Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Article 50’

The Brexit Wrecking Ball

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th February, 2019

B14E3D6B-1E23-4C31-B818-F231C26D827FThe UK airline Flybmi is going into administration, citing Brexit uncertainty as the reason; there is no guarantee they will be able to fly between European destinations if Britain leaves the EU on 29 March as scheduled. The company is just one of many that are closing or else shifting their operations to another member state of the European Union. According to experts’ figures released this week, Brexit is costing the UK £800million a week, and we haven’t even left yet. Note that this is nearly twice what Brexiteers claimed we would save through Brexit, the windfall supposedly being passed to the NHS. It seems inconceivable that the Conservative Party, as the traditional party of Business, should allow this economic vandalism to take place. But the sad truth is that the Tory party has been taken over by right-wing, xenophobic Brexiteer extremists and Prime Minister Theresa May is more interested in saving her own political skin than saving the country.

BFA67A8C-098E-4D73-828E-ADFA9A4762FABrexit is now showing its true colours: it is a wrecking ball that is smashing many of the economic gains of recent years, as well as dividing society. Just how bad those divisions are has been shown by the violent confrontations outside Parliament — yellow-vested Brexiteers assaulting police yesterday — and the fact that several female Remainer MPs have been advised to move home or else avoid travelling alone in order to stay safe. Meanwhile, Parliament has shown itself incapable of uniting behind one forward course of action and the Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has proved to be miserably inadequate and indecisive, thus failing to provide a true Opposition. No wonder a number of both Labour and Conservative MPs are thinking of resigning their party whip, with the Conservatives in thrall to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Reform Group and Labour to what Mike Gapes MP has called a Stalinist cult.

1EC0B2E1-3999-4261-A6E2-50B828249EFAOpinion polls have recently consistently shown that were there to be a referendum on whether to accept Mrs May’s “deal” or to stay in the EU, a majority would vote to remain. The People’s Vote campaign, backed by the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, is still keeping up the pressure and has called for a mass demonstration in London on 23 March, less than a week before D for Departure Day. One hopes that something significant may have happened before then — ideally extending Article 50 to allow for a People’s Vote. But it is important that people turn out in huge numbers on the March. Moreover, the organisers must ensure that EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU are properly represented, as they have more to lose personally than most of us.

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Brexit Briefing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2019

sarah ludford and william wallaceLast night I was at the Liberal Democrats’ national headquarters for a briefing on Brexit organised by Southwark LibDems and addressed by three of the key party spokespeople in the House of Lords, Dick Newby, William Wallace and Sarah Ludford. Though only the House of Commons has the necessary clout to stop Brexit or significantly alter Theresa May’s “deal”, the Lords have been keeping the whole sorry Brexit saga under intense scrutiny and have been able to draw on the expertise of members with considerable knowledge on the subject, from the architect of Article50, John Kerr, to the former European Commissioner, Chris Patten. Sarah said there had been a noticeable shift in the attitude of many Conservative peers as the full complexity of disentangling the UK from 45 years of economic integration with Europe has become clearer.

dick newbyThe LibDem Lords team work closely with the Party’s MPs, especially Tom Brake, who is the national Brexit spokesperson. Next Tuesday is going to be a very important moment as the Commons will vote on amendments and motions including one from Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles which would, if passed, recommend extending Article 50 till the end of the year. That would in principle give time for any new approach to the Brexit impasse — for example, backing for a Norway-style deal (in which the UK would remain in the single market but have no say in formulating EU rules) or organising a fresh referendum, with an option to Remain. The three peers felt that at the moment there is probably not a clear majority in the House of Commons for what has been dubbed a People’s Vote, but more MPs and even Cabinet Ministers are warming to the idea. If Article 50 were to be extended beyond 2 July — the opening of the new European Parliament — then of course Britain would probably have to organise European elections in May, which would be both a challenge and an opportunity. Dick Newby told me that he thought no real contingency plans for that are in place within government institutions, but watch this space.

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Britain All at Sea

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2019

britain all at seaOne of the most popular tropes of the colonial era was that Britain rules the waves. But for the country that once boasted that it had an empire on which the sun never set, another metaphor is more apt today: Britain is all at sea. Ever since the shock result of the EU Referendum in June 2016, the UK has been on a downward spiral in terms of international standing, while at the same time riven by increasingly bitter internal divisions. Prime Minister Theresa May called an unnecessary general election in 2017, saying she wanted a healthy mandate with which to negotiate with our 27 EU partners Britain’s orderly departure from the Union. Instead, she lost her parliamentary majority, but she decided to ignore the message of that and instead has ploughed on with her vision of Brexit. This she has continued to do single mindedly ever since, losing several Brexit Ministers along the way. The deal she ended up with pleases nobody, yet she is insisting that the choice now before the country is between that and a catastrophic No Deal crashing out of the EU on 29 March.

leave means leave Parliament blew a giant raspberry at her deal the other day, defeating it by an historic 230 votes, yet she continues to press on with it, like a stubborn ox. The Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile flaps around like an impotent mynah bird screeching “General election! General election!”, though there is no way the Conservatives and the Northern Irish DUP who prop them up are going to back one. And meanwhile the clock ticks on to Brexit departure day. Just how near to the deadline will it have to come before the Government blinks and either asks for an extension of Article 50 (or, preferably, rescinds it)? Meanwhile, the arch-Brexiteers have gone into full Blitz spirit, savouring the prospect of Britain standing alone, even if life will be more difficult. At a Leave Means Leave rally in central London last night, the more radical Leave supporters celebrated the notion of No Deal. Just show two fingers to the rest of the Europe, they argued,. And to Scotland and Northern Ireland (both of which voted Remain in 2016). And to Remainers. No wonder the rest of the world thinks Britain has gone completely mad, bobbing along in a leaking boat in the mid-Atlantic, singing Rule Britannia, as it risks sinks beneath the waves.

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No Room for Jingoism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 3rd April, 2017

Michael HowardJust four days after Article 50 was triggered by the Prime Minister, a former leader of the Conservative Party, Michael Howard, has declared cheerfully that Mrs May would be prepared to go to war to keep Gibraltar British, just as Margaret Thatcher did over the Falklands. It is hard to imagine a more provocative and inane statement at a time when the British government is preparing to enter negotiations with our current 27 EU partners to leave the European Union. In last year’s EU Referendum, the people of Gibraltar voted almost unanimously for the UK to stay in the Union, as they realise that their position is more secure vis-a-vis Spain that way. Leaving the EU will put them once more into a vulnerable position which could see them being blockaded by Spain as the frontier with Spain will become an EU external border. As if that were not bad enough, threatening possible military action over Gibraltar is a red rag to a bull to the fiercely proud Spanish. Moreover, it gives the impression that Britain has learnt nothing from its four decades of EU membership and how the EU has helped resolve contentious issues peacefully on a continent previously torn asunder by wars.

Theresa May 5What makes Lord Howard’s inept intervention even more serious, however, is that leading Conservatives, cheered on by UKIP and the Brexit Press, have been adopting an increasingly jingoistic tone more characteristic of the 19th century than of the 21st. There have been calls to efface every trace of the EU in Britain, including going back to old-fashioned blue UK passports. There have even been demands in some quarters to return to imperial measures, even though metrification pre-dated our entry into the EU. Foreigners are meanwhile increasingly coming under verbal and even physical attack from the more extreme elements in British society. No wonder thousands of EU nationals have already started leaving the country, even though Britain will remain a member of the EU for another two years. Far from standing up to this wave of unpleasant nationalism and jingoism, Theresa May is riding it, championing her red, white and blue Brexit and hammering on about Britain being different. She is increasingly delusional and dangerous, frankly, and if she and her Tory colleagues carry on in this belligerent and bigoted fashion she will alienate our closest friends, the other EU nations, and ensure that Brexit is an unmitigated disaster.

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My New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016

stop-brexit-smallI don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.

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Theresa May’s Nasty New Year Wish-List

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th December, 2016

theresa-may-smallFor Liberals, 2016 has been a grim year. The EU Referendum provided a narrow win for Leave and the dogs of hate and prejudice were thereby released. Over in America, Donald Trump became President-elect, thanks to that country’s arcane electoral system. Several EU member states started to question the principle of free movement following a huge influx of refugees and migrants. But one of the worst things of all has been the performance of Theresa May since she took office as UK Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation. Although she was a lukewarm Remainer in the Referendum campaign, she has embraced the agenda of UKIP and the rabid Tory Right Brexiteers in her pursuance of the goal of a “hard” Brexit — in other words, for seeing a situation in which Britain will leave both the European single market and the customs union, even though this will have a devastating effect on the UK economy, especially the financial sector. She has put our EU partners’ backs up by the arrogance of her negotiating strategy, for example demanding that Britain retain a strong influence in Europol, and she has set an unrealistically tight deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which will not leave sufficient time for the preparation of a nuanced negotiating position (for which the UK does not have sufficient qualified civil servants anyway). Even more disturbing is Mrs May’s apparent determination to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that British legal experts were instrumental in its formulation and only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the ECHR. Moreover, it’s not only our European allies whom Theresa May is alienating. After the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an important speech criticising Israel for its settlements policy in occupied Palestine, Mrs May told him off, like some third-rate headmistress. The depth of her incompetence and stupidity is being revealed on a daily basis, yet still she blunders on, convinced that she knows best. The irony is that is was Mrs May who years ago warned the Conservatives that they were seen as the Nasty Party. Well, if the Prime Minister’s 2017 wish list comes about then it is going to prove itself to be even nastier.

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