politicians in Moscow. But I also spoke of my wider concerns of what promises to be greater US isolationism under Trump, regarding international trade, climate change and so on. The appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State does not bode well, either. I would have liked to discuss things further with Daniel Kawczynski in the coffee break, but he shot out of the event like a bat out of hell.