Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for July, 2016

Brexit and the Ibero-American Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd July, 2016

Many immigrant communities in Britain are worried about the possible consequences of Brexit, including the hundreds of thousands who belong to what is sometimes referred to as the “silent community” of several hundred thousand Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, Latin American and Lusophone Africans in the UK. This morning, along with Simon Hughes (former UK Minister of Justice), Jean Lambert MEP, Andrew Boff AM and others, I spoke to a gathering of Ibero-Americans at the Catedral Internacional in West Norwood, London. Below is an English translation of my speech, delivered half in Spanish, half in Portuguese:

JF and Lorraine ZuletaDear Friends,

One month ago, after the Referendum, I just wanted to hide under the duvet on my bed and die. It seemed to me that the 51 per cent of voters who voted for Britain to leave the European Union had made a terrible mistake. Indeed, I still believe that to be the case. Despite its faults, the EU has helped to bring peace and posterity to this country over the past four decades and already we are beginning to feel the negative effects of just saying we are going to leave. But one of the things that upset me most about the result is the message that it sent to, as Spanish and Portuguese and Latin Americans living and working here in London. Some people have said to me, “I don’t feel welcome here anymore. Should I leave? Will I be forced to leave?”

The good news is that London voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, and we Londoners are proud of the cosmopolitan and multicultural nature of our city. Yet even here some people who do not look typically white British have reported verbal abuse over the past four weeks, as the vote for Brexit gave encouragement to the minority of racists and xenophobes in our midst. That is an intolerable situation and every decent person must stand up against such behaviour.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Even if Prime Minister Theresa May invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of this year, Britain will still be a member of the EU until at least the end of 2018. All of you who have Spanish, Portuguese or other EU citizenship will continue to enjoy your full rights under the principle of free movement enshrined in the European Single Market. Moreover, my party, the Liberal Democrats, will work hard to ensure that you will continue to enjoy those rights even after Brexit. However, we are campaigning for more than that. We still believe that Britain is better off in the EU. Of course, we cannot ignore the result of the referendum vote. But I suspect that very soon many of those who voted for Leave will realise that they made a terrible mistake, as the British economy takes a hammering.

Already the pound sterling has fallen sharply in value and the Bank of England has had to intervene to bolster business confidence. We cannot just have a second referendum, asking the same question as the first. But we certainly could have another referendum after the terms of the Brexit deal with our EU partners are available. It is certain that that deal will be worse than what we have already, which would give the British electorate the opportunity to reject it and therefore stay in the EU. I hope that is indeed what will happen.

Each day I hope I will wake up from the nightmare of Brexit, but of course that has not happened. But we must not lose hope. And in the meantime, London is open for business and you are all most welcome.

Thank you.


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A Missed Chance to Reform The EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th July, 2016

The United Kingdom was scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July 2017, giving the Brits a wonderful opportunity to help steer an EU reform agenda with the support of several of its continental partners. But Prime Minister Theresa May has told her EU counterparts that Britain will not in fact assume the presidency. The reason is clear: she has declared that “Brexit is Brexit”, and even if the UK technically will remain a member of the Union until the end of 2018 or even beyond, it has already started to walk out of the door. With each day that passes, now, the government in London will have less and less influence in Brussels. British Ministers will not be listened to with the attention they previously got, British MEPs cannot expect to be appointed to key positions in the European Parliament and the other 27 states will inevitably focus inwards on how to move the EU forward without the obstreperous Brits. This all adds up to a tragic missed chance to help make the EU work better for all its members. The majority of EU states are now likely to integrate further, with Britain firmly on the outside. Perhaps the best Britain can now hope for is some sort of associate membership, or at least to be part of the EEA (European Economic Area), but that would of course mean accepting free movement of people, which is what many Brexiteers said they wanted to end. The sad truth is that the government still has no clear plan for what Brexit will mean, but is blindly heading in that direction. For me this is the greatest national tragedy since the end of the Second World War.

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th July, 2016

Eccles Cakes cover 1This week, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survivalwas published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.



paperback from Lulu books:

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Turks Rally for Democracy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th July, 2016

Turkey demo 1Like many people, I first became aware of the attempted coup in Turkey last night through twitter. I turned on the BBC News channel, but it was still examining the aftermath of the Nice terrorist attack; however, true to form, Al Jazeera was already screening rolling news footage from Istanbul, Ankara and Gaziantep. For an hour of so it looked as if the coup might be taking hold, as rebel soldiers took over Istanbul’s Ataturk airport and false rumours circulation on US news channels that President Erdogan had fled to Europe. Then he appeared on CNN Turk via a video call on his mobile phone and one after another the leaders of the country’s other main political parties issued statements condemning the insurrection. Mr Erdogan called on Turks to go out into the streets to demonstrate their resistance to this assault on democracy and hundreds of thousands of them bravely did so, despite the dangers. As it is, according to official figures released today, 161 civilians were among the 265 fatalities overnight. However, shortly after midnight London time it was clear to me that the coup had failed and I was able to go to bed with a clear conscience.

Turkey demo 2Today, I was glad to have the opportunity to join some of London’s Turks and friends at a SoldarityForDemocracy rally opposite Downing Street in Westminster. In my short speech to the crowd I said that people in Britain stand side-by-side with Turks as they protect their democracy. Military coups used to be a regular feature of political life in Turkey but they cannot be allowed to become so again. But the challenges facing Turkey now are enormous. Thousands of mutineering soldiers have been arrested and there is bound to be a witch-hunt against alleged coup plotters; many within the ruling AKParty blame supporters of Fetullah Gulen, even accusing him personally of orchestrating it from America. I was glad to see that the affiliated Hizmet Movement in the UK was quick to put out a statement condemning the assault on democracy, but I fear that in Turkey — where already media associated with the Movement has been closed down or harassed — the Movement will come under greater pressure. Hundreds of sympathetic judges are said to have been dismissed today. Moreover, Turkey’s tourist industry, already severely hit by a number of terrorist incidents in Istanbul, Ankara and elsewhere, is now likely to go into free-fall, which will seriously hit the livelihoods of many thousands of Turks.

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Palestine and Anti-Semitism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th July, 2016

Friends of Palestine meeting with HASCEarlier this week, in my role as Chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, I was invited to a hearing on anti-Semitism at the Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, along with my LDFoP colleague Miranda Pinch and two representatives each of our Labour and SNP sister organisations (three of them MPs). Committee Chair Keith Vaz MP started off by asking me outright whether criticising Israel could be considered anti-Semitic, to which I was able to answer confidently “No!”; the continued occupation of the West Bank and other territories as well as some of the actions of the Israel Defense Force are in clear violation of international law and therefore can be justifiably condemned by anyone who has a sense of justice. As a Liberal Democrat I oppose all forms of discrimination and prejudice, so that of course includes anti-Semitism, but I argued that exceptionalism should not tempt us to single anti-Semitism out from other forms of ethnic, religious, gender or other forms of discrimination. The panel of MPs on the committee — which included David Burrowes as well as David Winnick — were astonished to learn that all six of us giving evidence and answering questions had been attacked as “racist” and “anti-Semitic” because we have campaigned for the Palestinian cause, but that is indeed the case. Miranda was able to give an interesting perspective as a (non-practising) Jew and she said that some of the worst attacks on her had come from Christian Zionists. We and the SNP participants pointed out that we try to avoid using the word Zionism because it can mean different things and instead are always careful to refer to the Israeli government or IDF, rather than saying, as many in the Middle East do, “the Jews”. Apparently Jeremy Corbyn, the embattled Labour Party leader, had a rough time before the committee a while ago, mainly because he had referred to representatives of Hamas and Hizbollah as “friends”. But one of the SNP MPs, Philippa Whitford (who has worked as a surgeon in Gaza, and hails originally from Belfast) pointed out that just as in Northern Ireland peace was only achieved by engaging with the IRA and Protestant extremists, so peace in Israel-Palestine will only come about if Hamas and other groups are included in talks. All six of us participants still in principle support a two-state solution, but all fear that ongoing settlement activity and the intransigence of the Netanyahu government mean that is in danger of being made impossible. But both Israelis and Palestinians will have be involved in determining their own future. The Home Affairs Committee report that will emerge from these hearings should be published in September.

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Chains of Sand

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 13th July, 2016

Chains of Sand 1The Arab-Israeli conflict is often presented in black and white terms, depending on which side one’s sympathies mainly lie, yet when it comes to the lives and emotions of people on the ground in Israel or the Occupied Territories there are in fact many shades of grey. Journalist and novelist Jemma Wayne chooses for the principal cast of her new book Chains of Sand (Legend Press, £9.99) young people struggling to come to terms with the tensions and at times outright violence of situations not only in the Middle East but also in the Jewish diaspora living in London. A girl from West Jerusalem becomes romantically involved with a young Arab man from the East in a case of forbidden love that can only end in tragedy. A young British Jew, against the wishes of his family, wishes to emigrate to Israel despite the fact that he might get dragged into the ongoing conflict in Gaza, while in a neat mirror image a young Israeli wishes to shift his life in the other direction. The characters’ dilemmas are exacerbated by politics, religion, gender, generational differences and above all by a quest for their true identity. Even when they are socialising, in the bars of Tel Aviv or the coffee shops of Golders Green, unseen but keenly felt dangers lurk off-stage, sometimes bursting in on them with shocking intensity. So many books on Israel-Palestine — both fact and fiction — embrace the narrative and perspectives of one side or the other, but to her credit Jemma Wayne avoids that easy option, instead weaving interlocking stories that constantly question one’s own understanding of the situation as well as that of the characters. That makes the novel unsettling, challenging, at times an uncomfortable read but stimulating in its acceptance of the complexities of the human condition and the challenge of conflicting loyalties.

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Peace Beyond Borders

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 4th July, 2016

Peace beyond Borders coverDespite what most Brexiteers believed, the European Union has been a great success as a peace project. That is the central thesis of veteran Indian peace and justice campaigner Vijay Mehta’s latest book, Peace beyond Borders (Catapult, £9.99), in which he argues that exporting the EU model to other parts of the world would help end conflicts. In fact, several other parts of the world have indeed been regionalising in recent decades, from South East Asia (ASEAN) to the Gulf Arab states (GCC) and South America (UNASUR). None has up till now gone as far in terms of economic let alone political integration as the EU, but they all acknowledge that they are stronger together. The author looks at each continent or sub-continent in turn, seeing how cooperation has overcome divisions and historic rivalries, as well as championing the potential of further cooperation. This strengthening of a multipolar global reality is healthy, he believes, rather than the United States being the only super-power (as it became after the collapse of the Soviet Union), acting like some sort of world policeman. In a final section, Vijay Mehta acknowledges that there are nationalist forces resisting the sharing of sovereignty, just as within some countries (including the UK and Spain) there are forces that want more regional autonomy or even independence. Scotland, of course, may well re-examine the case for independence if Brexit is now successfully implemented, preferring to remain within the EU. Reading this book one can only lament that just over half the voters of Britain did not understand the elements of peace and hope inherent in the European project. Had some been able to read it before they cast their vote on 23 June, maybe it would have changed their minds.

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016

Tim Farron on Europe marchI was so shattered by last week’s EU Referendum outcome that I haven’t been able to write my blog, but yesterday’s March for Europe in central London lifted my spirits. An estimated 50,000 people congregated at Hyde Park Corner, before marching to Parliament Square, waving UK and EU flags and holding aloft hand-made signs, many bearing witty puns. There was a large Liberal Democrat contingent, with Tim Farron leading; both he and the party got numerous cheers, as having campaigned overtly for Remain. What I found most encouraging was the response of the public as the march went past: waves and yells from visitors on the London Tour buses and lots of honking horns from motorists. There was a carnival atmosphere, aided by the sun and spontaneous outbursts of song, yet there was no ignoring the fact that many people in the crowd (including me) were angry that Britain may be taken out of the EU on a narrow referendum vote at least partly influenced by the lies of the Leave campaign. Having brought about this disaster, by calling an unnecessary referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has now washed his hands of all responsibility, though he will stay in office over the summer, a lame duck while five contenders of varying degrees of charm/repulsiveness slug it out to succeed him. All, alas, are committed to going ahead with Brexit, though many on the march yesterday hopes that the almost inevitable failure to come up with a desirable post-Brexit plan might change some minds. Other marchers were demanding an election. And where was Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? At an event in his constituency, apparently; having been lukewarm at best in backing Remain he had doubtless been advised that he risked getting booed if he turned up on the march.

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