Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Angela Merkel’

Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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Dump Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th May, 2017

G7 SummitThe body-language at the G7 Summit in Taormina this weekend has been absolutely fascinating. Emmanuel Macron made a beeline for Angela Merkel, and rightly so. This is now Europe’s political power couple and their joint determination to reform the European Union is something we should all warmly welcome. This makes it doubly tragic that Britain is walking away from the EU, seemingly as ungraciously as possible, with Theresa May at the helm. To think that the UK was due to take on the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on 1 July and that the British Prime Minister could then have been part of a triumvirate of leaders helping promote positive change. Instead, Mrs May has thrown away any chance of being taken seriously by her continental and Irish counterparts and hovers on the fringes of EU meetings like a sad aunt whom nobody loves.

Trump May Even at the G7 Summit she was at one moment pictured looking down in the dumps seated next to Donald Trump, who was pointedly ignoring her. So much for the special relationship! That relationship has anyway been soured as the British intelligence services have unilaterally stopped sharing sensitive information with the Americans as Trump’s White House is as leaky as a colander, as well as apparently having an open hotline to the Kremlin. So while Donald Trump stared into the distance, presumably already bored with the whole thing and tetchy because people were not fawning around him, Angela Merkel turned her cheek to be kissed by Canada’s Justin Trudeau (well, who wouldn’t?). It became ever more noticeable that there are two wallflowers in the G7 now: Trump and May, and Mrs May probably now rues the day she allowed the orange-hued POTUS to grab her hand so forcefully in the White House. Trump is in especially bad odour with everybody else in the G7 because he may well scupper the Paris climate agreement. Teasingly, he said he’d let the others know next week. This is the future of the planet he’s casually playing with! So, dear Americans, the ball is in your court. Most of Europe is saying to you imploringly: Dump Trump! Certainly don’t re-elect him in 2020. But if you can get rid of him through impeachment or whatever in the meantime, please do so. He’s not just a national embarrassment for you. He is globally toxic.

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Nothing Like a Murder before Bedtime

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 6th May, 2017

Nordic NoirThe German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, once confessed that her favourite television programme is Midsomer Murders. This raised a few eyebrows, but I completely understand. Those of us who have busy and sometimes stressful lives, especially if this involves lots of face-to-face contact with strangers, need to wind down from time to time. And there is nothing like a good murder mystery to lift one out of one’s daily concerns and send one to bed somehow relaxed. Psychologists would doubtless have an explanation for this, not necessarily sublimation. I used to like Midsomer Murders too, though these days I find it a bit too formulaic and occasionally archly twee. Much more my style are the sometimes extremely gruesome Nordic Noir series that BBC Channel 4 broadcasts on Saturday nights, especially the ones from Denmark. The acting is often superb, the stories imaginative and the settings spectacularly atmospheric. The fact that they are sub-titled, not dubbed into English, is a definite plus as far as I am concerned, as one really enters into the spirit of the programme. Actually, I don’t own a television (though I do have a TV licence), so I watch them on my desktop computer, whose screen is as big as many TVs. That means I can complete my evening’s work at my desk and just switch over to iPlayer, journalism and politics pushed to one side, as I settle down to the latest grisly murder drama. So, guys, what’s on tonight?

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Thank God for Angela Merkel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th March, 2017

Angela Merkel 1The photos of German Chancellor Angela Merkel with Donald Trump at the White House are priceless, her quizzical frown communicating more than any words, “What a chump!” And what a contrast with Theresa May, who rushed off to Washington in unseemly haste, ending up in an embarrassing hand-holding with the President. Not that that has done the British Prime Minister much good, as Mr Trump has since made clear that after Brexit the United States will be putting greater emphasis on Ireland as the anglophone doorway into the European Union. But the contrast between Frau Merkel and Mr Trump is at least as stark, as she can really claim to be the face of Western leadership, whereas he is a clown, so unaware of diplomatic procedures that he placed his designer daughter Ivanka next to Angela Merkel at the official bilateral talks. I am not of the same political family as Frau Merkel but as a true European I am glad she is where she is, offering a beacon of good sense in a world that otherwise seems to have gone mad.

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Four Months to Keep Britain IN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th February, 2016

Vote RemainLast night, just in time for the Ten O’Clock News, David Cameron got his deal with the 27 other EU member states which will allow him to return to London and campaign for Britain to remain a member of the European Union in the Referendum that will almost certainly now take place on 23 June. The Prime Minister played to the gallery of the UK’s tabloid Press by conducting his negotiations (at least in public) in a bullying, adversarial fashion that was redolent of the boorish behaviour of the House of Commons, rather than the more gentle manoeuvres of compromise favoured on the Continent. But his collocutors, including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, were diplomatically congratulatory when the marathon talks came to an end. Britain’s EU partners genuinely want us to remain in Europe, but the question now is whether the British public can be persuaded that this is in their best interests. At the AGM of London4Europe at Europe House last night the point was emphasized that the big challenge for the Remain campaign will be to motivate supporters actually to go out to vote. The other side is all revved up, ,though I have to say that the GO camp’s unveiling of George Galloway as their new secret weapon in the battle to leave is likely to repel more people than bring in new recruits. In the meantime, David Cameron has to try to keep a lid on his Cabinet Ministers who favour withdrawal as they will now feel free to campaign for OUT full steam. In my opinion, if they do that, thereby undermining the government’s policy, then he should bite the bullet and sack them..

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Germany Wants Britain in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th December, 2015

Cameron EU 1At some stage between now and the end of 2017 voters in Britain will be able to have their say on whether they wish the country to remain a member of the European Union or to leave. One had hoped that by now David Cameron would have announced the date, so the referendum campaign could begin in earnest, rather than the phony war that has been stuttering along recently. But as it is highly unlikely that he will have definite responses from the UK’s EU partners to his list of four demands by the end of this month, as Downing Street had hoped, things will doubtless drift for some time longer yet. Meanwhile, the other 27 member states are hoping that Mr Cameron will be minded to recommend a vote to remain and that the referendum will indeed go that way. Despite often frankly being a pain in the arse in EU fora, Britain is too important a member to be allowed just to disappear by default and the message to London from other European capitals has been “please stay!”

McAllisterThat is particularly the case in Berlin. As David McAllister MEP, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told a gathering of the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Germans believe the EU would be poorer and weaker without a British presence and will do almost anything (but not absolutely anything) to work with the British to try to find a compromise deal. However, there are red lines, not least of which is the Conservative government’s demand that the UK should be allowed to withhold benefits from EU migrants during their first four years of residence in the country. This would not only violate the principle of non-discrimination between workers from different EU member states but would also undermine the very principle of free movement of labour that is one of the cornerstones of the European single market. It is interesting to recall that much of the work in constructing that single market was done on the watch of British Conservative European Commissioner Lord Cockfield, who must be turning in his grave to see how it is now under assault (my observation, not Herr McAllister’s).

Any restrictions on EU migrants’ conditions and rights would of course have to be reciprocal, which would potentially hit the lives of many of the more than two million Brits living in other EU member states. Those who have lived outside Britain for less than 15 years and who have registered to vote in the UK will be able to vote in the referendum, which should boost the “remain” total. But the same is not the case for EU migrants who live in the UK, with the exceptions of the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese. As the outcome of the vote could have huge ramifications for the estimated 800,000 Poles in the UK, for example, that does seem unfair — especially as all legally resident Commonwealth citizens will be able to vote, even those from “new” Commonwealth states such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never even part of the old British Empire!

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Refugees and Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015

YEM panelSeveral recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.

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Responding to the Refugee and Migrant Crisis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th September, 2015

imageYesterday, along with tens of thousands of others, including a sizable Liberal Democrat contingent with leader Tim Farron, I took part in the London march in support of refugees. But in the evening I facilitated a discussion with the Lewisham local party on what can and should be done about the current refugee and migrant crisis. Britain has an historic responsibility regarding Iraq and Syria, not only because Tony Blair joined George W. Bush in ousting Saddam Hussein in 2003 and dismantling Iraq’s predominantly Sunni security fores but also because of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the secret Anglo-French deal of 1916 that carved up the Arab lands of the Ottoman Empire to serve the colonial interests of London and Paris. That is also why Britain should be at the forefront of pressing for a settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestine was part of the British Mandate in the Middle East.

imageHowever, in my presentation last night I emphasized how we need to work with our EU partners to respond to the current massive increase in refugees, including guaranteeing safe routes into Europe. David Cameron ought to have joined Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande in launching an EU strategy instead of sitting on the sidelines and only coming up with a still rather vague timetable for Britain’s taking Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East. I deplored the Conservative government’s ongoing closeness to the Saudi regime, which not only has an appalling human rights record but also is partly responsible for Islamist extremism and the growth of groups such as ISIS as Saudi has exported its own fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as expounded by Muhammed bin And Al Wahhab in the late 18th century. The Saudi intervention in Yemen, as well as devastating that already impoverished country is further destabiising the region. Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia, the US and the EU all need to be involved in some sort of peace conference, preferably sponsored by the United Nations, that could negotiate an end to the Syrian civil war. But given such developments as the rise of ISIS and the Kurds growing demand for an independent homeland I do believe we are witnessing the unravelling of the borders as set down by Sykes-Picot and that that is not necessarily a bad thing given their arbitrary nature.

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EU’s Green Light to Franco-German Refugee Plan

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 7th September, 2015

Merkel Hollanderefugees 1The European Commission has today endorsed a plan put forward by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Francois Hollande over the weekend in response to the current refugee and migrant crisis. Germany has agreed to take in 40,000 refugees and France 30,000. Smaller quotas have been allocated to several other richer European countries such as Austria. However, despite receiving the Commission’s imprimatur the Plan is still rejected by a number of formerly Communist central and eastern European member states, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. Poland has said it will take up to 2,000 refugees, though the Commission is asking the Poles to take in six times that many. You might be wondering where Britain is in all this. Well, as so often, it is outside. Britain, Ireland and Denmark have an opt-out from EU arrangements on refugees and asylum-seekers. Ireland, to its credit, has nonetheless offered to take in 600 asylum-seekers. Denmark, to its shame, has launched a campaign in ten different languages discouraging asylum-seekers from applying to settle in Denmark. Mr Cameron this afternoon brought moral dignity back to Britain’s tardy response by announcing that the UK will take in 20,000, though staggered over a long period. He is to be quietly congratulated for that, though he would have done himself and Britain far more credit if he had gone along to meet Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande to make this a trilateral Plan instead of a Franco-German one. Alas, Mr Cameron does not really “do” Europe, which is why under his watch the UK is becoming increasingly marginalised from the EU and seemingly ever nearer the exit door.

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Britain Must Do More for Middle East Refugees

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd September, 2015

Refugees are human beingsJF at Newham LibDemsThe British public has become more sensitised to the plight of refugees fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq with the publication today of pictures of two little boys who died  (along with their mother) when their father tried to take them from Turkey to Greece, en route to Canada, where his sister lives. But until this evening the Conservative government had failed to step up to the plate on the issue, unlike Germany and several other EU member states. However, Prime Minister David Cameron has now bowed to public and media pressure and agreed that the UK will take in several thousand refugees, over and above the few score that have been admitted already. This is a very welcome development.The British government has also been very generous in providing aid to refugees in countries neighbouring the conflict zones and Mr Cameron says it is important to focus on finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, in particular. That is true, but with the best will in the world, including organising an international peace conference involving Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the US and the EU, among others, as well as the warring parties, there is not going to be a solution in the short term. So Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande were right to call for an EU-wide plan, with quotas, to deal with the refugee emergency. It is a matter of regret that Britain was not in there at the time. But better late than never. At a meeting of Newham and Barking & Dagenham Liberal Democrats at View Tube in the Olympic Park this evening, I pointed out that Britain has an historic responsibility for some of the current troubles in the Middle East, from the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, by which Britain and France decided how they would divide the spoils after the inevitable collapse of the Ottoman Empire, to the 2003 Iraq War. But Britain can also give a moral lead; it was after all in London that the first meeting of the infant United Nations was held and British human rights lawyers were central to the formulation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Mr Cameron’s Conservatives are very wobbly on human rights, thinking it more important to cosy up to Saudi Arabia and President Sisi’s Egypt than to stand up for values. As I said this evening, this situation poses for Liberal Demorats the moral duty as well as the political opportunity to campaign hard on these issues, to be seen to be taking the lead, above all because that is what is right.

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