Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

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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When Things Fall Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2019

Boris Johnson Emperor's New ClothesBoris Johnson has been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for less than two months, but already the wheels are coming off his government’s carriage. He swept many Cabinet Ministers from their posts, replacing most of them with Brexiteer hardliners, and when some of those ousted had the temerity to vocalise their objection to a threatened “No Deal” Brexit on 31 October, he ordered the Conservative whip withdrawn from them. Actually, reports suggest that it is chief adviser Dominic Cummings — unelected and unaccountable — who has been calling the shots in 10 Downing Street since Boris Johnson moved in. Cummings master-minded the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and has become Johnson’s eminence grise. The purged include two former Chancellors (Finance Ministers) and the grandson of wartime premier Winston Churchill. He, Nicholas Soames, along with several others, has said he will not stand at the next general election, but others have indicated that they will stay on and fight, as Independents or One Nation Conservatives or whatever. Meanwhile, several MPs — from both the Conservatives and Labour — have defected to the centre-left Liberal Democrats, attracted by the party’s unequivocal anti-Brexit stance.

BRITAIN-EU-POLITICS-BREXIT Pro-EU demonstrations have taken place up and down the country on an almost daily basis, though yesterday in London about 200 pro-Brexit protesters were also out in Whitehall, clashing with police and chanting that they love Boris Johnson. This does not bode well for public security in the near future. I have long believed that civil disobedience (from left and right) is a real possibility if the current malaise continues. Interestingly, the pound sterling has risen as Boris Johnson’s woes have increased, but he himself looks rattled; he is known by his intimates to have a short fuse to his temper. Denied the chance of calling a snap general election, thanks to a combination of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which the Liberal Democrats insisted on in the 2010-2015 Coalition government and the solidarity of the opposition parties (and some Tory rebels) in not agreeing to an election before No Deal is legally off the table, Johnson is now in office but not in power. Amber Rudd is the latest Minister to resign not only from her job but also the Conservative whip. In desperation Boris Johnson may look for a lifeline to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, asking for an electoral pact, but the Brexit Party currently has no MPs (despite its significant number of MEPs) and such a pact would likely drive more Conservatives away from their party. Things have fallen apart so much and so quickly that Boris Johnson is increasingly looking like an Emperor with no clothes [see brilliant cartoon above by the inimitable Peter Brookes]. No wonder rumours swirl that he could be forced to resign. But the Brexit millstone will not go away, whoever is Prime Minister, probably until the matter is put to the British electorate once more for a final decision one way or the other.

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Stop the Coup!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st September, 2019

Stop the Coup 2Up and down Britain marches and rallies have been taking place to oppose Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s move to prorogue (i.e. suspend) Parliament by about five weeks from the second week of September, thus leaving precious little time for opponents of a No Deal Brexit to scupper his plans to take the United Kingdom out of the EU on 31 October. Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith has branded the protesters as a “Corbyn hate mob”, as the government’s rhetoric against those who believe Britain is better and safer within the EU becomes ever more extreme. Rather as on the anti-Brexit marches that have taken place over the past three years, the self-styled “Stop the Coup” protests have mainly been populated by the anxious educated middle classes and the young, orderly and cheerful, despite their anger at what is going on. Many are not members of any political party and only a minority are Corbynistas (enthusiastic supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn). These demonstrations have been nothing like the sometimes violent anti-Poll Tax riots of the Thatcher years. The police on duty, far from clashing with protesters, were often smiling and petting the numerous dogs. But there is an important difference between the current protests and the earlier anti-Brexit marches. The latter were big, one-off events, usually in the capital, whereas the new demos are all over the country — indeed, even in some foreign cities where there is a British migrant population or just holiday-makers determined the make their voices heard. Lots more are planned today and as next week could be crunch-time in Parliament for blocking No Deal or setting in motion a process to prolong Article 50 (the notice of Britain’s EU withdrawal). Meanwhile, Boris Johnson and his non-elected eminence grise, Dominic Cummings, have warned rebel Conservative MPs — including a significant number of former Cabinet Ministers — that they will not be allowed to stand as Conservatives at the next general election (which could be occur this autumn) if they oppose what the government is doing. Bravely, some, like David Gauke, former Justice Minister, have come out saying they will do what their conscience tells them is best for the country and not be cowed into silence.

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