Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

700,000 March for a People’s Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st October, 2018

March for the FutureCentral London was brought to a standstill yesterday when an estimated 700,000 people marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square calling for a “Final Say” on any proposed deal between Britain and the EU — with an option to remain in membership. So many people turned up, from all round the country — far more than even the organisers expected — that there wasn’t room for everyone to fit into Whitehall and Parliament Square. The weather was glorious and the atmosphere festive, despite occasional small groups of Brexiteers heckling from the sidelines. A number of MPs from all parties took part, though one conspicuous absentee was Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who reportedly ordered his front-bench team not to go. As Mr Corbyn has been a serial protester for decades and this was the biggest demonstration since the anti-Iraq War march 15 years ago the message could not be clearer: the Labour leadership is not listening to the overwhelming majority of the party’s membership who want Britain to remain in the EU.

March for the Future 1Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, is sticking to her line that there won’t be another public vote on Brexit, but as time goes by and she has failed to come up up with a deal, it is quite possible that she won’t be Prime Minister next year. The scheduled date for the UK’s departure from the bloc is 29 March 2019, but there are growing calls for the so-called Article 50 period to be extended or for some other fudge to be agreed that will essentially allow Britain to remain part of the EU’s single market and customs union for a while until a solution to such thorny issues as the land border on the island of Ireland are sorted out. It may well be that some problems just can’t be sorted out and that the numbers of people opposing Brexit will swell further as they realise that they were sold a pup during the 2016 EU Referendum by the false promises of the Leave campaign. Yesterday’s demo was so large that even the BBC had to take notice and some of the foreign TV coverage was spectacular. It’s good that our EU partners and the wider world knows that even if the Conservative government has lost its marbles over Brexit — cheered on by the even more extreme DUP from Northern Ireland — millions of Britons know Brexit is a terrible mistake — and that includes many who voted Leave two years ago.

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Bollocks to Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Bollocks to BrexitThe founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is to be congratulated for not submitting to pressure from (Labour) Lambeth Council to remove the giant sign over his company HQ saying Bollocks to Brexit! He has argued persuasively that Britain’s leaving the European Union — which it is scheduled to do on 29 March next year) will be bad for his customers and bad for his workforce, which has benefited from the Freedom of Movement that is part and parcel of the European Single Market. Rather than take down the sign he has instead invested in many more advertisements with the slogan posted near stations and other prominent places around London. After all, the Leave campaign was allowed during the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 to get away with driving a bus round with the lying slogan that the money the UK sends to the EU (itself a dodgy statistic) could be spent on the National Health Service instead. No surprise to learn now that that is not going to happen. In fact, Brexit is already costing this country hundred of million of pounds each week, and it hasn’t even occurred yet. And any increase in NHS funding (indeed needed) will probably have to come from higher taxation instead.

Brexit's Barking MadCharlie Mullins isn’t the author of the catchy Bollocks to Brexit! slogan, but it has gone viral, not only on social media, but also through sticky labels that have been appearing all over the place. On Sunday, I attended the Wooferendum march of Remainers and their dogs in Westminster, and many of the pooches were festooned with it as well. Over the coming weeks, in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on whatever Brexit deal is or is not agreed with Brussels, we can expect more campaigning activity, with a massive march in London on 20 October calling for a People’s Vote — i.e. a referendum on the deal, with an option to Remain — with support from people from every political party (except UKIP, probably) and none. Meanwhile, several local councils have been debating motions about whether to support a People’s Vote. I took part in a LibDem-led demonstration outside Camden’s temporary council offices last night, urging councillors to back such a motion, though sadly time ran out at the Full Council meeting before that part of the agenda was reached. I hope to attend a similar gathering outside Haringey Town Hall on Thursday. Both Camden and Haringey voted heavily Remain in 2016, yet the ruling Labour Party in both cases is divided on the issue. Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have received massive media attention, but the Labour Party is home to “Lexiteers” as well, not just on the right (such as Kate Hoey) but also the left, including among some supporters of Momentum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a Euro-sceptic for most of his 30-odd years in parliament, campaigned very quietly for Remain in 2016, but then called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately afterwards. He is still sitting on the fence over Brexit, though the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer, did say clearly at the Labour conference in Liverpool that a People’s Vote should be on the table, including an option to Remain. He looked rather startled when this provoked a standing ovation, but it is not really surprising, as over 80% of Labour members reportedly support staying in the EU. Moreover, according to a poll-of-polls in the London Evening Standard last night, a large majority of the 150 recent opinion polls on the Brexit issue have shown a majority for Remain if a new referendum is held. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right for people to change their mind and maybe that is indeed happening as the complexity and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU become clearer. So, yes, let’s have a People’s Vote. And let Bollocks to Brexit be our proud Remainer chant!

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AEJ-UK at 50

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th September, 2018

AEJ Brexit seminarWith Brexit looming on the horizon, there is not much for pro-Europeans to celebrate. However, yesterday afternoon the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)  held a seminar at Europe House in Westminster to mark 50 years of its existence. The theme was UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit, which most speakers were agreed would need to remain close — both on economics and security matters — even if Brexit does go ahead on 29 March 2019. However, several contributors, such as the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Martin Donnelly and the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, minced no words about Brexit being a mistake and held out hope that somehow it could be averted. In contrast, the former Labour MP and arch-Brexiteer Gisela Stuart (soon to take up the position of Chair of the FCO’s policy forum, Wilton Park) maintained that the voters had made the right choice in the 2016 EU Referendum and that the result had to be respected.

Given the audience — which included over a dozen journalists from other AEJ sections, from Ireland to Cyprus and Bulgaria — there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of the media in Brexit. Quentin Peel, former Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, admitted hat he had been lucky in working for an employer who wanted to know the details of complex European matters which were also of interest to the paper’s readers, whereas Peter Foster, Europe Editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, outlined the difficulty of covering the European story in ways accessible to the general public. The name of the Telegraph’s “star” columnist, Boris Johnson, was unsurprisingly bandied about, as people recalled his fabrication of anti-EU stories early in his career and now his championing of his own Brexit scenario. I was based in Brussels myself for eight years, initially with Reuters news agency, and it was there that I first joined the AEJ (French-speaking Belgian section). The everyday minutiae of news from the European Commission were challenging to convey in an interesting fashion, but the longer I stayed in Brussels and began to understand the purpose of the European project, the more I believed in its aims — which is why the prospect of Brexit does sometimes keep me awake at night and why I will continue to fight for Remain, probably via a People’s Vote or new referendum on whatever terms Theresa May’s government agrees with the other 27 EU member states, always assuming agreement is possible.

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Does Anyone Know Labour’s Brexit Plan?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2018

Keir Starmer 1Sir Keith Starmer caused great delight among Remainers at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool yesterday when he went off-script and said that not only was a public vote (he avoided the campaigning People’s Vote) on Brexit “on the table” but that this would include an option to Remain. After a moment’s stunned silence, hundreds of delegates were on their feet applauding, while veteran Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner sat scowling on the front row. He will not have been alone in his dismay, as some trade union leaders have been arguing that there should be a referendum, but only between Mrs May’s deal with the EU (whatever that turns out to be) or No Deal — a line also adopted by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. On Newsnight last night, Emily Maitlis tried valiantly to get a straight answer out of Diane Abbott about what Labour’s position on Brexit now is, but as so often with the Shadow Home Secretary, it was like trying to pin down blancmange. Basically Ms Abbott argued that we would have to wait and see what Mrs May came up with. But as nothing Mrs May can come up with is going to satisfy the Six Tests by which Labour said it would judge the Brexit deal, this is just kicking the can down the road. Surely the Opposition, just six months out from EU Departure Day, ought to have a coherent policy on Brexit by now? Instead their default position remains “We want a general election!” However, Theresa May has said there is not going to be a snap general election. So get off the fence on Brexit before it is too late, Labour. Are you now in favour of a People’s Vote (Like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) and if so, will Remain be an option, as Keir Starmer stated, or is all this still an exercise in smoke and mirrors?

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Theresa May’s Temper Tantrum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd September, 2018

Theresa May Downing StreetTheresa May returned from the Salzburg EU Council in angry bird mode. In a fiery statement at 10 Downing Street she accused our 27 EU partners of a lack of respect and demanded that they come up with a workable alternative to her rejected Chequers Plan for Brexit. She was obviously riled by EU Council President Donald Tusk’s admittedly cheeky Instagram posting of a photo of the two of them with a cake-stand loaded with pastries, captioned “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.” This was a reference to the charge that Britain is trying to cherry-pick some of the greatest benefits of EU membership as it formally leaves the Union. Most notably, the Chequers Plan proposes effectively remaining in the European single market for goods and food, but not for services. The British government has been told repeatedly that this is a non-starter, as the EU is determined that the single market must not be undermined; it is indivisible. The 27 remaining members are united on that and French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, was deeply irritated that Mrs May chirpily repeated her Chequers proposals at Salzburg all the same.

Tusk May cakeTo make matters worse, back in Downing Street the Prime Minister asserted that the EU had not explained why the Chequers Plan won’t work, which, to put it bluntly, is a lie. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, had set out very clearly the fundamental objections some time ago to his clueless British counterpart, Dominic Raab. The EU also believes that the British still have not come up with a workable solution to the Irish border issue — and it is for Britain to do so, Brussels argues, as it is Britain that is leaving the EU, not the other way round. But it was clear from Theresa May’s combative statement yesterday that facts are no longer at the centre of her political rhetoric. She has adopted the Trumpian disdain for truth that characterises her Brexiteer Tory MP colleagues. And it was to them, not to Brussels, that her remarks yesterday were really aimed. She is fighting to save her political skin. Chequers is dead as a dodo, but she is on the endangered list too, now. And meanwhile the clock ticks towards 29 March 2019, the scheduled date for Britain’s departure from the EU, which seriously threatens to be a disastrous crashing out with no deal unless common sense — and ideally a People’s Vote — prevails.

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LibDems and the Creative Industries

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th September, 2018

Nik PowellThe LibDem Creative Network held an excellent event on the fringes of the Brighton autumn party conference last night, in an upstairs room at the Bar Broadway in Kemptown. There were two great speeches by producer Nik Powell, former Director of the National Film and Television School, and drummer Bob Henrit, who used to play with The Kinks. They both underlined what a disaster Brexit will be for the sector if it means a return to the bad old days of intrusive customs searches, carnets for instruments and other red tape. The creative industries contribute well over £70billion each year to the UK economy and the sector is growing faster than most others. But all that could be brought to a shuddering stop, before going into reverse, if there isn’t the free flow of actors, musicians and other artists between Britain and the Continent. No wonder there was such a sea of blue-and-yellow EU flags and 12-Star berets at the Last night of the Proms. To undermine the sector really would kill the goose that has been laying the golden eggs as well as enriching our cultural lives.

Bob KinksI reprised the theme in a speech I gave in the Britain and the World debate in the main auditorium at conference this afternoon, calling for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be actively involved in Britain’s “soft power” through cultural diplomacy, and to report regularly to Parliament about the international aspects of our creative industries. It’s not just institutions such as the British Council and the BBC World Service that are important, but the hundreds of thousands of individual creators who make an enormous contribution. I recalled the wonderful spirit that there had been at the time of the London Olympics in 2012, while lamenting how that has evaporated in the two years since the EU Referendum. But as the clamour for a People’s Vote on whatever “deal” the Government comes up with grows, we must be hopeful that a cliff edge can be avoided. Remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union would certainly facilitate matters, but if we are going to do that, then we might as well stay in the EU, full stop.

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The LibDems’ Anti-Brexit Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Hampstead LibDems Brexit stallAcross Britain, Liberal Democrats have been out and about campaigning against Brexit this weekend — and the mood everywhere seems to be that people don’t like the way things are going. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in tatters, yet the arch-Brexiteers among the Tories have failed to come up with an alternative of their own. Labour, meanwhile, is still stuck on the fence, apparently with superglue, but the chorus from Labour members calling for the party to back a People’s Vote when a deal is proposed later this year is now getting so loud that it is hard to imagine that it will not dominate the Labour autumn conference, with prominent moderates such as Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw leading the charge. There is even a growing band of Conservative ex-Ministers now putting their heads above the parapet to call for a referendum too. The Liberal Democrats will go into our own Brighton conference next weekend knowing that apart from a tiny minority, party members are overwhelmingly in favour of an Exit from Brexit, which has indeed become something of Vince Cable’s signature policy. But what I found interesting, helping man a stall on Hampstead High Street this morning, is how passionately many ordinary voters are starting to feel about the matter, including previous Leavers who would now vote Remain. This is quite different from the mood only a couple of months ago, when there was a widespread feeling of “oh, just get on with it!” But as the realities become ever clearer and people understand just how painful disentangling Britain from more than four decades of economic integration with the continent is going to be, there is a new sense of urgency to halt things while it is still possible. Mrs May has of course stated that there will be no second referendum, but she may find if she is not careful that unless she softens her line on that, Parliament will give her such a bloody nose that her rule comes to an abrupt end. Boris Johnson is of course chomping at the bit in the wings, just waiting for Mrs May to be overthrown, but he may instead find himself in the political wilderness if sensible people from all of the parties (except perhaps the DUP) come together to Stop Brexit by campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

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Brexit Is Destroying the UK

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th September, 2018

9F5643AB-A044-4E79-BF70-920A16E1D475With only a little over six months to go before Britain is due to leave the EU it is becoming increasingly obvious that Brexit will not only weaken the country severely (both economically and politically) but also may break up the United Kingdom. Recent opinion polls suggest that over half the population of Northern Ireland would be in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit goes ahead, especially if a “hard border” is likely between Northern Ireland the Republic, while in Scotland support for independence in the event of Brexit is similarly rising. So there is a real risk that if the Brexiteers get their way, the country will shrink to just England and Wales, with seriously diminished international clout.

43919D28-617B-4946-AC96-7BB88F4CD9F5But these are not the only reasons to be dismayed at the way things are going. The aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum has been a devaluation of the body politic in Britain, a coarsening of its discourse and the ascendancy of intolerant nationalism and xenophobia. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is held hostage by a sizeable group of quite nasty arch-Brexiteers within the Conservative Party who have adopted wholesale the agenda and language of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party).  Boris Johnson did immense damage to Britain’s reputation abroad when he was Foreign Secretary, and he is now reeking havoc domestically, grotesquely subsidised by the Daily Telegraph, which pays him thousands of pounds for each article he writes in his shameless campaign of self promotion.

No wonder our 27 EU partners think we have gone mad. But all is not yet lost. Opinion polls suggest that there is now a majority in favour of remaining in the EU, a trend which will accelerate as more teenagers get on the electoral register. Mrs May insists there will be no new vote on Brexit — and she would probably have to resign if the Government or Parliament decided otherwise — but the clamour for what has been rightly dubbed a People’s Vote on whatever deal is agreed later this year (assuming one can be) is growing. MPs from all parties need to rally round to support this, and Jeremy Corbyn needs to put his traditional distrust of the EU to one side, get off the fence and throw the Labour Party behind the People’s Vote and a campaign to remain in the EU. It’s what most Labour voters want and it is what the United Kingdom needs, before it is too late. And if you haven’t put 20 October in your diary yet, please do so, as we need to get at least a million people onto the streets that day to March for the Future and Stop Brexit!

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Britain up a Cul-de-sac

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd August, 2018

May Corbyn 1August is traditionally the political silly season, where nothing of import happens and the media look for quirky stories to fill newspaper pages or broadcasting airtime. We have had a little bit of that this year, for example all the hype given to the rescue of a woman who somehow managed to “fall” off the back of a cruise ship. But otherwise here in Britain there is an air of gloom about the place, like an invisible pea-souper fog, all to do with Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May must know that she is on a hiding to nothing, pursuing her Chequers vision of a Brexit deal with the other 27 EU member states; Michel Barnier quiet rightly said after his meeting with Brexit Minister Dominic Raab on Monday that Britain cannot expect the rules-based EU to change its principles or to undermine the integrity of the single market just because Britain is hell-bent on leaving. But the official Opposition gives no cause for cheer on this front either. Jeremy Corbyn yesterday failed six times to give a straight answer to a straight question from Channel 4 News, as to whether he believed Britain would be better off outside the EU. Of course, both he and Theresa May know the answer to that is “No”, as is becoming increasingly clear, but they are afraid to say so. The Armageddon option on Brexit is a “no deal” situation, which Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently rashly suggested was a strong possibility, which professional bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Road Hauliers Association have warned would lead to serious shortages and cuts to services, as well as higher prices and a possible run on the pound. The plain truth is that Brexit Britain is up a cul-de-sac, and with both major parties (accordingly to Ipsos MORI) currently polling 40% each, the electorate clearly doesn’t know which way to turn. But as anyone who drives into a narrow cul-de-sac knows, there is only one sensible strategy to follow: back up and back out.

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Five Escape Brexit Island ***

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th August, 2018

Five Escape Brexit IslandLike most children in the 1950s I was a great fan of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. I had a slight crush on Julian, disliked tomboy George and wished to be the dog Timmy. They got up to all sorts of exciting adventures, though everything always turned out alright in the end. Above all, they represented escape — escape from everything that was unsatisfactory about everyday life at home. Bruno Vincent’s Five Escape from Brexit Island (Quercus, £7.99) is one of a whole series of spoof Enid Blytons published by Hodder & Stoughton (itself a sub-division of Hachette), who these days own all the rights to the Enid Blyton estate. The plot and writing style are fairly loyal to the spirit of the original books, though with added expletives that must have Ms Blyton spinning in her grave. And the illustrations are lifted from genuine predecessors, not all of them as aptly captioned as they could be. The central premise is a good wheeze: that the Famous Five accidentally find themselves incarcerated in a secret detention centre on an island off the coast of Dorset following Brexit, before escaping on a home-made raft. There are a few good jokes, such as a series of increasingly exasperating messages in bottles pulled from the sea, and the hostile reaction of British holidaymakers when the plucky quintet on landfall try to use French and Spanish in the mistaken belief they have drifted abroad. But overall it is pretty tame stuff. A more biting satire of both Brexit and of Blyton’s wholesome tales could have been much funnier, but in that case she would most definitely not have approved.

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