Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

House of Lords Lobby Fodder

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2018

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege — and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one — most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I can’t help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to “rebel”. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain today that having failed to win the argument in debates in the Lords, Mrs May is indulging in behaviour more characteristic of a century ago.

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Europe Day 2018

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018

Europe Day 2018In recent years I have always celebrated Europe Day (9 May) at a concert in St John’s, Smith Square. But this year was different. London4Europe, the London branch of the European Movement, put on a celebratory occasion this evening, which I would have loved to attend, but I felt I ought to be at the post-Council election wash-up and planning meeting of the London Liberal Democrats at Party HQ — not least because a parliamentary by-election has been triggered by the resignation today of the Labour MP for Lewisham East, Heidi Alexander, so she can take up the position of Deputy Mayor of London with special responsibility for Transport. Ms Alexander is on the more sensible end of the Labour Party, at a time when far-left Momentum has tightened its grip, and has been sound on Europe. So it will be very interesting to see who Labour chooses to stand as a candidate for the seat. According to a friend in the Labour Party, Momentum have the selection sewn up, so watch this space. This by-election, by its very timing, will inevitably feature Brexit prominently; Lewisham was strongly pro-Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum and that situation is not likely to have changed. So a strong pro-European campaign — calling for a People’s Vote on the proposed deal between Britain and the EU27 — is a natural position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt. It’s all being called very quickly, with voting on 14 June — so just five weeks to send a message, not only to Theresa May in 10 Downing Street but also to Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn too.

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UK Should Not Be a Hostile Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2018

Home Office billboardsIt’s hard to be optimistic about the state of Britain these days, not just because the country’s economic growth rate has sunk from the top of the OECD countries to the bottom as Brexit looms but also because of the tensions now evident in society. The EU Referendum result left the UK deeply divided, and those divisions have got worse, not better, as the months have gone by. Moreover, there has been a surge in xenophobic and racist incidents as an unpleasant minority within the British public has felt emboldened by the Brexit vote to tell foreigners to “go home” or to stop speaking languages other than English. Such actions should be recognised as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly.

May RuddBut what I find even more disturbing is the way that the Conservative government has encouraged such attitudes — cheered on by the more obnoxious elements of the mainstream Press. The latest shocking revelations about the way some members of the so-called Windrush Generation and their children (immigrants who were invited to come to Britain after the Second World War, to help rebuild the country and run essential services) have had their right to remain questioned by the Home Office, leading to some losing their jobs or their homes and being denied free medical care, while others have been put in detention centres or been deported, after living here for half a century. It is now clear that much of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Theresa May, currently Prime Minister but previously Home Secretary. It was under her watch that the infamous vans went round telling “illegal” immigrants to go home, before they were withdrawn after a public outcry. And it is both Mrs May and the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd who have pursued a policy of promoting a “hostile environment” to people who allegedly should not be here.

Even some Labour Home Secretaries, such as the jovial Alan Johnson, used that terrible phrase sometimes. And it is hardly surprising that it has been embraced by those who dislike the multicultural reality of much of Britain today. But it is not only people of colour who are feeling the impact. Even EU citizens have been the brunt of attacks and nasty comments. No wonder some have left and that many others (some married to UK partners) are worried about their future. Mrs May and her ghastly government have failed to tackle this problem head on. Indeed, both by their words and their actions, they have encouraged it. That is why on 3 May those who live in an area holding elections use their vote to send a clear message to 10 Downing Street: this is not the Britain we believe in.

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Last Chance for EU Citizens?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th April, 2018

EU citizens register to voteToday, Tuesday 17 April, is the last chance for people to register to vote in the local elections on 3 May, if they are not already on the electoral roll. This is particularly important for citizens of EU countries other than the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, as it is unlikely that they will retain their voting rights after Brexit, so this may be the last opportunity they have to make their voice heard. The franchise in all UK elections is currently given to all legally resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens, but other EU nationals don’t have the right to vote in the national parliament elections. However, everyone will lose their vote for the European elections, which are due in June next year, as the UK will no longer have the right to send MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg. In London, which has all-out elections in all 32 boroughs, there are a large number of EU citizens; in some wards, one or two thousand, which means that their participation in next month’s elections could swing the result. That’s why a number of community NGOs, as well as several political parties, are urging them to register and to vote, to send a strong anti-Brexit message to 10 Downing Street (and to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter). A strong performance by anti-Brexit parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, will help boost the campaign for a People’s Vote on the final deal agreed between the UK government and the EU. And as public dissatisfaction over looming Brexit realities (as opposed to Brexit fantasies) grows, there is even an outside chance we could pull back from the brink.

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The People’s Vote Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th April, 2018

13270BDE-5C74-40BF-8ED6-AF751E5A5521Over a thousand people gathered at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town this afternoon to call for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal that Theresa May and her Brexiteer Ministers are already having problems negotiating. Actor Sir Patrick Stewart — who had been on the Marr Show earlier in the day, championing the Exit from Brexit cause — gave a stirring keynote address, after which a cross-party panel of MPs took up the baton: Caroline Lucas (Green), Layla Moran (LibDem), Chuka Umunna (Labour) and Anna Soubry (Conservative). There was a tiny demonstration of pro-Brexit supporters outside the venue, but they seemed overawed by the long queue of people waiting to get in, eagerly picking up stickers and flags to wave in the hall. The central argument of the campaign (which has consistently LibDem policy, incidentally) is that the British electorate deserves to have the chance to say yay or nay to whatever is on offer for Britain’s future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. It is clear that many of the Leave campaigns promises cannot be delivered. Indeed, as Anna Soubry stressed, no deal that will be on offer can be as good as what we enjoy as members of the EU. The rally followed nationwide street stalls and demonstrations around the country yesterday, and for those of us who believe that Brexit is an act of collective madness from which people should be given the opportunity to retreat, it is encouraging how many more people are getting board the cross-party movement for a People’s Vote — including many Leave voters who have since realised they were conned.

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Brexit Can Be Stopped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th March, 2018

Stop Brexit 1There is a glaring paradox at the heart of Britain’s Conservative government at the moment. On the one hand, the government is criticising Russia and accusing it of various kinds of interference in British life (including attempted murder) while on the other hand it is pursuing a course that will facilitate one of the Kremlin’s main aims, namely Brexit. It now seems highly likely that Russia campaigned anonymously through social media in favour of a Leave vote in 2016, and weakening the EU (which Britain’s departure will undoubtedly do) is a key Russian foreign policy goal. The Paradox I mentioned earlier is personified by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who has castigated the Russians for “trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation” (rather a good description of himself, incidentally) while being a prominent cheerleader for Brexit. However, the wheels are beginning to come off the Brexit bus as it becomes ever clearer that the British public were grossly misled about what Brexit would mean in practice. We were not told that it would make us poorer, that many of our rights as European citizens would be taken away, that we would be leaving the customs union as well as the single market, or that some sort of border controls might have to be introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

75D3F4DB-40AC-4E69-931C-71CE29A3729C London and Brussels have come up with a transition deal, to see us through the period from March next year, when Britain is due to formally leave the EU, and the end of 2020. But it is clear from the details of the deal so far released that basically we will still have all the obligations of being an EU member while losing some of the benefits and having no say in EU deliberations. And it can only get worse after that. Because of Mrs May’s precipitous invoking of Article 50 there are now only 12 months before EU departure day, but if Brexit is going to be halted measures have to be taken long before that. October this year really would be the deadline for effective action, as Brussels wants to have a post-Brexit deal with Britain finalised by then, so it can be ratified by the other 27 member states. That means that we need a summer of discontent, of people taking to the streets to protest that we were sold a pup in the EU Referendum and that we want the chance to vote on the terms of the deal that has been negotiated — with an option to stay in the EU. Yes, Brexit can be stopped!

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Mrs May’s Rose-tinted Vision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2018

Theresa MayThis lunchtime the Prime Minister delivered her long-awaited vision for Brexit Britain. The speech was beautifully crafted (congratulations to whoever actually wrote it), but my analysis of the content is less complimentary. As there have been conflicting statements about Brexit even among Cabinet Ministers — along a spectrum from Chancellor Philip Hammond to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — it was good to hear what Mrs May, supposedly speaking on behalf of the Government, actually envisages as the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Some basic principles were very clear, namely that the Government respects the result of the 2016 EU Referendum and therefore Britain is leaving the European Union. Similarly, it wishes to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom. But other things were not so clear-cut. However, in a nutshell, what Mrs May was calling for was a bespoke deal for Britain that would be quite different from any other trade arrangement the EU has — for example with Norway or Canada — but would seek to achieve the best possible results for both sides, while defending the security and prosperity of the UK. She said Britain would like to stay inside some EU agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency, and would therefore accept a degree of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, though only on a piecemeal basis. The City of London will be dismayed that the Prime Minister accepted that banks and financial institutions based in the UK will not enjoy passporting rights to the EU because it will leave the single market; one can almost hear the stampede out of London for Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin already as a result. Equally, Britain will not be part of the customs union (or even Jeremy Corbyn’s “a customs union”), but the Government would still hope there to be frictionless trade with the EU. This really is having cake and eating it territory and is likely to be met with a giant raspberry from Brussels. Then there is the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Mrs May said the Government does not want to see the return of a hard border with border controls, asking rhetorically whether this is something Brussels would wish to impose. That is disingenuous, as clearly an external border of the EU cannot be completely open to the movement of goods, people and services so some sort of compromise solution will be necessary unless Northern Ireland has some separate customs arrangement from the rest of the UK — which is anathema to the Conservatives’ political bedfellows, the DUP. Despite the fact that the Government’s own studies showed that UK economic growth will be hit whichever Brexit route the country follows, Mrs May still sees the post-Brexit future through rose-tinted spectacles, in a world in which Britain will enjoy new freedoms and enhanced prestige while retaining what it wants from current arrangements. Cherry-picking, in a phrase. What she did not specify, however, is how her vision — which included a number of practical alternatives on trade — would benefit the country. But that’s not surprising, because it can’t.

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Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

Catherine Bearder 3Yesterday Catherine Bearder MEP hosted a rally in Richmond-upon-Thames as part of the LibDems’ campaign to Exit from Brexit. As the Party’s London spokesperson on Brexit, I gave a short speech of welcome, underlining the importance of two dates this year. First is May 3rd., when there will be all-out elections for councillors in all 32 London boroughs. Though obviously local issues will be at the fore, these elections can also serve as a verdict on the Conservative government’s chaotic performance so far in relation to Brexit. Moreover, for citizens of the other 27 EU member states who are resident in the UK, this is a chance (maybe their last) to make their voice heard through the ballot box. So local parties need to be encouraging those who are not yet on the electoral register to get on, and to make clear to EU voters that the Liberal Democrats are the only major party in England campaigning for an Exit from Brexit. The second important date is October, by which time, in principle, the UK and EU will have mapped out their proposed new trading relationship, and a public vote on the details of that deal would be timely. So we need to persuade the public as well as Parliament over the next six months or so that such a vote is desirable, so they can pass their verdict on “Is this really what you want?”

Sarah Olney Catherine Bearder Costanza de TomaFittingly at a time when Britain is celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to women (over 30, initially), the rest of yesterday’s event was entirely in the hands of women. Catherine Bearder gave a speech outlining many of the practical problems that will occur if Britain does leave the Customs Union, as the Government maintains. Many things will be more expensive, choice will be reduced and there will inevitably be delays, threatening the viability of many businesses. Sarah Olney, LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston until last June’s general election, gave an update on the progress (or otherwise) in Parliament regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill and other related legislation. The House of Lords is currently proving its worth by critically analysing what is before it. But there is a growing feeling that the timetable the Government has set for Brexit is impossibly short. The third principal speaker yesterday was Costanza de Toma of the 3 Million group, which lobbies for the rights of EU citizens here (and liaises with representatives of UK citizens on the continent and in the Republic of Ireland, who will also be impacted by Brexit, if it goes ahead). Much of her testimony highlighted the gross injustices and absurdity of the way the situation is developing, as well as the frequent incompetence of the Home Office. The 3 million are encouraging EU citizens to vote in local elections in May, so they could make a real difference.

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Brexit Is Bad for Us: Official

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th January, 2018

May Juncker 1BuzzFeed News has done the British public a great service by publishing details of a leaked government assessment about the likely impact of Brexit on the British economy. The headline message is that in all three scenarios modelled by civil servants almost all sectors of the British economy and most of the UK regions will take a significant hit. In the case of “no deal” with the other 27 EU member states (as some Conservative right-wingers advocate) the analysts believe economic growth would be reduced by eight per cent over the next 15 years — this at a time when the Eurozone is enjoying a strong recovery. Even if Theresa May succeeds in getting a free trade agreement with the EU, as the Prime Minister hopes, the hit to growth is expected to be five per cent, according to the leaked document. The “least worst” scenario, which would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area (like Iceland and Norway) so that it can enjoy free access to the single market, would still mean a loss of growth of two per cent. But because freedom of movement of persons — as well as goods, service and capital –is part-and parcel of EEA membership, that is the option least likely to be accepted by both the Tory government and Labour’s Euroscpetic leadership. Not surprisingly, groups campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, including the Liberal Democrats, have seized on BuzzFeed’s story as proof of what they have been arguing all along: that Brexit is damaging for Britain and should be abandoned (perhaps after a referendum). The timing of the BuzzFeed leak is significant, as the House of Lords is currently engaged in two days of concentrated debate on the so-called EU Withdrawal Bill. A sizable cohort of peers is anti-Brexit and their ranks may well be swelled by others alarmed at the details in the leaked report. It is worth underlining the fact that the report was commissioned from civil servants by the Government and its findings are conclusive. So we can with justification say: “Brexit is bad for us: official”!

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Cross-Party Campaigning against Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 26th January, 2018

European Movement Question TimeAn impressive line-up of London MEPs and other senior politicians gathered at the Irish Culture Centre in Hammersmith last night at an event organised by the Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea branch of the European Movement. Charles Tannock MEP (Conservative), Mary Honeyball MEP (Labour) and Jean Lambert MEP (Green) were joined by former LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, Sarah Olney (standing in for Catherine Bearder MEP, who was in Ireland), at a packed Question Time event moderated by former Labour MP and Europhile, Denis MacShane. Dr Tannock is one of a number of Conservative MEPs who disagree fundamentally with the British government’s policy of pursuing a so-called Hard Brexit, leaving both the European Single Market and the Customs Union. He would prefer Britain to stay within the EU but doesn’t believe Brexit can be stopped, so argues for a Soft Brexit instead. The other speakers were more focussed on how the UK can reverse the outcome of the 2016 EU Referendum; Sarah Olney set out the LibDems’ official line that there would need to be a new referendum when the details of the proposed new EU-UK deal are known, with an option to remain in the EU. Mary Honeyball expressed frustration at the Labour leadership for not campaigning hard enough for Remain in 2016, as well as for its current Hard Brexit stance. Jean Lambert said that whereas the Greens had reservations about some aspects of EU policy, she hoped the European Parliament could play its part in preventing a Hard Brexit. In theory, the Parliament could veto the deal, though that is probably not likely. There were far more questions from the audience than could possibly be addressed, but several people made the point that despite the large turnout — mainly middle-aged, middle-class and overwhelmingly white — the exercise was largely a matter of preaching to the converted. But everyone was urged to go out and campaign, on a cross-party basis and in particular to get the message out to younger people, including through social media. The Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Stephen Cowan, who was in the audience along with local MP Andy Slaughter, got a warm round of applause when he announced that his Council had declared itself pro-Remain — an initiative that some other London boroughs could perhaps be encouraged to follow.

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