Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

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temerity to vocalise their objection to a threatened “No Deal” Brexit on 31 October, he ordered the Conservative whip withdrawn from them.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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Boris Johnson’s Hiding to Nothing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd August, 2019

Boris Johnson and Angela MerkelThe UK Prime Minister has been calling on his German and French counterparts this past couple of days, in an attempt to persuade them to alter Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement from the EU, specifically by dropping the controversial Irish “backstop”. Both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron have been emphatic that they will do nothing that could undermine the integrity of the European single market or possibly endanger the Good Friday Agreement, which ushered in an era of relative calm in Northern Ireland and is seen as vital by most communities on the island of Ireland. Frau Merkel, rather in the guise of a secondary school teacher giving a lazy student a bit of a dressing down, gave Boris Johnson 30 days to devise some workable alternative that would enable frictionless trade and movement between the Irish Republic and the North, but as no-one has been able to come up with a potential solution over the past three years the prospect of that do not look good. However, Mr Johnson’s spin doctors will doubtless portray as a victory the fact that the German Chancellor had suggested some amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement is possible, though that frankly will be clutching at straws.

Boris Johnson and Emmanuel MacronFor his part, President Macron was in jovial mood, joking to Boris Johnson that he could always use a small table in the Elysée Palace as a footstool (which the clown then promptly did, creating a very unfortunate image). But M. Macron was adamant that there is no alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement and that Theresa May got the best deal for Britain that was available. He also twisted the knife in by saying that of course Britain could still revoke Article 50, and thus stay a member of the EU under its current terms, at any time up until leaving day. That date, Boris Johnson has said, will be 31 October, come hell or high water, but if his government persists with that line then a No Deal crash-out is highly likely. Even the British government’s own analyses predict that would be an economic disaster and special interest groups such as farmers are alarmed that their livelihoods could be almost instantly wiped out. Despite devoting huge sums of money into “preparing” for disruptions to food and medicines supplies in the case of No Deal the government cannot guarantee there will not be a crisis. O)r indeed civil unrest. The Prime Minister and the arch-Brexiteer Tory media are already blaming the EU for this looming catastrophe. But be in no doubt: the fault lies firmly at Boris Johnson’s door.

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Yes, I am a “Collaborator”!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th August, 2019

Brexit march March 2019In the latest grotesque twist in the Alice in Wonderland alternative reality of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain, the Prime Minister has denounced as “collaborators” those who wish to prevent a No Deal crash-out of the EU on 31 October. That presumably includes noble souls such as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the 70 MPs and members of the House of Lords who have taken legal steps to try to stop a No Deal Brexit (to be heard in the Courts during the first week of September) as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who has become a knight in shining armour defending British democracy. I suspect the choice of the word “collaborator” is the work of Dominic Cummings, the unelected demon “genius” at the heart of 10 Downing Street’s operations. And of course it comes hard on the heels of the dismissal of the independent judiciary as “traitors”, in the words of headline writers of some of Britain’s more disgusting Press, including the Daily Mail, the Sun and of course the Daily Telegraph, which until recently was paying Boris Johnson a reported quarter of a million pounds a year to spew out his own anti-EU poison. This is all part of a calculated campaign to whip up anger and possible violence among the arch-Brexiteer public (who are not a majority). No wonder some pro-Remain MPs have had to call  on police protection or even move home. As an arch-Remainer myself — who doesn’t want any sort of Brexit, let alone a No Deal Brexit, because of the harm this will do to the country — I believe we must stand up to this vilification and the slew of lies being put out by Number 10 and the Brexit camp. Moreover, I shall embrace warmly the pejoratively-intended term “collaborator” — rather as the Religious Society of Friends in the 17th century embraced the mocking word “Quaker” employed by their detractors. I am proud of being a Collaborator with our 27 fellow EU member states, who have been working together to make Europe and the world a better, safer and more prosperous place. I am proud to be a Collaborator with all those millions of people who have rallied to the anti-Brexit cause and who are increasingly organising themselves in a Remain Alliance. It is is the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees-Moggs of this world who are undermining Britain and its global standing. History will condemn them for it, but we must try to stop them first.

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With Friends Like John Bolton…

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th August, 2019

John Bolton 2The hawkish US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is in London for a couple of days, schmoozing Boris Johnson’s Brexiteer government. Though he is dangling the prospect of a significant US-UK trade deal after 31 October — whose terms will doubtless be more beneficial to Washington — his real motive for being here is to try to turn the screws on Britain to stand up against Iran. So far the UK has remained firm in its determination to try to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal, from which the United States withdrew, and is thus more closely aligned with its European partners, France and Germany, on this issue. But the failure of the Europeans to rally round in support of a British suggestion to put together a maritime presence to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz means that the Brits have had to join a US-led operation instead. John Bolton will be trying to persuade the Conservative government that it should go further and throw its whole weight behind the US strategy of exerting “maximum pressure” on Tehran, by strengthening sanctions. The Americans have even sanctioned the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been an important figure in trying to calm tensions between the Islamic Republic and the West. The last Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, established a good working relationship with Mr Zarif, but it is doubtful that his successor, Dominic Raab, will do the same. So the risk of Britain’s being dragged into a new military conflict in the Gulf (remember the invasion of Iraq in 2003?) is very real. Meanwhile, Mr Johnson (at the behest of special adviser Dominic Cummings, one wonders?) has instructed British diplomats to start withdrawing from joint meetings and initiatives with our EU partners even though we are still officially a member state. This will inevitably push us further into the arms of the Trump administration. No wonder Donald Trump — a self-declared Boris Johnson fan — and John Bolton look so happy. But frankly, with friends like John Bolton, who needs enemies?

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Brexit Is Now a Religious Cult

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th August, 2019

Brexit Deal No DealWhen the British electorate voted in an advisory referendum three years ago about whether they would prefer to remain in the European Union or leave, the Conservative government foolishly declared that it would implement the “decision”. In the event, the result was very close (approximately 52:48) and although no mature democracy had ever proceeded with such a drastic constitutional change on a slim simple majority, the Government then began the complex divorce proceedings from our 27 European partners, with the opposition Labour Party nodding approvingly from the sidelines. Theresa May, who had taken over as Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation and flight from frontline politics, oversaw the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement (designed to precede detailed plans for a future relationship between the UK and the EU), but that was then rejected by Parliament — three times. Mrs May subsequently also fell on her sword and Boris Johnson — who since childhood has aimed to be “World King” — took over, proclaiming that he will lead the country out of the EU on 31 October, “do or die”, deal or No Deal. Meanwhile, the pound sterling has tanked and the economy is heading for recession, yet warnings about the probably dire consequences of a No Deal have fallen on deaf ears.

Dominic Cummings 1In this era of post-Truth and alternative facts Hard Brexiteers just don’t want to listen to anything that does not chime with their own fantastic vision of a post-European Britain as a land of milk and honey, unicorns and fewer foreigners. And significant numbers of them are becoming increasingly strident in their antagonism towards people who don’t agree. Remainers are often denounced as traitors and in the most extreme cases, some supporters of the EU (including MPs) have received death threats. In the meantime, a significant part of the mainstream media has become evangelical in its championing of Brexit. Indeed, the whole Brexit phenomenon has taken on a quasi-religious tone. Fundamentalist, even. I am not saying everyone who voted Leave or who still/now believes Brexit is the right course of action is a fundamentalist, but a hard core are and they seem to have the upper hand. They are prepared to sacrifice not only other people’s well-being in their dogmatic propagation of their faith but also many aspects of our British democracy. Installing Dominic Cummings in a key position in 10 Downing Street was a deeply undemocratic and retrograde move and similarly Boris Johnson’s veiled threats of proroguing Parliament or otherwise bypassing MPs’ control as October 31 looms is deeply sinister. Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with a Cabinet of Hard Brexiteers who increasingly resemble a cult. Far from uniting the country as the Prime Minister brazenly claims he will do, he is leading it along a dangerous and divisive path. The fundamentalists now argue that No Deal is the logical outcome of the 2016 referendum, but that possibility absolutely was not on the ballot paper, which is why a new public vote is needed to see what people really want/ No wonder most of the outside world is aghast.

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The Times Takes Aim at Qatar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th August, 2019

The Times QatarIn an unusual move for a “quality” daily newspaper in the United Kingdom, The Times of London has called on the new Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to investigate the paper’s findings in its investigation into alleged Qatari sponsorship of Islamist fundamentalism and has argued that the British government should isolate Qatar if the tiny Gulf state chooses to be “in opposition to the West”. This very much echoes the tone of the Gang of Four Arab states (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt), which imposed sanctions on Qatar two years ago, listing a series of what they saw as offences, not least Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood. At the centre of The Times’s investigation, however, is the client list of the Al Rayan Bank, which has over the past 15 years established itself as the largest and most effective provider of shariah-compliant financial products in Britain. Headquartered in Birmingham, the bank has around 85,000 customers, but The Times highlights 15 — notably several Islamic charities, as well as the satellite television station Peace TV — as having links with terrorist organisations or of advocating Islamist ideals and aims which undermine British values and norms. Some of the charities mentioned have indeed had their accounts frozen or closed by other banks, including Lloyds and HSBC, and The Times argues that Al Rayan — which is 70% owned by Masraf Al Rayan, Qatar’s second largest bank, and 30% by the investment arm of the country’s sovereign wealth fund — should do the same.

Al Rayan BankNo-one is suggesting that Al Rayan Bank is itself in violation of banking regulations; it has always complied with FSA/Financial Conduct Authority guidelines. Rather, it is the nature of some of its account holders, which range from the Finsbury Park mosque (formerly the base of radical preacher Abu Hamza, now in jail in the United States) and charities with links to Hamas. Some of those are currently the subject of investigation by the Charity Commissioners, just as Peace TV — which is a platform for extremist preacher Zakir Naik, who is banned from Britain — has been referred to Ofcom. But as I said in a couple of TV interviews for Sky News Arabia  this afternoon, by urging the British government to get directly involved, The Times is upping the ante considerably. The timing cannot be coincidental, as clearly the advent of Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Priti Patel could be a game changer. But would Britain really go on the diplomatic offensive against Qatar, as the Gang of Four and their allies would like? Qatar is a huge investor in this country, owning flagship properties such as the Shard, Harrods and the Savoy Hotel — even a stake in British Airways. So far London has remained relatively neutral in the inter-Arab spat around the Gulf, but could that be about to change? What is certain is that not only will Al Rayan Bank be pleading its innocence in the affair but we can expect some heated ripostes from Doha as well.

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Boris Bounces but LibDem Trounces

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd August, 2019

Brecon by-electionIn the 10 days or so since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, the Conservatives have risen in the opinion polls. This is almost entirely because some traditional Tory voters who had defected to the Brexit Party have drifted back because of Johnson’s Brexit pledge — though Jeremy Corbyn’s terminal uselessness as Leader of the Labour Opposition has also played a part. Nonetheless, yesterday the Liberal Democrats were able to seize the parliamentary seat of Brecon and Radnorshire in a by-election, with the Welsh LibDem Leader, Jane Dodds, achieving a majority of over 1,000. Inevitably some Conservatives are now wondering whether it was wise to readopt Chris Davies as their candidate in the by-election, as he had been the subject of a successful recall petition  because of dodgy expense returns. But the real problem for Boris Johnson is that his technical parliamentary majority (even with DUP support) is now down to just one. And several pro-Remain Conservative MPs who are horrified by the prospect of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October, as the Prime Minister has threatened, are poised to defect or else maybe even to bring the government down. Today the psephological guru, Sir John Curtice, was predicting that the LibDems could win as many as 50 seats if there were a snap general election this autumn or next spring, which would bring the party back to the sort of level it was at under Charles Kennedy and Nick Clegg. A heady prospect for new Leader, Jo Swinson. It will be interesting to watch the national opinion polls following the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. Those of us with long enough political memories will recall that on several occasions in the past by-election triumphs led to a period of resurgence for the LibDems (and previously, the Liberals). So whereas Boris may indeed be enjoying a bounce in the polls, the Liberal Democrats could end up bouncing higher, especially if the Remain Alliance that worked so well in Brecon is maintained.

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It’s Jo!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2019

JF Jo Swinson Ed DaveyThe result of the Liberal Democrats leadership election was announced this afternoon, with Jo Swinson notching up a clear win over Sir Ed Davey. That is no reflection on Ed’s talents and experience, nor indeed on his selection campaign, which was robust, engaging and at times masterful. But clearly many of the 72% of LibDem members who voted in the selection (a pretty impressive turnout) felt that as a relatively young woman who has already proved her mettle as Deputy Leader Jo has the qualities and the image that are needed to take the party forward in these excitingly volatile times. That was certainly my logic in voting for her (the first time I have actually backed a winning candidate in a Liberal/Liberal Democrat leadership contest, from the days of John Pardoe onward!) She will be refreshingly different from either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson, if, as expected, Johnson cruises to victory in the Conservative leadership contest tomorrow. Moreover, she will be able to slap down Boris’s casual, careless sexism, racism and other unpleasant traits that he tries to pass off as jokes. That sort of apologia might work over toasting crumpets in one’s study at Eton but it won’t wash on the floor of the House of Commons if he becomes Prime Minister. I say “if”, because we can expect more resignations by current government ministers in the wake of Sir Alan Duncan’s today. And some Tory MPs might even cross the floor and join the LibDems, destroying the Government’s wafer-thin majority in a flash. Several Cabinet Ministers, most notably the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, have made clear that they would be ready to pull the rug from under Boris rather than allow him to take Britain over the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October. And that is before the Conservatives lose the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on 1 August, as now seems almost inevitable. So, Jo Swinson is taking over the LibDems at an extraordinary moment, able to build on the healthy legacy of Sir Vince Cable, to deploy her foreign policy experience (all the more important at a time of crisis in the Persian Gulf) and to rally a cross-party legion of sensible politician and voters, most of whom are not only pro-EU but anti-Boris.

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Facepalm Sunday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th April, 2019

E310484E-4010-467E-A40B-E1A3E3527BFBI’ve never been into the whole Easter thing, but having lived in Belgium for eight years and subsequently spent a lot of time in Brazil — both countries deeply steeped in Catholicism, despite a significant Protestant and alternative presence — I could hardly ignore the pomp, ceremony and religious fervour of Holy Week, beginning today with Palm Sunday. Of course, to get the real, majestic experience one needs to be in Spain or Italy, but anyway, you get my gist.

This year, however, it is not Palm Sunday that is impressing on my conscience but Facepalm Sunday, as British politics descends into previously unplumbed depths, at least in modern memory, leaving me aghast at the incompetence and divisiveness of it all.  MPs have gone off on their Easter hols, though the most conscientious of them will of course use the time away from Westminster to work hard in their constituencies. Much good may it do them, poor things, as their reputation has sunk below that of my fellow journalists. Please pray for us all.

1D4B2A3B-2C5E-4EE3-BADB-0625A4DB8CFFBut what is striking, and shocking, is that the Brexit process has turned into a total dog’s breakfast, leaving many people on whichever side of the Remain:Leave divide they may be, frustrated and angry. Total nincompoops have become TV stars, freely spouting their lies (not least on the BBC), while Brexiteer figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have risen from the political dead. The European elections, now almost inevitably to be held on 23 May, will take place in an unprecedented climate of political chaos, with opinion polls suggesting that the Conservatives are rapidly disappearing down the plug hole. I shall not weep. Theresa May battles on, yet on the global stage she, and Britain, have become figures of ridicule and, worse, pity.

I have argued before that Britain should take the European elections seriously, to indicate that we have not lost our collective marbles and that in principle we would like a People’s Vote to settle once and for all our European destiny. May we use Palm Sunday to reflect on what lies before us — and to remind ourselves that Holy Week  doesn’t end well — until the promise of a new beginning.

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