Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

The UK and EU Face Off

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd March, 2020

David Frost Michel BarnierToday the Conservative Government’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, is meeting his EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, in Brussels for the first of what are likely to be numerous and probably quite fractious talks about a possible UK-EU trade deal. Like most Remainers I am aware that the best deal is the one we had until 31 January, as a member of the European Union, with the bonus of a budget rebate. Nothing that Mr Frost will be able to achieve will come anywhere near that, but under Prime Minister Boris Johnson we have an ideologically driven government which wishes to “respect” the wishes of the most extreme Brexiteers, i.e. not just leave the EU, as we have, but to disengage ourselves from EU rules and regulations, as well as associated bodies and any form of European jurisdiction, notably rulings by the European Court of Justice. This is all in the pursuit of some illusory national sovereignty, as if any country can be “totally independent” in today’s globalised world. It is worth pointing out that this glorious isolationism is not what most Breixteer politicians campaigned for. Remember Tory MEP Daniel Hannan saying during the EU Referendum campaign that nobody was talking about leaving the single market or the customs union? That was just one of the most egregious lies, alongside the infamous bus promising £350 million a week for the NHS in place of contributions to the EU.

But all that is water under the bridge, alas, and what now should be the order of the day is damage limitation. That is why the Liberal Democrats (among others) should be campaigning for the closest possible trading relationship with the EU, though that is rejected by the Johnson government. Without close alignment, UK trade with the bloc will be seriously undermined and I completely understand why the EU is sticking to its guns, saying that it cannot compromise its own common standards (agreed by the UK while a member, of course) or the single market. It is in the interests of both sides to come to a workable agreement, however, rather than drifting into an impasse that leads to the UK walking away into a No Deal situation, trading on WTO terms when the formal transition period ends on 31 December. That is what the more extreme Brexiteers in government would like, but it should be resisted strongly. And while I can quite understand why the EU27 are totally fed up with the UK’s often boorish behaviour, especially since Boris Johnson came to power, it is in everyone’s interest for there to be an amicable, bespoke solution to a new UK-EU trading relationship. Britain’s rabidly anti-European populist Press: please note!

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Brexit Blues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 1st February, 2020

Brexit DaySo it has finally happened. At 2300 GMT last night Britain formally left the European Union. There will now be an 11-month transition period during which we still follow EU rules and regulations before properly striking out on our own, though I would not be surprised if that transition period were extended, despite what Boris Johnson says. I just can’t see how a functioning trade agreement with the EU can be worked out in such a short period of time. Meanwhile, like millions of other people in this country, I feel a great deal of sadness, tinged with anger. The anger is over losing my EU citizenship and associated benefits, including freedom of movement and the EHIC card. And the sadness is at Britain’s stupidity of discarding its place in the world’s biggest trading block in the pursuit of a spurious “independence”, fuelled by an unpleasant degree of nationalism and xenophobia. A crowd of Brexiteers gathered in Parliament Square to mark the Brexit hour, addressed by a grinning Nigel Farage. From various vox pops taken among them by the BBC it was clear that most of them had no clue what the EU actually is or does and how the UK has benefited from membership. For nearly half a century, successive UK governments failed to explain the reality, while a whole raft of newspapers spewed out Eurosceptic bile and lies. Boris Johnson was himself one of the culprits in that torrent of media disinformation and now he has the challenge of proving that unicorns really exist. Meanwhile I would quite understand if Scotland and Northern Ireland manoeuvre themselves towards independence/union with the Republic of Ireland. God help the rump England and Wales after that. But I suspect the UK may consider rejoining the EU before that happens. I just hope I am still around to witness that.

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Sir John Curtice at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2020

25673522-9B64-4F9A-9BF4-2D07A7BB582EI was pleased to have a last-minute opportunity to attend a presentation last night at the National Liberal Club by academic and TV election pundit Sir John Curtice (a long-standing member of the Club) on The 2019 Election: A Tale of Hope and Disappointment. One might correctly guess from the title that the talk was particularly focussed on the Liberal Democrats’ less than optimal performance last month. Far from taking off during the campaign — which was the case in several previous general elections, thanks largely to a higher media profile — the LibDems actually lost nearly half of their opinion poll percentage as the weeks went by. Certainly some of the Remain-leaning Conservatives who lent the LibDems their vote in May’s European elections, not least in Greater London, went running back to Boris Johnson, despite Brexit, out of (unnecessary) fear of a possible Jeremy Corbyn government. Many commentators at the time also attributed the fall in LibDem support to (1) Jo Swinson’s call to Revoke Article 50, rather than pitching wholeheartedly for a second EU Referendum, and (2) her claim to be a potential PM in waiting, despite the modest number of LibDem MPs (albeit supplemented by both Labour and Conservative defections). However, Professor Curtice said polling, notably from YouGov, did not support that assumption. Instead, he highlighted three conclusions about the election result based on his research:

1) It was not clear that the decision to back revoking Article 50 without a referendum was electorally costly;

2) Jo Swinson failed to make a favourable impression on voters and thus provide a point of attraction in contrast to Jeremy Corbyn;

3) The Party failed to communicate what a “brighter future” for Britain might entail.

Other points from John Curtice’s brilliant presentation which particularly struck me were that the Liberal Democrats drew most of their support from the educated middle class, but unlike the other parties had an almost equal level of support across all age groups.

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Brexit Is Like a Bereavement

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 1st January, 2020

811E1755-3E16-49AA-83F7-84DD6BFB3051The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called on Britons to heal their divisions as we enter the New Year. This exhortation is, I suppose, a little more sensitive than those people who have been saying ad nauseam, “You lost. Get over it!” But the Archbishop’s choice of words does not seem to acknowledge the fact that for many Remainers (who in 2016 were 48% of those who voted in the Referendum), Brexit is like a bereavement. We are witnessing something we cherish — our European citizenship and countless other benefits of EU membership — not just dying but being deliberately killed. This is not something one can just “get over” by pulling oneself together. The pain — and it is a form of mental pain for millions of British citizens, as well as for the estimated three million other EU citizens in this country — will not dissipate quickly. Indeed, for a while it may get worse, as one by one our European rights and benefits are stripped away, from freedom of movement to reciprocal free health care, from high common health and safety standards to directly elected representation in the European Parliament. I for one am in mourning for what we are about to lose and those who do not care a fig about such matters, or who espouse some new-imperialist fantasy of a “Global Britain” conquering the waves, need to understand that for many true British Europeans, Brexit is as traumatic as losing a member of one’s own family.

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Rejoining the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 26th December, 2019

88CE557C-2E8C-4BAF-A831-47E346D55744The Executive Vice President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, has kindly said that Britain will be welcome to rejoin the EU at some stage in the future. He is an unashamed Anglophile, but the sentiment is shared across a wide spectrum of continental politicians. Of course, the UK has not actually left yet, but short of an Act of God, Brexit will happen on 31 January, after which we will enter 11 months of transition (though don’t be surprised if the timetable slips a bit on that, whatever Prime Minister Boris Johnson says. You literally cannot believe a word he says, even in Ancient Greek. And he hasn’t even sat in a ditch, let alone died in it, as he promised. Nor indeed lain down in front of bulldozers preparing for the expansion of Heathrow Airport, though that is another story). To return to the issue of the UK’s rejoining the EU, pro-Europeans (not least the Liberal Democrats), need to handle things carefully. Immediately campaigning for a referendum on EU membership would be likely to backfire, being decried as “undemocratic”. Instead, we will need to make the realities of life after Brexit obvious and bide our time. Let the people say, “We realise now it was a mistake.” The call for rejoining must come from them. And I have some hope it will happen in my lifetime.

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Britain Casts Itself Adrift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2019

03ED2EAA-8A9B-4ADE-B461-49A127C5F5BEHot on the heels of the Conservative election win last week, guaranteeing that Brexit will happen on 31 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear that after leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be subject to EU rules and regulations. The government must know full well that this determination, if followed through, will mean that there can be no frictionless trade agreement with the EU27, either at the end of the projected transition period — arbitrarily set and enshrined in law by Mr Johnson’s Hard Brexiteers as 31 December 2020 — or ever. There is no way that the EU is going to compromise on its standards (from which British consumers have benefitted for nearly half a century) just to please London. So inevitably the UK economy will pivot towards the United States, the land of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. US pharmaceutical companies are already salivating at the thought of the killing they may make by foisting higher-priced drugs on the NHS. Of course, trade with the US will not in the foreseeable future make up for the inevitable shortfall in trade with the Continent and the Republic of Ireland. But Brexiteers argue that the UK will now be “free” to look elsewhere for trading partners (ignoring the fact that it always was). These presumably would include the Big Four BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, one should note that those four emerging powers do not share our values, let alone our standards, unlike the EU. I am not saying that Messrs. Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi and Xi are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I would not fancy being stuck alone on a desert island with any one of them.

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Say No to Visas for EU Citizens

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd December, 2019

Priti Patel 1In their latest move to cut Britain off from mainland Europe the Conservatives are proposing introducing electronic visas for EU and Commonwealth citizens making short-term visits to the UK. If that goes ahead, the EU would doubtless feel obliged to reciprocate by imposing visas for British citizens wishing to visit the Continent. This is ending Freedom of Movement with a vengeance. Home Secretary Priti Patel believes that this will make Britain more “secure” — a concern that last week’s terror attack in London has heightened. But the London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan, like the other terrorists who have carried out incidents in Great Britain, was British. The problem lies within, not over the Channel. But this government has become ideologically obsessed with breaking our close relationship with our current EU and EEA neighbours, turning us into an isolated entity like the United States. But whereas the US is a whale and can survive with tough border controls, intent on keeping people out, Britain will be a minnow once it leaves the EU. Not only will imposing visas for EU citizens further antagonise our European neighbours, it will also do incalculable damage to major sectors of the British economy, not least the creative industries (where mobility is often crucial) and tourism. This really is a crazy idea and provides one more glaring reason why electors in Britain should not vote Conservative on 12 December.

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The People’s Vote March

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th October, 2019

Peoples Vote March 19 October 2019The sun was shining on the People’s Vote March in London today as several hundred thousand demonstrators manifested their wish to stay in the EU. As ever at such events, the mood was like a carnival and a cheer arose when it became known that the House of Commons — sitting on a Saturday for the first time since the Falklands War — had thwarted Boris Johnson’s attempt to get his Brexit deal passed today. Instead, an amendment by Oliver Letwin basically kicked the matter into next week, declaring that the deal cannot go through before all the necessary legislation is in place — and effectively obliging the Prime Minister to send a letter to the EU before midnight tonight requesting an extension to Article 50. Johnson was defiant in the House, insisting that he is still going to get Brexit done and dusted by 31 October but that is looking increasingly unlikely. If the EU has any sense it will provide a long extension which would enable the UK to sort out the current impasse through a confirmatory referendum on Boris’s deal or through a general election. Whatever happens the next few days are likely to be extremely fractious, which why it was so nice to have such a warm atmosphere on the march today. It was literally a gathering of all the generations and people from different political parties mingled convivially — a contrast to the raucous tensions in the House. There, the Speaker, John Bercow, had to limit speakers to three minutes each after a while, which graphically illustrated how outrageous the Prime Minister was in trying to get the deal with all its ramifications through in a single sitting.Many people may be heartily sick of Brexit by now, but the saga is far from over.

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Eurocapitales 2019

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th October, 2019

JF speaking at Eurocapitales 2019I spent the latter half of last week in Paris attending the 2019 gathering of Eurocapitales, an association of individuals and groups mainly linked to the European Movement, celebrating some of the great cities of Europe while discussing topical subjects. Paris currently operates as the organisational hub as well, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of Jean-Paul Doguet, though there are plans to set up a European not-for-profit body under Belgian law in Brussels. The four countries represented at the 2019 encounter were Finland, France, Greece and the United Kingdom, and the French provided generous and memorable hospitality at a couple of Paris’s notable restaurants as well as a closing dinner in the Salon Napoleon at the French Senate in the Palais de Luxembourg.

The discussion programme was in two halves, covering Brexit and Artificial Intelligence. I was one of the morning speakers outlining the current state of Brexit — less easy than that might at first sound, as the position changes almost daily and no-one — not even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, for all his bluster — knows exactly what will happen between now and October 31 (the theoretical UK departure day), let alone beyond. It was interesting to note that some of the French participants seemed to assume that Brexit will indeed happen, with or without a deal, whereas both I and fellow Brit, Mark Paterson, thought it may well not, particularly if there is a second referendum. In my speech I focussed particularly on the post-Truth nature of modern British political discourse and the media, Trumpian in its outlandish lies, of which Boris Johnson is a prime culprit. One thing everyone did agree on was that Brexit would be bad for the EU and even worse for Britain, though paradoxically the whole Brexit debacle has actually raised the positive understanding of the European project, on both sides of the Channel.

One might have thought that AI would prove to be a less heated subject, but not a bit of it. I was particularly interested in the contributions relating to Smart Cities and the increasing participation of AI in so many aspects of urban life today — which can only increase in the future. But serious concerns were raised about moral and ethical issues relating to AI, from driverless cars to critical non-human decision-making, which I suspect will indeed preoccupy many of us as what has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution is rolled out.

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The Truly Supreme Court

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th September, 2019

Baroness-HaleThe UK’s Supreme Court may only be a decade old but it represents centuries of judicial independence. Yesterday, it delivered an historic decision when it declared unanimously that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen which led to the prorogation of Parliament was “unlawful, void and of no effect”. The five week closure, effectively preventing MPs from debating Brexit until mid-October — only two weeks before Mr Johnson wishes to take the country out of the EU — was therefore deemed illicit. The Speaker, John Bercow, grinning like a Cheshire cat on College Green, was swift to announce that the House of Commons would therefore reconvene at 1130 this morning and the Prime Minister had to cut short his visit to New York where he was speaking at the United Nations General Assembly. What happens now, as with so much regarding the Brexit chaos, is anyone’s guess. In normal circumstances one would have expected the Prime Minister to resign, but these are not circumstances and Boris Johnson is not a normal Prime Minister. He is likely to try to hang on and the Labour Opposition is reluctant to call for a vote of no confidence as there is no guarantee it would be won. However, the Government is in principle bound to ask for an extension to Article 50 because of a move by MPs before the prorogation and Mr Johnson might be loathe yo try to circumvent that illegally despite his bluster. Meanwhile, the President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, delivering the Court’s verdict while dressed in black with a large silver spider brooch on her chest, has become on overnight heroine to Remainers and a demon to Hard Brexiteers. But the important thing is that the Rule of Law has been defended and the principle upheld that no-one is above it, not even Boris.

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