Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

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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My New Year’s Resolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st December, 2017

75D3F4DB-40AC-4E69-931C-71CE29A3729CUsually I do not make serious New Year’s resolutions — or even frivolous ones. But this year it’s different. The reason is that, in my opinion, 2018 will be the make-or-break year for Brexit. And my resolution is to work as hard as I can with all Remainers to break it, before Brexit breaks Britain. With the May government ruling out continued membership of the European single market and Customs Union the likely economic damage to Britain will be even worse than was highlighted during last year’s EU Referendum campaign. Already devaluation and inflation have taken their toll on people’s living standards but that is only the beginning, as the prospects of tariffs or other trading restrictions loom as we drift away from our major trading partner. But it’s not all about economics. The EU has led to higher standards across all member states, including the UK, in such matters as consumer safety and the cleanliness of beaches. EU collaboration and funds have boosted research, for the benefit of all. EU citizenship gives us freedom of movement throughout the Union, but Mrs May and her rabid Brexiteers are prepared to throw that away in their defence of an outdated nationalism. That nationalism is itself a paradox, as Brexit presents the greatest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom since the 1920s. Will it be Northern Ireland that decides to bolt first, or Scotland? Both voted heavily for Remain last year. Meanwhile it is clear that sufficient people have changed their minds about Brexit as the realities become clearer, added to more younger people coming onto the electoral roll, for a new vote on Brexit to deliver a different result, which is why the hardline Brexiteers reject the idea of having one, even on the details of the final “deal” that the Government may or may not come up with. But in the meantime, Brexit may well destroy itself, through the sincere complexity of disentangling Britain from four decades of harmonisation with our European partners. The whole Brexit project may prove impossible and the May government might fall. I hope that happens. But tonight I shall hold aloft a glass at midnight, I hope in harmony with countless others, to toast my New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

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Brexit: Has Britain Changed Its Mind?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th December, 2017

9517D996-7D01-49CD-8288-93A42B9D1525According to an opinion poll commissioned by the Independent newspaper, UK voters are having second thoughts about the wisdom of Brexit, with 51% now favouring Remain, 41% Leave and 8% don’t know. That’s quite a shift since the vote 18 months ago. Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into one opinion poll, but there are other signs that some who voted Leave now feel they were lied to (remember the red bus promising £350million a week for the NHS?), or that the cost of leaving is too great, only to end up in a worse situation than we are in now. The Prime Minister, Mrs May, battles on with confidence that she can deliver a deal that will be good for Britain, though all our 27 EU partners — including the Republic of Ireland — believe this is delusional. Mrs May has to try to keep her rabid Hard Brexiteers at bay, though it is now clear that she faces a bigger threat from Tory Remainers, who champion staying in the single market and the customs union. That would certainly soften the Brexit blow. But the real tragedy of the current situation is that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is going along with the Brexit madness (though a few dozen of his MPs are standing up against that line). Perhaps it will only be if a series of increasingly anti-Brexit opinion polls over the next few months that Labour will understand it needs to change tack. A meaningful vote in the House of Commons could stop Brexit in its tracks. But better still would be a referendum on the Brexit deal, asking people if that is really what they want. The Brexiteers will howl — in fact, they are already howling — but votes in Parliament and in the country would be exercises in open democracy, which they in principle are meant to support.

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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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