Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Boris Johnson’

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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Dangerous Escalation in the Gulf

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 3rd January, 2020

49A0EB41-E8AC-4F7A-9DF1-5A1214C2A9E4The US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Suleimani, reportedly on President Trump’s direct order, is a dangerous escalation of tensions in the Persian Gulf that could all to easily develop into all-out war. Donald Trump has been itching to hit out against Iran ever since he came to power and last year a direct US strike was called off at almost the last moment. Meanwhile the Americans have been ratcheting up sanctions against Tehran, and the Iran Nuclear Deal, in which major European states including Britain were instrumental, has been seriously undermined by a US withdrawal. Not that all the blame rests on American shoulders, of course. Despite Iranian denials, a drone and missile attach on Saudi oil installations last September was almost certainly inspired by Tehran. And Iranian special forces — including General Suleimani’s Al Quds brigade — have been active in fighting in Iraq and Syria, sometimes in conjunction with regional allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah. But there is a real danger that tit-for-tat retaliatory acts will spiral out of control, while all affected parties claim they are the victims of aggression. Britain and France, as permanent members of the UN Security Council, potentially have an important role to play in defusing the situation, though President Macron is seriously weakened by ongoing domestic unrest and Boris Johnson may be too close to Donald Trump to be seen as a mediator. Significantly, Washington did not warn London about its planned assassination strike, despite the fact that there are UK troops and civilians in Iraq and surrounding countries. All could be potential targets for reprisals if the British government comes out in support of the US action. Instead, it should listen to the wise words of caution from both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Tony Blair made the wrong call over Iraq in 2003 and that lesson should not be forgotten.

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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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The European Liberal Family (ALDE)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd November, 2019

12836C57-4082-48C4-B8C6-5EA2ED7AF71AFor most of last week I was in Athens, the cradle of democracy, for the ALDE Party Congress, which brought together dozens of Liberal parties from across Europe, not just the EU. I’ve been on the ALDE’s elected Council as a UK Liberal Democrats’ representative for many years and am currently standing for re-election to that role (all LibDem members can vote). As ever, one of the highlights of the Congress was the welcoming into membership of new parties, the details of which can be found on the ALDE website*. But inevitably a lot of the political discussion, especially outside the plenary sessions, was about Brexit. It was good to be able to confirm that the UK would not be leaving the EU on 31 October after all, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s do-or-die pledge. The British delegation worked hard to strengthen the resolve of our Continental counterparts (the Irish are well on board!) to support our efforts to Remain. When Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, declared in his plenary speech that he regretted the UK’s departure, he was rightly heckled by London MEP Irina von Wiese, “We’re not Leaving,”

5D6E7B66-4657-4764-A539-A4A387F6AD9BSubsequently, after the Congress, a 3-month extension to Article50 was granted by the EU27 and a general election was called in Britain for 12 December, in which Brexit will inevitably be a major issue. However, the ALDE Congress agenda was much broader than that and there was a range of interesting fringe meetings, including an event put on by (the worldwide) Liberal International on fighting Fake News and Alternative Facts.

ALDE itself is a very broad church, embracing social liberals, like the UK LibDems and D66 from the Netherlands, as well as more economically conservative parties, such as the German and Swiss FDPs. But there are many strongly shared values, not least on human rights (including LGBTi matters) and environmental protection. In the European Parliament, ALDE parties are together in the Renew Europe Group with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche from France, and with 108 MEPs — a sharp rise from 2014 — constitute the third largest grouping, with considerable influence. But one of the healthy things about the ALDE Congress is to remind us all that Europe is far wider than just the EU and that all of us have a shared European heritage, despite our glorious diversity.

*link: https://www.aldeparty.eu

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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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Brexit without the Bullshit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd September, 2019

Gavin EslerThe day after Britain’s EU Referendum in June 2016 the most common google search term in the UK reportedly was “What is the EU?” Of course, many of those asking the question would not have voted in the Referendum and just wanted to know what all the fuss was about when the shock result (52:48 in favour of leaving) was announced. But the searchers would also have included people who did vote without really knowing what the EU is or does, or what Britain gets out of membership. No recent British government, including that of Europhile Tony Blair, ever bothered to explain to the public why we were members of the EU, preferring to bash Brussels when anything unpopular was happening or claiming all the credit for themselves when there were positive developments. For ordinary citizens the positive aspects included the right to travel, live, work and retire in any of the other now 27 EU member states, an end to mobile phone roaming charges and the EHIC card, guaranteeing free health cover on a reciprocal basis throughout the EU, to mention but three.

Brexit without the BullshitAll those, and many more, are now at risk as Boris Johnson determinedly presses on with his plan to take Britain out of the EU on 31 October. Parliament may have succeeded in postponing such an exit — the next few weeks should clarify that situation — but meanwhile the country is bitterly divided between Leavers and Remainers. Those wishing to stay in the EU claim with justification that the Vote Leave side lied shamelessly during the Referendum campaign (for example, that the NHS would benefit to the tune of £350 million a week when we left or that Turkey was about to join the EU, meaning Turks could flood into the UK), but they also have to admit hat the Remain campaign was lousy. The dire warnings of the economic cost of leaving were branded Project Fear by the Leave side and backfired badly. Three years on, the Government’s own warnings about the implications of crashing out on 31 October without a deal with the EU (outlined in the Operation Yellowhammer report that 10 Downing Street tried to suppress) are pretty disturbing, notably with regard to the continuity of medicine and food supplies. And the political debate rages on within an increasingly polarised electorate.

Cue the arrival of a sober, sane analysis of what Brexit is all about and what the likely consequences will be, namely Gavin Esler’s handy paperback, Brexit without the Bullshit (Canbury Press, £8.99). Many readers will know Mr Esler from the time he presented BBC 2’s Newsnight, but he also stood (unsuccessfully) as the lead candidate in London for ChangeUK in this May’s European elections. So there is no surprise about where his sympathies lie. However, his account of the EU and matters relating to Brexit is factual and buttressed by interviews he carried out with people up and down the country. The style and tone remind me of the 1980 Brandt Report of the Independent Commission into International Development: outlining the challenges and the dangers in clear terms without indulging in polemic. It is a reasonable book for reasonable people and therefore will be welcomed by many Remainers as a useful tool to help frame their own arguments. But in the heated atmosphere of today I fear other people may not be in the mood to listen to clearly articulated, reasonable arguments but will prefer to stick to their emotion-based discourse of alternative facts and fake news.

 

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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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