Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

Brexit: Groping in the Dark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th September, 2016

img_1421it’s almost two months since the British electorate voted by a slim majority to leave the European Union, but even though the new Prime Minister Theresa May emphatically declared “Brexit means Brexit”, no-one seems any the wiser what Brexit will entail — least of all the three men who have been chosen to deliver it: David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. Last night, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, a panel that included Jacqueline Minor from the European Commission’s London Representation, Timmy Dooley from Ireland’s Fianna Fáil and Manfred Eisenbach from Germany’s FDP grappled with the possible outcomes. EU leaders have made clear that Britain cannot expect to enjoy access to the European Single Market unless it accepts freedom of movement, and it’s difficult to see how that circle can be squared. Outside of the EU the U.K. may therefore have to apply to join the World Trade Organsiation and abide by WTO rules, but that would mean it having to negotiate bilateral trade deals with most of the rest of the world, as well as with the EU. First, though, it would have to disentangle itself from EU membership. It took Greenland (technically part of Denmark) three years to withdraw and they only had to deal with fishing. The UK’s withdrawal would be infinitely more complicated and is likely to take much longer. Only after that could new trade deals be finalised, which could take many years as well as adversely hitting the UK economy. Everyone on last night’s panel agreed that one has to respect the outcome of the EU Referendum; one couldn’t just run it again, in the hope of getting a different outcome. But it would be perfectly feasible to put the new trade deal — whenever it is reached — to the vote, at which point people might realise Britain would be better off staying in the EU. That is indeed the line being premoted by the LibDem leader Tim Farron, who got a standing ovation at a packed rally earlier in the evening.

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No Brexit Deal Can Beat EU Membership

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th September, 2016

Simon FraserYesterday afternoon in the House of Commons, the Minister for Brexit, David Davis, failed to define what Brexit means, other than Britain’s leaving the European Union. But maybe that is not surprising. For as the former Head of the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser, told a packed gathering of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section that lunchtime, it would be foolish to speculate in detail what the outcome will be. As the then Prime Minister David Cameron warned in the run-up to June’s EU Referendum, Brexit is a leap in the dark. But Sir Simon was in no doubt that no Brexit deal can be as good as the situation Britain enjoys by being a member of the European Union. That is not just for economic reasons, he argued; Britain’s influence in the world is enhanced by being part of the EU.

Simon said that the new rules of the game for the British government are as follows: (1) the result of the referendum has to be accepted at face value, (2) it has to try to make Brexit work, (3) there needs to be a plan for what Brexit is, how it will happen, and when. But, he warned, “we are on a long journey to an unknown destination.” Although Theresa May appointed the triumvirate of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox to oversee Brexit, Simon believes the Prime Minister would be unwise to cede the power of negotiation to anyone else. There will be a Cabinet Committee, chaired by Mrs May. The Ministry for Brexit should rather become a sort of Secretariat for coordination. As he saw it, there will be two clear stages in the negotiations between the UK and the other 27 member states: (1) around Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, on how to unravel the UK from EU treaties, (2) around article 218, establishing a new relationship between Britain and the EU. In the meantime, the priority should be not deciding when Article 50 will be triggered but rather on formulating a proper strategy.

The government has begun consultations with business (many of whose leaders are alarmed by the prospect of Brexit, not least in the City), but Simon said it should reach out to other interest groups too. Meanwhile, the UK will probably seek to have a sui generis relationship with the EU, as none of the models being talked about (e.g. Norway, Switzerland) fits, though Britain can learn from studying them. “Brexiteers think Brexit is all about Britain,” Simon warned, “but in many ways the EU dimension is more complex. 27 states have to agree a negotiating position. And the European Parliament has to ratify the package they come up with.” The European Commission’s Brexit task force, under Michel Barnier, is only being set up on 1 October.

Unfortunately, “the UK ran out of negotiating goodwill on freedom of movement,” Simon said. “There is no single EU member that is sympathetic to what the UK is doing. For the past 20 years, political leadership in this country has been sub-standard, so will need to have a strong civil service involved — and more civil servants will be needed to cope with the massively complex issues around new trade deals. But I do not think there is any conceivable deal that would be better economically that what we have as a member of the EU.”

In that case, I would argue, when the details of the deal are available (2019 at the earliest?) should not Parliament — or indeed the British electorate — have the opportunity to say whether they still want Brexit to go ahead?

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The March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd September, 2016

March for Europe LibDems 1Many thousands of Britons in cities across the country today took part in a March for Europe, demonstrating our belief (despite the outcome of June’s referendum) that the UK is better off in the EU. Liberal Democrats were well represented. Theresa May’s trio of Brexit Ministers — Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox — have yet to make any credible proposal for what Brexit would look like. Some in the government hope Britain could somehow still be part of the European Single Market while others want to be completely outside that. To me, both positions are unrealistic. Why would the other 27 EU member states give us free access to the single market without our contributing to the EU budget and accepting free movement of labour? It just doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the go-it-aloners have failed to understand the implications of going into a situation where we would be operating under WTO rules. Theresa May is under great pressure from Ian Duncan Smith and other hardliners among the Brexiteers to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, but she is wisely not doing so. The special summit at Chequers the other day failed to come up with any coherent Brexit strategy and there is little likelihood one will be fashioned soon. So probably we will drift on in the curious limbo of remaining in the EU, but with a foot out of the door, for several years. An astonishing number of people who voted for Leave seem to believe we have actually already left, but we haven’t and we won’t do so for ages, maybe never at all. In the meantime, every time I post something pro-EU on twitter, such as about today’s March for Europe, Brexit trolls send me tweets, many of them offensive, accusing me of not respecting democracy. On the contrary, it is the democratic right of the millions of us who voted to stay in the EU to keep on expressing our opinion. To stifle us would be dictatorship, not democracy.

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The Trumpification of British Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 2nd June, 2016

When Donald Trump first started campaigning for the Republican nomination in the US presidential election few people in Britain took him seriously, with his bluster, balderdash and downright lies. But now he has the nomination in the bag he can’t be ignored, though I am pleased that Nicola Sturgeon and other politicians in the UK are going to give him the cold shoulder when he goes to Scotland the day after the EU Referendum. But for all those (including myself, until recently) who think “Someone like that could never get to the top in Britain”, beware. I now believe it is not impossible, thanks to what I have styled the Trumpification of British politics that has become glaringly obvious during the EU Referendum campaign. Boris Johnson, of course, is just the most egregious example, pandering to latent xenophobia as well as trotting out Euro-myths left, right and centre. It has been alarming to see how many senior Conservative politicians — including several Cabinet Ministers — have joined Nigel Farage in what was previously the loony corner, ramping up their poisonous anti-EU and anti-immigration rhetoric with each day that passes. Alas, even some in the REMAIN camp have been tempted down the road of exaggeration and hyperbole, devaluing British polical discourse in the process. In Boris’s case, there does seem to be a definite attempt to emulate Trump in manner and diction, as his ego and ambition inflate like a giant balloon. But when I mentioned Trumpification at a Federal Trust event on Brexit the other evening, a German academic said he though the main cause was Twitter and the way that politics is now often just the exchange of short, pithy, often unsubstantiated statements, coupld with aggressive character assassination. As a keen Twitter user, I find that a depressing thought, but he might well be right.

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INtogether Action Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th May, 2016

INtogether NewhamAcross Britain yesterday, hundreds of local Liberal Democrat parties organised street stalls promoting a Remain vote in the Euro-Referendum. I briefly manned the one outside Stratford Station in Newham and although inevitably many people rushed past without stopping, anxious to catch their train or to do their Saturday shopping, it was encouraging just how many people did engage, voluntarily approaching the stall (where we had about 10 activists from across the capital) to take literature and ask questions. Newham is an ethnically very diverse area, but there was just as much interest among Asian and Afro-Caribbean passers-by as among the whites. What was very striking, though, was the difference of attitude according to age. Many older white women in particular said “I’m voting OUT!”, whereas younger people were almost all in favour of Remain. The keenest of all were 15- and 16-year-olds, not least black girls, though of course they cannot vote. If Mr Cameron had thought about things more deeply he should have tried to get the franchise reduced to 16, as happened in Scotland’s independence referendum. After all, it is the young people whose future will be most affected by the decision to stay or go. Moreover, older people tend to vote more regularly than the young, that could skew the result. Doubtless that is what UKIP and Tory Outers like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove hope. Nonetheless, I feel that a narrow vote in favour of Remain is the most likely outcome, especially now that the Governor of the Bank of England and other authoritative non-politicians are weighing into the argument. Depressingly, the Brexit camp is still putting out lies, the two most common being that Britain pays £350 million into the EU every week and that the accounts of the Union have never been approved. That’s why it is so important to be out in the streets and knocking on doors putting the INtogether case.

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Barack Obama Is Right on EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd April, 2016

Obama EUThe US President, Barack Obama, has taken the opportunity of his short visit to Britain to underline why he believes it is in Britain’s interest — as well as that of the rest of the world — for the UK to remain in the European Union. He argues cogently that Britain is stronger IN and has more global influence. Most of British business, as well as international institutions such as the IMF, agree, but that has not stopped the advocates for Brexit attacking Barack Obama with all guns blazing. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, disgracefully but predictably, has called Obama the most anti-British President ever, but much more shameful have been the comments of the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not content with accusing the Americans of hypcosrisy in wanting Britain to be part of the EU, on a very dodgy use of analogy, BoJo has now declared that maybe the fact that Obama’s father originated from Kenya means he has an axe to grind with post-colonial Britain. This is barely concealed racism, as well as an unsavoury use of innuendo. Perhaps we should be not surprised, given the way that his putative successor, the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, has been been resorting to barely disguised Islamophobia in his attacks on Labour opponent Sadiq Khan. Boris Johnson seems to be inspired by the tousle-haired populist on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and is throwing his principles to the wind. Maybe he thinks that will give him a better chance of becoming Tory leader after Cameron retires, but he deserves to be proved wrong. Barack Obama is an infinitely greater politician  than BoJo and it is his voice the British public should listen to, not the self-serving porkies and insults of second-rate Trump Johnson.

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Cameron and the Belloc Principle

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th April, 2016

Cameron must goLondon’s Whitehall was blocked this afternoon by demonstrators calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to resign. There are many reasons why the public might want to see the back of him and the Conservative government, even though they were only voted in last May, but the cause of this particular rally was the PM’s delay in clarifying the degree to which he did or did not benefit from his late father’s offshore funds. He has certainly handled the matter badly, which is rather odd for someone with a PR background, but then it is often difficult to be entirely objective about oneself. But is this a resigning matter? It is not as if he has broken any law (so far as we know). I can understand why many people are angry that it seems that there is one set of rules and taxes for ordinary people and another for the rich, but in that case the solution is to address the issue of tax havens and offshore funds directly, rather than focussing on one individual. Besides, were David Cameron to go, would his replacement be any better? The Conservatives enjoy an overall majority in the House of Commons and there is unlikely to be a general election before 2020. Were Cameron to stand down, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are two names in the frame, both of which make me shudder, not least because both are in favour of Brexit. As far as I am concerned, the most important challenge facing Britain at the moment is ensuring that the UK stays in the EU, even if it means a weakened David Cameron at the helm. So, let us take note of the cautionary lesson in Hilaire Belloc’s poem “Jim”, and for the moment “always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”

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The London Mayoral TV Debate

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th April, 2016

London Mayoral debateITV and LBC are to be congratulated for staging an hour-long live debate this evening (Tuesday) between the five principle candidates in next month’s London Mayoral election: Sian Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat) and Peter Whittle (UKIP). The show’s two hosts were robust enough in their questioning to hold people’s attention and there was some opportunity for audience members to participate. Peter Whittle soon proved to be a one-trick pony, ‘curbing immigration’ being his answer to virtually everything. But the other four were better prepared and better matched. The main topics for discussion were security/counter-terrorism, housing and public transport. Sadiq Khan stood up firmly against claims of having some dodgy Islamist associates but was unable to persuade people that freezing London Underground fares was economically feasible. Zac Goldsmith was very suave and had the advantage of being able to boast of having the ear of the Conservative government between now and 2020, though earlier in the day he had been embarrassed by showing a rather sketchy knowledge of the London Underground system. However, Zac’s Achilles heel is that he is favour of Brexit, which is a rather loopy position for a prospective London Mayor to adopt (yes, I know, Boris Johnson QED). Sian Berry was cool and collected, and were it not for the fact that the Greens’ policies would put London’s vibrant economy into reverse gear, in many ways persuasive. Caroline Pidgeon, physically well-placed at the centre of the quintet on stage, had obviously rehearsed the points she wanted to get across, including a one hour bus ticket, half-price tube fares before 7.30am and a continuation of the Olumpics precept, but hypothecated for council house building — all good, clear campaigning issues. She rightly avoided endorsing any other candidate for LibDem voters’ second preference. Her task, as London Liberal Democrats have always been clear, is to get as high a LibDem city-wide vote as possible to ensure that she is not the only LibDem London Assembly member elected in May.

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Boris Hooks onto the Wrong Zip Wire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2016

BorisThe House of Commons is rarely as packed as it was yesterday afternoon for Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement on the EU Council, from which he had brought back a deal which he feel means Britons should vote to remain in the European Union. Dozens of MPs were left standing as the entertainment began. I use that word advisedly, because the Mother of All Parliaments becomes like a circus on such occasions, with backbenchers barracking and joking, emitting strange zoo-like noises and loud cries of Hear! Hear! as appropriate. Poor Jeremy Corbyn had a rough time of it responding to Mr Cameron’s statement. Even though the Labour leader was also calling for a Remain vote in the EU Referendum on 23 June the Tories were merciless in their ridiculing. One wag’s aside of “Who are you?” had the more boisterous of them rolling in the aisles. But for most people present, as well as for the unusually large audience watching on BBC Parliament channel, the star turn was always going to be the confrontation between Mr Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson, especially as Mr Johnson had only hours before lumbered off the fence he has sat on uncomfortably for some time regarding the Referendum to come out in favour of Leave. Mr Cameron made rather a good joke about people who are launching divorce proceedings rarely seeking to reaffirm their marriage vows — which both referred to the Leave side’s curious contention that if the UK left the EU it could always have another referendum to come back as well as making a cheeky swipe at Boris’s own amorous activities. As Boris stood up to speak there were loud cries of “Tuck your shirt in, Boris!” from his own side. Like Marmite, he is adored by some and disliked by others. Even his own father, the forme Conservative MEP Stanley Johnson, thinks Boris is wrong in opting for OUT. And although those in favour of Brexit are cooing about wooing Boris over to their camp I can’t help feeling that he has made he wrong decision, even for the purposes of his own political advancement, which is really the only thing he cares about. To use another apt image, he has attached himself to the wrong zip wire and is in grave danger of getting stuck up in the air as a result.

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Reporting Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th February, 2016

Boulton and EnglishOne of the most depressing things about Britain for native Europhiles such as myself is the way most of the mainstream media — especially newspapers — fuels antagonism to the European Union. But will that affect the outcome of the forthcoming IN/OUT Referendum? I suspect it will, though not necessarily to the extent of giving victory to the “LEAVE” camp. But it was useful to get a range of different perspectives today from academia as well as from Press and broadcasting colleagues at an excellent seminar at the British Academy: “Reporting Europe: The UK Media and the EU”. Sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council’s The UK in a Changing Europe Initiative, the day-long event brought in such figures as Mark Mardell of the BBC (keynote speaker), Adam Boulton from SKY, Anton La Guardia from the Economist and former Labour government Minister Charles Clarke with plenty of lively discussion with attendees. I hope the University of East Anglia/ESRC will publish the proceedings as one can hardly do justice to such a wealth of contributions. One valid point made was that when the first UK journalists (including me, for Reuters) covered the European institutions from 1973 onwards, they were almost all enthusiastic; John Palmer of the Guardian springs instantly to mind. But when Boris Johnson had his inventive (in every sense of the word) stint as Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph the pendulum swung the other way. The British press corps in Brussels has shrunk and is now mainly made up of people happy to provide knocking copy based on often dodgy “facts”. Of course, people tend to read newspapers that concord with their already held political opinions, so the Europhobia of the Daily Express or the Daily Mail may not actually convert anyone to the LEAVE side of the Referendum debate, though it is likely to reinforce their opinions and make them more likely to go out and vote. But the plain truth is that despite 43 years of EC/EU membership,most Britons are largely ignorant of what the EU is and what it does. No government in Westminster has had the courage to tell them. So people do rely on the media, particularly television, which is maybe less pernicious than some of the newspapers. This makes it all the more important that people who are in the REMAIN camp speak up and in particular get the message across through social media.

[In the photo: SKY’s Adam Boulton and Mark English from the European Commission’s London Representation]

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