Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

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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A Summer of Discontent

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2018

The Summer of Our DiscontentWere the likely effects of Brexit not so serious, the shambolic way the Government is handling matters would be laughable. At a weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers earlier this month, Theresa May put forward her version of a Soft Brexit plan. All the Cabinet supported it at the time, but within days, David Davis and Boris Johnson had both resigned and the latter was extremely rude about the proposed deal, which he said would make Britain a colony of the EU. I’d been saying for months that Mrs May should sack Boris before he had the chance to resign, but in the event, both have been weakened by the way things have happened. In the meantime, several other (junior) Ministers have resigned, as well as other Conservative party luminaries, most of whom one had never heard of. But the debates about related bills in the House of Commons this week have taken the whole Brexit saga down to a new low. Mrs May caved in to the demands of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his euphemistically-named European Research Group and made her Soft Brexit a little harder. A dozen Tory rebels nobly voted to keep the UK within EU medicines regime, but on other issues the Government saw off amendments, with the help of the Labour Brexiteer Gang of Four, Kate Hoey. Frank Field, John  Mann and Grahame Stringer. The Government hoped to prorogue Parliament tomorrow, five days early, to limit inconvenient debate, but dropped that idea when it became clear that the suggestion was dead in the water. The problem is, Mrs May’s Soft Brexit is dead in the water, too; a country can’t effectively be within the Single Market for some things and outside it for others. The EU, rightly, will not compromise on the four freedoms, so Mrs May is just wasting time pursuing pipe dreams. In the meantime, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is failing pathetically to stand up to this government nonsense — mainly because he has always been hostile to the EU. And even though a majority of Labour MPs were Remainers (and most probably still are), they are frightened to stick their heads too far above the parapet, with noble exceptions such as Chuka Umunna, David Lammy and Ben Bradshaw. Doubtless the Prime Minister will be hoping that things go quiet over the recess, but I woudn’t count on that. With both the Brexiteers and the anti-Brexiteers angry about the current mess, it is likely to be a long, hot summer of discontent.

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Why Lewisham East Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th May, 2018

Lewisham EastParliamentary by-elections are the cup-cakes of political nerds and I have followed them closely since my early teens. I cut my political teeth as an 18-year-old sub-agent in the Birmingham Ladywood by-election in 1969 (which Wallace Lawler won for the then Liberal Party) and I have lost count of all the by-election campaigns I’ve helped in since. So naturally I’ve been heading down to Lewisham East ever since a by-election was called there, following the resignation of Labour MP Heidi Alexander to take up a job as a Deputy Mayor for London. Based on the 2017 figures one might imagine that Labour will walk it in the by-election, though the Liberal Democrats came a very strong second in 2010. But this is no normal by-election. As Leaving the EU Day (March 2019) looms, this is being seen as a Brexit litmus test, with the LibDems rallying Remainers behind the talented local candidate, Lucy Salek, in what was an overwhelmingly Remain constituency in the 2016 EU Referendum. More specifically, it is an opportunity for voters in Lewisham East to pass their verdict on Labour’s policy on Brexit. Despite repeated opinion polls showing that a majority of Labour members believe leaving the EU is a mistake, Jeremy Corbyn stubbornly persists in underwriting the Conservative government’s Brexit. Ideally there will be a People’s Vote on the final deal Mrs May and her team reach with Brussels, but in the meantime the Lewisham East by-election is the best opportunity to send a message to Mr Corbyn, as well as to the Prime Minister. That’s why so many of us, including party leader, Vince Cable, have been heading there often. Labour called the by-election quickly, with polling on 14 June; the Brent East by-election 15 years ago showed them that having a long campaign allows the LibDems to build up steam. They lost Brent East and if enough of a momentum builds up over the next fortnight in Lewisham East, they could get a shock there too.

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When Will Labour Face Truth on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th May, 2018

Keir StarmerFor many continental Europeans one of the most puzzling things about Britain’s stumbling towards the Brexit door has been the way that the opposition Labour Party has been effectively cheering the government on the way. Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 to be invoked almost as soon as the EU Referendum result waas announced and he has continued to pursue what he calls a Jobs First Brexit, making it work for the many not the few, whereas all the indicators are that all normal households are going to be worse off. In fact, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that households are already £900 worse off than forecast and Brexit hasn’t happened yet. There will be a divorce bill of £39billion to pay before trade talks with the EU can start and if the government opts for the “Max Fac” new technology approach to dealing with customs procedures, as favoured by right-wing Tory MPs, that is going to cost British businesses £20billion a year, so the head of the HMRC tells us. So why is Labour still going along with Brexit, instead of denouncing it for the gross act of self-harm that it is?

Baroness HayterI put that question today to the Shadow Brexit Spokesperson n the House of Lords, Baroness Hayter — a highly intelligent and articulate woman — who admitted that it is all a nightmare. But both she and her House of Commons counterpart are Keir Starmer are holding to the line that the British people voted for Brexit, and therefore Labour’s task is to make it less painful. She dismissed the notion of a People’s Vote on the final deal (which in principle is meant to be ready by October, though that seems incresihngly unlikely), saying there was no appetite for it. People just want the government to get on with Brexit (which is, of course, also Prime Minister Theresa May’s mantra). But surely it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, especially when the Labour Party is meant to defend the interests of the poorest and weakest in society? Perhaos onyl a seismic by-election shock in Lewisham East (unlikely, given the campaign has deliberately been kept to just one month) would wake Labour from its complacency. But meanwhile, the party leadership trots behind the Conservative government as it sleepwalks through the Brexit door towards the unknown.

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House of Lords Lobby Fodder

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2018

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege — and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one — most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I can’t help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to “rebel”. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain today that having failed to win the argument in debates in the Lords, Mrs May is indulging in behaviour more characteristic of a century ago.

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Europe Day 2018

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 9th May, 2018

Europe Day 2018In recent years I have always celebrated Europe Day (9 May) at a concert in St John’s, Smith Square. But this year was different. London4Europe, the London branch of the European Movement, put on a celebratory occasion this evening, which I would have loved to attend, but I felt I ought to be at the post-Council election wash-up and planning meeting of the London Liberal Democrats at Party HQ — not least because a parliamentary by-election has been triggered by the resignation today of the Labour MP for Lewisham East, Heidi Alexander, so she can take up the position of Deputy Mayor of London with special responsibility for Transport. Ms Alexander is on the more sensible end of the Labour Party, at a time when far-left Momentum has tightened its grip, and has been sound on Europe. So it will be very interesting to see who Labour chooses to stand as a candidate for the seat. According to a friend in the Labour Party, Momentum have the selection sewn up, so watch this space. This by-election, by its very timing, will inevitably feature Brexit prominently; Lewisham was strongly pro-Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum and that situation is not likely to have changed. So a strong pro-European campaign — calling for a People’s Vote on the proposed deal between Britain and the EU27 — is a natural position for the Liberal Democrats to adopt. It’s all being called very quickly, with voting on 14 June — so just five weeks to send a message, not only to Theresa May in 10 Downing Street but also to Eurosceptic Jeremy Corbyn too.

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UK Should Not Be a Hostile Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2018

Home Office billboardsIt’s hard to be optimistic about the state of Britain these days, not just because the country’s economic growth rate has sunk from the top of the OECD countries to the bottom as Brexit looms but also because of the tensions now evident in society. The EU Referendum result left the UK deeply divided, and those divisions have got worse, not better, as the months have gone by. Moreover, there has been a surge in xenophobic and racist incidents as an unpleasant minority within the British public has felt emboldened by the Brexit vote to tell foreigners to “go home” or to stop speaking languages other than English. Such actions should be recognised as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly.

May RuddBut what I find even more disturbing is the way that the Conservative government has encouraged such attitudes — cheered on by the more obnoxious elements of the mainstream Press. The latest shocking revelations about the way some members of the so-called Windrush Generation and their children (immigrants who were invited to come to Britain after the Second World War, to help rebuild the country and run essential services) have had their right to remain questioned by the Home Office, leading to some losing their jobs or their homes and being denied free medical care, while others have been put in detention centres or been deported, after living here for half a century. It is now clear that much of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Theresa May, currently Prime Minister but previously Home Secretary. It was under her watch that the infamous vans went round telling “illegal” immigrants to go home, before they were withdrawn after a public outcry. And it is both Mrs May and the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd who have pursued a policy of promoting a “hostile environment” to people who allegedly should not be here.

Even some Labour Home Secretaries, such as the jovial Alan Johnson, used that terrible phrase sometimes. And it is hardly surprising that it has been embraced by those who dislike the multicultural reality of much of Britain today. But it is not only people of colour who are feeling the impact. Even EU citizens have been the brunt of attacks and nasty comments. No wonder some have left and that many others (some married to UK partners) are worried about their future. Mrs May and her ghastly government have failed to tackle this problem head on. Indeed, both by their words and their actions, they have encouraged it. That is why on 3 May those who live in an area holding elections use their vote to send a clear message to 10 Downing Street: this is not the Britain we believe in.

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Last Chance for EU Citizens?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th April, 2018

EU citizens register to voteToday, Tuesday 17 April, is the last chance for people to register to vote in the local elections on 3 May, if they are not already on the electoral roll. This is particularly important for citizens of EU countries other than the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, as it is unlikely that they will retain their voting rights after Brexit, so this may be the last opportunity they have to make their voice heard. The franchise in all UK elections is currently given to all legally resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens, but other EU nationals don’t have the right to vote in the national parliament elections. However, everyone will lose their vote for the European elections, which are due in June next year, as the UK will no longer have the right to send MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg. In London, which has all-out elections in all 32 boroughs, there are a large number of EU citizens; in some wards, one or two thousand, which means that their participation in next month’s elections could swing the result. That’s why a number of community NGOs, as well as several political parties, are urging them to register and to vote, to send a strong anti-Brexit message to 10 Downing Street (and to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter). A strong performance by anti-Brexit parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, will help boost the campaign for a People’s Vote on the final deal agreed between the UK government and the EU. And as public dissatisfaction over looming Brexit realities (as opposed to Brexit fantasies) grows, there is even an outside chance we could pull back from the brink.

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The People’s Vote Rally

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th April, 2018

13270BDE-5C74-40BF-8ED6-AF751E5A5521Over a thousand people gathered at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town this afternoon to call for a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal that Theresa May and her Brexiteer Ministers are already having problems negotiating. Actor Sir Patrick Stewart — who had been on the Marr Show earlier in the day, championing the Exit from Brexit cause — gave a stirring keynote address, after which a cross-party panel of MPs took up the baton: Caroline Lucas (Green), Layla Moran (LibDem), Chuka Umunna (Labour) and Anna Soubry (Conservative). There was a tiny demonstration of pro-Brexit supporters outside the venue, but they seemed overawed by the long queue of people waiting to get in, eagerly picking up stickers and flags to wave in the hall. The central argument of the campaign (which has consistently LibDem policy, incidentally) is that the British electorate deserves to have the chance to say yay or nay to whatever is on offer for Britain’s future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. It is clear that many of the Leave campaigns promises cannot be delivered. Indeed, as Anna Soubry stressed, no deal that will be on offer can be as good as what we enjoy as members of the EU. The rally followed nationwide street stalls and demonstrations around the country yesterday, and for those of us who believe that Brexit is an act of collective madness from which people should be given the opportunity to retreat, it is encouraging how many more people are getting board the cross-party movement for a People’s Vote — including many Leave voters who have since realised they were conned.

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Brexit Can Be Stopped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th March, 2018

Stop Brexit 1There is a glaring paradox at the heart of Britain’s Conservative government at the moment. On the one hand, the government is criticising Russia and accusing it of various kinds of interference in British life (including attempted murder) while on the other hand it is pursuing a course that will facilitate one of the Kremlin’s main aims, namely Brexit. It now seems highly likely that Russia campaigned anonymously through social media in favour of a Leave vote in 2016, and weakening the EU (which Britain’s departure will undoubtedly do) is a key Russian foreign policy goal. The Paradox I mentioned earlier is personified by the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who has castigated the Russians for “trying to conceal the needle of truth in a haystack of lies and obfuscation” (rather a good description of himself, incidentally) while being a prominent cheerleader for Brexit. However, the wheels are beginning to come off the Brexit bus as it becomes ever clearer that the British public were grossly misled about what Brexit would mean in practice. We were not told that it would make us poorer, that many of our rights as European citizens would be taken away, that we would be leaving the customs union as well as the single market, or that some sort of border controls might have to be introduced between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

75D3F4DB-40AC-4E69-931C-71CE29A3729C London and Brussels have come up with a transition deal, to see us through the period from March next year, when Britain is due to formally leave the EU, and the end of 2020. But it is clear from the details of the deal so far released that basically we will still have all the obligations of being an EU member while losing some of the benefits and having no say in EU deliberations. And it can only get worse after that. Because of Mrs May’s precipitous invoking of Article 50 there are now only 12 months before EU departure day, but if Brexit is going to be halted measures have to be taken long before that. October this year really would be the deadline for effective action, as Brussels wants to have a post-Brexit deal with Britain finalised by then, so it can be ratified by the other 27 member states. That means that we need a summer of discontent, of people taking to the streets to protest that we were sold a pup in the EU Referendum and that we want the chance to vote on the terms of the deal that has been negotiated — with an option to stay in the EU. Yes, Brexit can be stopped!

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