Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

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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A Patriotic Front against Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th August, 2017

EU and UK flags marchAs the damage to Britain’s economy from looming Brexit becomes ever clearer, it is time for Remainers to make the patriotic case for staying in the EU. The Brexiteers wrapped themselves up in the Union Flag during last year’s EU Referendum and talked about “taking back control”, peppering their arguments with distortions and lies, but there is no denying that a certain nostalgic nationalism in their arguments resonated in some parts of the country and in certain sections of the population. Since the Referendum, Remainers have been branded “traitors” and worse, simply for arguing that the electorate ought to be given the chance to have another vote, when a Brexit deal had been negotiated, to ask them if that is really what they want. If the Conservative government proceeds with its Hard Brexit plan (or, worse still, allows Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal), then the prospects are dire indeed. Already sterling has slumped to a level of almost parity with the euro, forcing up inflation and making foreign travel notably more expensive, but other consequences of a Hard Brexit will hit sectors of the British economy such as fruit farming desperately hard, as seasonal EU worker are no longer able to come to Britain. EU citizens living in Britain are already having their status undermined. Individual Brits in future face losing a whole series of rights and protections, from EU health and safety standards to visa-free travel to the Continent, the EHIC health card, access to Erasmus+ and so on. Hardline Brexiteers say any suffering — including a big knock to the economy — is worth it. But many people who voted Leave last June are not Hardline Brexiteers and are understandably dismayed that they may have been conned. So as pro-EU marches take place in London, Manchester, at the major political party conferences and other venues, let us proudly hold aloft both the EU flag and our Union flag. Let us come together from all political parties and none, in a united Patriotic Front against Brexit!

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Miliband to the Rescue?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th August, 2017

David MilibandIn an article in today’s Observer, former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, describes Brexit as an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”, and thus becomes the latest in a long line of senior politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties to urge a rethink, in sharp contrast to the policy of their leaderships. The dissidents (whom I am tempted to call the Voices of Reason) include former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair and several heavyweight figures in the House of Lords, as well, of course, as most of the smaller parties in Parliament. But could David Miliband be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back of Brexit? Unlike Tony Blair, he is not permanently tainted by the responsibility of promoting the Iraq War, and for many older Labour Party members, he has the status of the Dauphin over the water. He really ought to have become Labour’s leader, had not the trade unions backed his weaker brother Ed instead. How different UK politics might have been if that had been the case! But he can now play a crucial role in mobilising the anti-Brexit Labour voters (a majority of whom were Remainers in last year’s EU Referendum) and be part of a growing cross-party coalition calling for a second vote for the British people, to ask, on the basis of hard evidence of the negative effects of Brexit, whether that is really what they want. There has been a lot of talk lately about starting a new, centrist anti-Brexit party, but to my mind that is a waste of time and effort. There isn’t much time left before the window of opportunity to reverse Brexit closes, and all effort should be concentrated on making that happen.

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Bresistance

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th August, 2017

BresistanceOver the next couple of months there will be marches against Brexit in London and Manchester and doubtless other places, as those of us who believe passionately that Britain is better off as a member of the European Union try to stop the Conservative government making the biggest mistake since Suez. In fact, Brexit — especially the Hard Brexit that Theresa May and the UKIP-Tories favour — would be worse than Suez 1956 as it will not only diminish Britain’s standing in the world but also directly impact negatively on the lives of ordinary British people. The effects are already being felt and Brexit hasn’t happened yet; notably inflation caused by the fall of the pound sterling has sent food and other prices soaring. Predictably Nigel Farage and the cheerleaders of Brexit say they will intervene if it looks like Brexit isn’t going to happen. So be it. Let there be a proper debate about the pros and cons of EU membership, rather than the pathetic and often downright dishonest rhetoric that dominated last year’s EU Referendum. It has now become painfully clear that far from the NHS benefiting from £350million a week after Britain leaves the EU, the government’s finances are going to be much worse. Moreover, Brits probably stand to lose a range of current benefits, such as visa-free travel to the Continent, the EHIC health card that gives us free treatment in other EU member states, places for young people on the Erasmus+ scheme, cancer treatments because of our membership of Euratom and more. Let the truth about the government’s Hard Brexit be put before the British people for a vote asking them “Is this really what you want?” If so, fine, Brexit will go ahead, but if not, then it should be stopped in its tracks before it does more harm than it has already. Breixteers complain that those of us who are campaigning to stay in the EU don’t respect democracy, but on the contrary we believe the British people should have the final say. And in the meantime we will take to the streets to make our views heard, for the good of the country. Let the Bresistance begin!

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