Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

Brexit Bites, Even in ALDE

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd December, 2017

3079F192-03A6-4967-B73B-8C17AA5F88D2At the official buffet dinner reception at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress in Amsterdam this evening the results were announced for the President and Vice-Presidents of the Board. As Hans Van Baalen, a Dutch MEP, was the only candidate for the former, it was no surprise that he won re-election, with only a score of nay-votes. But the Vice-Presidential results are giving everyone here at the Congress food for thought, some negative, some positive. To start with the bad news first, Baroness Ros Scott — seeking re-election, as one of seven candidates for six posts — came bottom of the poll. This is certainly not an indictment of her record, as she has been tireless in her work for ALDE and the Liberal cause throughout Europe, as well as in the House of Lords. But it looks as if Brexit was a factor, for which Theresa May and her UKIPTory government are to blame. Britain has become the embarrassing member of the European Family, the drunk uncle who offends everyone and knocks the furniture over. Of course Ros has never behaved like that herself; far from it. But many of our EU partners are sick to the back teeth with Britain, not least the post-2004 newcomers of formerly Communist central and Eastern Europe, who were not around when Britain was a force for good in the EU (c.f. Lord Cockfield and the implementation of the single market). No, for the past decade or so, Britain, as misrepresented by successive governments, has been a pain in the arse, personified by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That the latter should have been made Foreign Secretary, despite having been sacked by The Times for lying about Europe when he was a correspondent in Brussels, and subsequently insulting the peoples of so many countries, is something that leaves most continental Europeans open-mouthed with disbelief. Add to that the resentment caused by boorish British behaviour since the EU Referendum and you have the perfect storm of the marginalisation of a previously great country sinking into a cesspit of irrelevance and narrow-mindedness. That this probably contributed to Ros Scott’s defenestration from the ALDE Bureau is particularly sad. Guy Vehofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and currently both President if the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, as well as that Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, pledgd in his short address to tonight’s dinner that the UK’s leaving the EU would not mean that the British Liberal Democrats would cease to be members of the family. But clearly we are not now in the inner circle. However, while this development saddens me greatly, for Ros personally, for the LibDems and for Britain, there is a more positive piece of news tonight. The person who topped the poll in the vote for Vice-Presidents was Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP, a Bulgarian from that country’s Turkish minority community, and therefore a Muslim. The EU is moving forward, even if Britain now risks being left behind.

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No More UK European Capitals of Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd November, 2017

E9C44B9C-B12A-4DDC-877A-B56FD48CE0D1The EU programme of designating cities as European Capitals of Culture has brought new life, the Arts and increased tourism to places throughout Europe, including in Britain. Liverpool was a notable beneficiary, transforming the run-down port city into a vibrant cultural centre. Three UK cities were in the running to be chosen for the accolade in 2023 — Dundee, Leeds and Nottingham — but the European Commission announced today that as Britain is due to quit the EU in March 2019, their bids will now be shelved. There have been predictable protests from the Brexiteer media claiming that the EU is “punishing” Britain by stopping further UK European Capitals of Culture. But the situation could not be clearer: if you resign your membership of a Club you forfeit your right to benefit from its facilities. Brexit is not only going to harm the UK economy (that is already happening, though we’re still in the EU); it will also deprive British citizens of advantages of EU membership in cultural and educational ways, too. Did the people in Dundee, Leeds and Nottingham who voted Leave realise that they were shooting their cities in the foot? Scotland, like London and Manchester and university cities such as Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, voted strongly Remain but they will all be hit by Brexit, too. I have blogged before about the devastating effect on universities from EU academics leaving, as well as from the fall of student applications from other EU member states. So far, the opinion polls don’t really reflect a clear public awareness of what is at stake, however. Many people voted Labour in June’s general election because they did not want to give an endorsement to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit strategy, yet it is increasingly obvious that in its own way, Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit will be just as bad. It will probably be well into 2018 before the realisation sinks in, but the longer it takes, the more difficult it will be for Britain to step back from the cliff edge.

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Brexodus Has Begun

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 21st November, 2017

BrexodusWhen a slim majority of the UK electorate voted in June last year in favour of leaving the European Union it became inevitable that Britain would lose the two European agencies that it has been hosting, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Banking Agency (EBA). Sure enough, yesterday it was announced that the EMA will move to Amsterdam and the EBA to Paris. The number of staff involved are 900 for the EMA and 150 for the EBA, but the knock-on effect of the departure of well-paid employees on service industries in London will be significant. This is only the start of Brexodus — the departure of institutions and staff who are in Britain (notably London) because it is currently an EU member state, a situation that is scheduled to end in March 2019. Already banks in particular have been making preparations to shift operations to Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin, Luxembourg and so on. That change is likely to accelerate now that Michel Barnier has confirmed that if Britain leaves the single market (as both the Tory and Labour leadership are determined will happen) then banks and financial institutions will lose their passporting rights to operate throughout the EU. This is a catastrophic blow to the City of London; over a comparatively short period London is now likely to lose its status as the unmatched financial capital of Europe. And it is not only the fnancial sector that is going to suffer. Universities currently employ a lot of other EU nationals, but many of them have started to make plans to leave. Similarly, the NHS depends quite heavily on EU migrant labour, but applications from other EU countries to work in the NHS have fallen by 96%. Farmers are sounding alarm bells about rotting food because of the likely shortfall in EU migrant workers to harvest the crops. Theresa May argues that this is what the British public voted for, but as Brexodus speeds up during 2018 and the negative effects of a looming Brexit are exacerbated, surely then the British electorate should be asked “Is this really what you want?” Shamefully, the Prime Minister and her Brexiteer Cabinet Ministers currently will not even countenance the proposition, and equally shamefully the Labour “Opposition” under Jeremy Corbyn is just going along with the madness, which can only lead to a shrinking economy and diminished political importance for Britain. So much for “taking back control”.

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Mrs May’s Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th November, 2017

may-johnson-davis-foxYesterday it was revealed that the government is recruiting Poles and other EU migrants to help in the forthcoming registration of EU citizens resident in the UK because there aren’t enough qualified and willing British workers to do it. The whole Brexit fiasco gets more surreal by the week. Far from saving Britain money and cutting red tape, as the Leave campaign promised, exactly the opposite is proving to be the case. The bureaucracy and expensive delays that will ensue from bringing back customs controls for trade in goods from the EU are mind boggling. But meanwhile the Prime Minister, Theresa May, charges on with her red, white and blue Brexit, with all the crazed energy and delusions of the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland. David Davis, meanwhile, has taken on the role of the Mad Hatter, with his stupid little grin and evident lack of understanding of how the EU works or even how to negotiate. He was rumoured to be threatening to resign at the weekend (maybe because a top civil servant had vetoed his plan to requisition an RAF plane to fly him round Europe on his Brexit mission?). While that prospect is superficially appealing it is Brexit itself that needs to be done away with, not the nincompoop Ministers dealing with it. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express and even the Daily Telegraph have been continuing their disgraceful and often vitriolic attacks on anti-Brexit politicians and the Courts. Remainer Tory MPs such as Anna Soubry have received death-threats and much of the traffic on twitter is poisonous. The newspapers I have just mentioned are guilty of whipping up hatred and inciting violence and should be reined in by the Press Complaints Commission or else prosecuted. What we are witnessing is not the exercise of free speech but the normalisation of hate sppech and a slide down the slippery slope to totalitarianism.

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Europe Coalesces as Britain Falls Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th November, 2017

D1AF3920-7B78-406C-A1FD-FA42B713BF62In last year’s European Referendum, UKIP and other arch-Brexiteers argued that the European Union is sinking and is bound to break up, whereas the developments of the past few months have shown that, on the contrary, the EU is pulling together while Britain, mismanaged by a Brexit-drunk Tory Party, is steering the country straight for the rocks. A year ago, the UK was one of the fastest growing countries in the OECD, whereas now it has sunk to the bottom. In contrast, even the previously afflicted nations of Southern Europe are picking up. Moreover, since Emmanuel Macron became President of France, there is a new spring in the EU’s step; “Mutti” Merkel is no longer the sole voice of EU strength. The Franco-German alliance is back with force. The great tragedy is that Britain ought to be one of a troika helping direct the EU, at a moment when China and other emerging economies are in the ascendant. Instead, craven to Little Englander nationalists and the running dogs of global capitalism, Theresa May and her unholy crew are deliberately destroying Britain in order the try to satisfy the most extreme Btexiteers. Britain can have a golden future, as a leading member of the European Union. Cast adrift, alone, it’s bones will be picked over by the carrion crows who unfortunately own the worst parts of the British media, and to whose insistent tune Mrs May dances along with Mad Hatter Boris Johnson and the rest of that unsavoury crew.

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Why Brexit Should Be Stopped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st October, 2017

BrexitMany thousands of people are expected to demonstrate today in Manchester on the StopBrexit! March. I am sad not to be able to be with them, as I am preparing for the new academic year at SOAS that begins tomorrow. However, I am braced for a storm of abuse from Brexiteers, who will doubtless claim that I and other pro-Europeans don’t respect democracy, as last year’s European Referendum delivered an approximately 52:48 vote in favour of leaving the European Union. On the contrary, I do respect democracy, which is why I support wholeheartedly the Liberal Democrat position that when the Conservative government has agreed the terms of an exit deal with our current 27 EU partners this should be put before the British electorate asking them whether this is really what they want. By then the consequences of Brexit will be much clearer than they are now, let alone in the theoretical situation of June 2016.

Keep Calm and Stop BrexitAs it is, the signs are not encouraging. The pound has slumped in value and foreign investment in the UK is falling. Having been one of the fastest-growing economies in the G7 a year ago Britain is now one of the slowest. EU workers have already started leaving the country because of the uncertainty about their future status, causing staffing problems in different sectors of the economy, not least the NHS, farming and the hospitality industry. That situation is bound to get more acute. Banks and companies have started moving some of their operations out of London to Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt, thus diminishing the prime position of the City, which contributes so much to the UK economy.

The situation regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — currently effectively invisible — is intractable, as any restoration of border controls would risk reigniting civil strife. The imposition of customs regulations for goods from the EU at Dover and other UK ports would clog the ports up within days. Currently, the Government is arguing that there needs to be a transition period of perhaps two years after Britain in principle leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, but that will only delay the inevitable cliff-edge. And in the meantime, Britain’s international image and influence are being rapidly diminished. We are a far stronger player on the global stage as a member of the EU than we can ever be outside. Finally, let us remember what the then UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage, said just before the Referendum, namely that a 52:48 result would be “unfinished business”. He was anticipating a 52:48 vote to Remain, of course. But on this one occasion, at least, he was right. The outcome of the Referendum is unfinished business and it is only right and proper that the British electorate should be given the opportunity to decide, probably in 2019, whether they are really happy to see their country sliding downhill as a result of leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc.

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Mrs May’s Florentine Tragedy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd September, 2017

Theresa May Florence speechYesterday, in Florence, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, set out — partially — how and why Britain intends to leave the European Union. She said she chose that location because Florence had played  a central role in the Renaissance, “a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European. A period of history whose example shaped the modern world. A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things.” Britain’s current 27 EU partners, not to mention many millions of Brits, may be left wondering why, if coming together to do things is so important, the UK government is now taking Britain away.

BrexitThe answer, according to the Prime Minister and other Brexiteers, is that this is “the will of the people”. On 23 June, 2016, in a Referendum marred by lies and hyperbole (the latter on both sides of the debate), UK voters chose by a margin of a little under 52 to 48 to “Leave” rather than “Remain”. The referendum was only advisory, in keeping with Britain’s (unwritten) constitution, but the Government had said it would implement the people’s decision. In March this year, Mrs May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, starting the clock ticking on a two year exit process. But as soon became clear, two years is not nearly long enough to entangle more than 40 years of legislative and regulatory integration. Hence Mrs May’s suggestion in her Florence speech that there should be a transition period of about two years, following the theoretical departure at the end of March 2019, during which the relationship with the EU, in trading terms at least, would be more or less the same. This sort of argument has been rightly derided as having one’s cake and eating it. Besides, it is probably over-optimistic to believe that everything will be sorted out even by March 2021.

EU and UK flags marchMeanwhile, the adverse effects of Brexit are already being felt. The pound sterling fell against the euro and the dollar, prompting a rise in inflation. Yesterday, following Mrs May’s speech, Moody’s downgraded the UK’s credit rating. Thousands of EU citizens who have been working in the UK have already left, driven out by the uncertainty of their situation and the overt hostility from some more extreme Brexiteers. The NHS is in crisis because of the shortage of nurses and in London, many restaurants have closed off sections because they cannot get enough waiting staff as EU workers leave. Fruit will literally rot in the fields of some British farms this autumn, for the same reason. Over the next year or so it is highly likely that things will get worse, which is why the British electorate should be given the opportunity of a fresh vote on the deal that the British government’s Brexit team negotiated, with an option to remain in the EU if they don;t like it.

Whether the EU27 would be prepared to let us remain, after causing such disruption since June last year, is another matter. Doubtless British Cabinet Ministers rallied round the Prime Minister yesterday, to congratulate her on her speech, but I fear history will judge that she was actually raising the curtain on what will turn into a Florentine tragedy.

Below is a link to Theresa May’s speech as reported on the Independent’s website. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-florence-speech-in-full-read-brexit-plan-eu-talks-single-market-divorce-bill-a7961596.html

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Brexit and Higher Education

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 16th September, 2017

IMG_2787This morning, the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth debated the effects of Brexit on public services in Britain. The impact on NHS staffing as well as the hospitality industry has received quite a lot of media attention, but in my speech I focussed on the situation regarding higher education. For the HE sector, Brexit is a lose-lose situation. UK students may in future excluded from Erasmus plus, restricting their opportunities as well as limiting the positive contribution they may later give as HE lecturers or researchers. The impact on EU and overseas student applications to UK universities and colleges is already being felt, because of the image of Britain as an unwelcoming environment following last year’s EU Referendum, and Brexit hasn’t happened yet. Financially, that is very bad news for those universities that rely on fees from foreign students. Similarly, EU research funding may be cut off. One of the worst effects of the prospects of Brexit, though, is the way that EU academic staff and support staff, of whom there are a great number, including at SOAS, where I teach, feel their status is insecure. Many have already left. So all round, Brexit is a looming disaster. It was however encouraging that this morning’s motion was adopted nem con, and the Party is revved up to campaign for an Exit from Brexit.

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th September, 2017

March for Europe 9 September 2017Yesterday, tens of thousands of us marched through central London, from Hyde Park Corner to Parliament Square, chanting the slogan “Exit Brexit!”. I don’t think the turnout was quite as big as last March, but the atmosphere was just as festive, under the warm, late summer sun, and there was a sea of flags — especially the EU flag, but also the Union flag and those of the UK’s four nations, as well as several EU member states and even some English counties. Before we all set off, Vince Cable, new Leader of the Liberal Democrats, gave a speech by the statue of the Duke of Wellington — a symbolic location, given the Iron Duke’s battles against the French, in an era when European states fought each other. “The Liberal Democrats continue to demand that the public should have a choice when the final outcome and the facts are clear,” Vince said. “Do we want to rush ahead off the cliff, or do we want an exit from Brexit? That choice, that option, has got to remain.”

BresistanceAt Parliament Square there was a rally, with more speeches by politicians and personalities, though sadly this being a weekend, there were no other MPs around at the Houses of Parliament to witness what was going on. At least some of the TV channels and mainstream media were there, though coverage was slight. I know from my own experience of BBC editorial meetings over the years that demonstrations are not considered to be “news” unless they are humongous, like the million people who turned out to try to dissuade Tony Blair from going to war in Iraq in 2003. Charles Kennedy led a huge phalanx of Liberal Democrats on that occasion and it was good yesterday to see a large contingent of LibDems on the March for Europe as well. One thing did concern me, however. Last March many drivers coming down the other side of the road honked their horns and people on the top of tourist buses cheered, whereas there was very little reaction from the public yesterday. Are they now resigned to going over the cliff edge of Brexit, or just too bewildered about what is happening under the Conservative government’s chaotic handling of the matter? Either way, this left me feeling uneasy. So it was cheering in the evening to watch on TV part of the Last Night of the Proms concert from Albert Hall, which was a sea of EU flags as well as British ones. An enterprising team of Remainers had handed out thousands to people going in and they were received with enthusiasm.

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Pound Euro Parity?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th August, 2017

Pound Euro exchange rateIn the run-up to last year’s EU Referendum, many UKIP and Tory Brexiteers proudly wore pound signs (£) in their jackets, symbolising for them the strength of Britain standing alone. But I wonder how they are feeling now that the pound sterling has sunk so much in value? Airport currency exchanges in the UK this week have been offering just under one euro per pound and at ATMs on the Continent the exchange rate is not much better, So for UK travellers going to the Continent, things are about a quarter more expensive than they were in June 2016. People staying at home are being hit, too, as inflation caused by higher import prices is now exceeding wage rises. Of course, some exporters are benefitting from sterling’s fall, but for many of them that boon will be short-lived, as more expensive imported raw materials and components will mean that their costs will rise, and so must their prices. So the net effect of voting Leave last year has been that most people are worse off — and Brexit hasn’t even happened yet! Britain’s economy has meanwhile fallen from being the strongest-growing among OECD countries to the weakest. The Eurozone is doing better than it has for some time and the euro itself has risen against the US dollar, too. Naturally, as a Remainer I believe that the sensible thing now is for the government to admit that Brexit is going to be far worse than they imagined and therefore they will pull the plug on it, organising a referendum for permission to do that, if necessary. But I very much doubt that Theresa May, let alone her Brexit team, has the courage to do that. So the UK may indeed crash out of the EU in 2019. And I would not be surprised if some future UK government has to go knocking at the EU’s door, asking to be let back in, accepting the euro and all.

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