Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

UK Should Not Be a Hostile Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2018

Home Office billboardsIt’s hard to be optimistic about the state of Britain these days, not just because the country’s economic growth rate has sunk from the top of the OECD countries to the bottom as Brexit looms but also because of the tensions now evident in society. The EU Referendum result left the UK deeply divided, and those divisions have got worse, not better, as the months have gone by. Moreover, there has been a surge in xenophobic and racist incidents as an unpleasant minority within the British public has felt emboldened by the Brexit vote to tell foreigners to “go home” or to stop speaking languages other than English. Such actions should be recognised as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly.

May RuddBut what I find even more disturbing is the way that the Conservative government has encouraged such attitudes — cheered on by the more obnoxious elements of the mainstream Press. The latest shocking revelations about the way some members of the so-called Windrush Generation and their children (immigrants who were invited to come to Britain after the Second World War, to help rebuild the country and run essential services) have had their right to remain questioned by the Home Office, leading to some losing their jobs or their homes and being denied free medical care, while others have been put in detention centres or been deported, after living here for half a century. It is now clear that much of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Theresa May, currently Prime Minister but previously Home Secretary. It was under her watch that the infamous vans went round telling “illegal” immigrants to go home, before they were withdrawn after a public outcry. And it is both Mrs May and the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd who have pursued a policy of promoting a “hostile environment” to people who allegedly should not be here.

Even some Labour Home Secretaries, such as the jovial Alan Johnson, used that terrible phrase sometimes. And it is hardly surprising that it has been embraced by those who dislike the multicultural reality of much of Britain today. But it is not only people of colour who are feeling the impact. Even EU citizens have been the brunt of attacks and nasty comments. No wonder some have left and that many others (some married to UK partners) are worried about their future. Mrs May and her ghastly government have failed to tackle this problem head on. Indeed, both by their words and their actions, they have encouraged it. That is why on 3 May those who live in an area holding elections use their vote to send a clear message to 10 Downing Street: this is not the Britain we believe in.

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Last Chance for EU Citizens?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 17th April, 2018

EU citizens register to voteToday, Tuesday 17 April, is the last chance for people to register to vote in the local elections on 3 May, if they are not already on the electoral roll. This is particularly important for citizens of EU countries other than the UK, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta, as it is unlikely that they will retain their voting rights after Brexit, so this may be the last opportunity they have to make their voice heard. The franchise in all UK elections is currently given to all legally resident Commonwealth and Irish citizens, but other EU nationals don’t have the right to vote in the national parliament elections. However, everyone will lose their vote for the European elections, which are due in June next year, as the UK will no longer have the right to send MEPs to Brussels/Strasbourg. In London, which has all-out elections in all 32 boroughs, there are a large number of EU citizens; in some wards, one or two thousand, which means that their participation in next month’s elections could swing the result. That’s why a number of community NGOs, as well as several political parties, are urging them to register and to vote, to send a strong anti-Brexit message to 10 Downing Street (and to Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, for that matter). A strong performance by anti-Brexit parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, will help boost the campaign for a People’s Vote on the final deal agreed between the UK government and the EU. And as public dissatisfaction over looming Brexit realities (as opposed to Brexit fantasies) grows, there is even an outside chance we could pull back from the brink.

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BBC Wrong to Air “Rivers of Blood”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th April, 2018

50C742FC-9CF2-4D0C-9C21-7E1CA9809270I worked for BBC World Service for 20 years from 1983 and was proud to be part of an organisation that broadcast quality, objective news around the world. From Hanoi to Santiago de Chile, millions of poeople tuned in to hear the stories their own local media denied them. So it has been personally distressing to me to witness how the Corporation’s standards and news values have declined in recent years, notably since we have had Conservative Prime Ministers in 10 Downing Street. The BBC possibly swung the Leave victory in the 2016 EU Referendum, by giving undue airtime to Nigel Farage (on Question Time more often than any other person bar the presenter, David Dimbleby)  and by failing to challenge politicians who came out with outright lies on air. But today, the BBC is hitting rock bottom by broadcasting in its entirety Enich Powell’s notorious “Rivers of Blood” speech, which stoked racism and anti-immigrant sentiment in 1960s Britain. To claim that it is justifiable to broadcast the speech now because it is its 50th anniversary is disingenuous. There has already been a surge in xenophobic incidents in Britain since the Brexit vote and the BBC should not be surprised if after today there are more. The producers and managers concerned should hang their heads in shame.

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Full LibDem Slate for Tower Hamlets

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th April, 2018

THLDs 1Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats are running a full slate of borough council candidates for the election on 3rd May, for the first time since 2010 (when I was the parliamentary candidate for the constituency of Poplar & Limehouse). Elaine Bagshaw is our Mayoral candidate. This time I’m standing for Council in my home ward of Mile End, along with Richard Macmillan and Tabitha Potts. As in much of the country, the local party was hit badly by the fallout from the 2010-2015 Coalition government with the Conservatives (despite the fact that several positive LibDem policies were introduced during that time, including the pupil premium, a substantial rise in the personal tax allowance and same sex marriage). However, in common with most other London borough local parties, Tower Hamlets LibDems have experienced a great surge in members (now well over 700) and keen young activists. Many of these have been motivated by the shock of the 2016 EU Referendum result (for which London as a whole did not vote Leave, Tower Hamlets markedly so) and the linked fact that under the leadership of Vince Cable the LibDems have firmly established themselves as the party of ExitFromBrexit, in sharp contrast to Theresa May’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour. That is a message that is going down well on the doorstep, not least among the thousands of (non-UK) EU citizens — many of them married to or living with Brits — who are alarmed by the threats to their situation post March 2019. Of course, EU citizens can vote in local elections (but not in national ones, unless they are from Ireland, Cyprus or Malta) and their participation in this May’s vote could have a decisive effect on the outcome. Both for them, and for UK and Commonwealth citizens resident in Britain who are not yet on the electoral register, do please register by the deadline of 17 April. It’s a quick and easy process to do online through the government website:

https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIodGxhKKj2gIVir_tCh3SDAO1EAAYASAAEgLmV_D_BwE

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Mrs May’s Rose-tinted Vision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2018

Theresa MayThis lunchtime the Prime Minister delivered her long-awaited vision for Brexit Britain. The speech was beautifully crafted (congratulations to whoever actually wrote it), but my analysis of the content is less complimentary. As there have been conflicting statements about Brexit even among Cabinet Ministers — along a spectrum from Chancellor Philip Hammond to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — it was good to hear what Mrs May, supposedly speaking on behalf of the Government, actually envisages as the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Some basic principles were very clear, namely that the Government respects the result of the 2016 EU Referendum and therefore Britain is leaving the European Union. Similarly, it wishes to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom. But other things were not so clear-cut. However, in a nutshell, what Mrs May was calling for was a bespoke deal for Britain that would be quite different from any other trade arrangement the EU has — for example with Norway or Canada — but would seek to achieve the best possible results for both sides, while defending the security and prosperity of the UK. She said Britain would like to stay inside some EU agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency, and would therefore accept a degree of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, though only on a piecemeal basis. The City of London will be dismayed that the Prime Minister accepted that banks and financial institutions based in the UK will not enjoy passporting rights to the EU because it will leave the single market; one can almost hear the stampede out of London for Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin already as a result. Equally, Britain will not be part of the customs union (or even Jeremy Corbyn’s “a customs union”), but the Government would still hope there to be frictionless trade with the EU. This really is having cake and eating it territory and is likely to be met with a giant raspberry from Brussels. Then there is the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Mrs May said the Government does not want to see the return of a hard border with border controls, asking rhetorically whether this is something Brussels would wish to impose. That is disingenuous, as clearly an external border of the EU cannot be completely open to the movement of goods, people and services so some sort of compromise solution will be necessary unless Northern Ireland has some separate customs arrangement from the rest of the UK — which is anathema to the Conservatives’ political bedfellows, the DUP. Despite the fact that the Government’s own studies showed that UK economic growth will be hit whichever Brexit route the country follows, Mrs May still sees the post-Brexit future through rose-tinted spectacles, in a world in which Britain will enjoy new freedoms and enhanced prestige while retaining what it wants from current arrangements. Cherry-picking, in a phrase. What she did not specify, however, is how her vision — which included a number of practical alternatives on trade — would benefit the country. But that’s not surprising, because it can’t.

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Brexit Is Bad for Us: Official

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th January, 2018

May Juncker 1BuzzFeed News has done the British public a great service by publishing details of a leaked government assessment about the likely impact of Brexit on the British economy. The headline message is that in all three scenarios modelled by civil servants almost all sectors of the British economy and most of the UK regions will take a significant hit. In the case of “no deal” with the other 27 EU member states (as some Conservative right-wingers advocate) the analysts believe economic growth would be reduced by eight per cent over the next 15 years — this at a time when the Eurozone is enjoying a strong recovery. Even if Theresa May succeeds in getting a free trade agreement with the EU, as the Prime Minister hopes, the hit to growth is expected to be five per cent, according to the leaked document. The “least worst” scenario, which would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area (like Iceland and Norway) so that it can enjoy free access to the single market, would still mean a loss of growth of two per cent. But because freedom of movement of persons — as well as goods, service and capital –is part-and parcel of EEA membership, that is the option least likely to be accepted by both the Tory government and Labour’s Euroscpetic leadership. Not surprisingly, groups campaigning for the UK to remain in the EU, including the Liberal Democrats, have seized on BuzzFeed’s story as proof of what they have been arguing all along: that Brexit is damaging for Britain and should be abandoned (perhaps after a referendum). The timing of the BuzzFeed leak is significant, as the House of Lords is currently engaged in two days of concentrated debate on the so-called EU Withdrawal Bill. A sizable cohort of peers is anti-Brexit and their ranks may well be swelled by others alarmed at the details in the leaked report. It is worth underlining the fact that the report was commissioned from civil servants by the Government and its findings are conclusive. So we can with justification say: “Brexit is bad for us: official”!

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Grilling Vince Cable

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 29th January, 2018

Vince Cable David SelvesSir Vince Cable, Leader of the Liberal Democrats, this lunchtime faced a grilling at the London Grill Club, a group of journalists, broadcasters and businessmen who meet on a regular basis to put probing questions to prominent figures in British life. Other recent invitees have included Alex Salmond, Nigel Farage and Chuka Umunna. Vince dismissed a perhaps predictable early question about his age, arguing that age is just a number and that one is as old as one feels, before moving on to the more solid matter of the state of Britain’s democracy. This he described as being in serious trouble — dysfunctional, in a word. Theresa May appears to be increasingly weakened and there are renewed rumours of a plot among Tory MPs and even Cabinet Ministers to oust her, but Vince thought it unlikely that there would be a general election this year, reminding us of the five-year fixed term under the Parliament Act, unless there is a sufficient majority of MPs voting for it in the House of Commons — something the Conservatives would be unlikely to support. Besides, the government is totally bound up with Brexit, even it seems unable to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Vince refuted a charge from one person present that it was denying democracy to call for a “second referendum” on Brexit, arguing that this would in fact be a new referendum on the terms of the deal — assuming the government is able to put one together with Brussels — and that that was definitely democratic, as the electorate would decide, not MPs (as some have suggested would be a possible way of stopping Brexit). He had harsh words about Jeremy Corbyn for being frozen in a 1970s mindset of Socialism in One Country, according to which the EU is dismissed as a capitalist club that inhibits nationalisation and certain types of state intervention. But he was also highly critical of the way David Cameron and George Osborne handled the EU Referendum Campaign; Project Fear just did not resonate and actually backfired. Vince defended his own record in the Coalition Government of 2010-2015, saying he had got several good things through and stopped some bad things from happening. But he felt the British public had not really been ready for coalition politics when the situation arose, being too tightly wedded to tribal politics.

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Cities of London and Westminster

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th January, 2018

City of LondonTheresa May is hanging onto power with all the tenacity of a terrier refusing to let anyone take its bone away. But there is always a possibility that the Conservative Government — only in office because of an arrangement in the House of Commons with 10 Ulster Protestants from the Democratic Unionist Party — could fall some time this year, as the complexities of Brexit become clearer. If so, the Liberal Democrats are well-prepared, with prospective parliamentary candidates in place in most seats. In my case, I have been selected for the Cities of London and Westminster, which includes the City, London’s prime business and banking area, as well as the southern half of Westminster borough, including the Houses of Parliament and much of the West End.

Houses of ParliamentIt’s a good fit, as although I live just over the eastern boundary in Tower Hamlets, I spend much of my working week in the area. It’s also a bit of a homecoming, as the constituency was the one in which I was able to vote for the first time, in February 1974, when I lived in Pimlico. I had just started working at Reuters News Agency, so unsurprisingly was drafted to help with the media relations for the then PPC, Trevor Underwood. A highlight was going canvassing in Buckingham Palace — not the Queen, of course, as she cannot vote, but a number of her domestic staff, some of whom were very sympathetic. This time, as prospective candidate, I’ll be focussing on the financial and business communities in particular, as they are naturally concerned about the possible effects of Brexit. That also fits in well with my ongoing role as the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokesperson for London. Otherwise, I’ll be pitching in to help the Westminster local party get its first Councillors elected this May. It’s certainly about time!

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Truth in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th January, 2018

post-Truth politicsMany people are put off politics because they don’t trust what politicians say. Alas, that situation has got worse over the past year or so, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the chaotic Brexit discourse in the UK. Of course, with Trump one can never be sure whether he is deliberately lying or simply does not know the facts. What is certain, though, is that in this new era of post-Truth, if you don’t like the facts just make up your own, and trumpet them as if they are valid. In Britain, Nigel Farage and the arch-Brexiteers are masters of that black art, proclaiming “alternative facts” such as Turkey being about to join the EU and there being 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians just waiting to flood into the country. The Daily Express newspaper is a daily catalogue of lies and distortion, but the Daily Mail, the Sun and even the Daily Telegraph are often as bad. Even the Government twists the truth. This week Mrs May was boasting that the government had got rid of unfair credit card charges, whereas in fact this was as a result of EU action. The Conservatives regularly claim credit for things that have proved popular (such as the raised tax threshold and same-sex marriage) even though these were Liberal Democrat initiatives. Now the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has got in on the act. This morning, on Peston on Sunday, he repeated the false claim that in order to be in the European Single Market one has to be a member of the EU, even though he has been told Norway and Switzerland, for example, are evidence to the contrary. I used to have a lot of respect for Corbyn, having worked with him on human rights issues relating to the Palestinians and the Kurds. But he has squandered that respect by becoming a cheerleader for Mrs May’s Hard Brexit, despite the pro-EU  leabings of a majority of Labour Party members. Moreover, he has joined in the delivery of lies and half-truths to try to destroy Britain’s European vocation.

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My New Year’s Resolution

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st December, 2017

75D3F4DB-40AC-4E69-931C-71CE29A3729CUsually I do not make serious New Year’s resolutions — or even frivolous ones. But this year it’s different. The reason is that, in my opinion, 2018 will be the make-or-break year for Brexit. And my resolution is to work as hard as I can with all Remainers to break it, before Brexit breaks Britain. With the May government ruling out continued membership of the European single market and Customs Union the likely economic damage to Britain will be even worse than was highlighted during last year’s EU Referendum campaign. Already devaluation and inflation have taken their toll on people’s living standards but that is only the beginning, as the prospects of tariffs or other trading restrictions loom as we drift away from our major trading partner. But it’s not all about economics. The EU has led to higher standards across all member states, including the UK, in such matters as consumer safety and the cleanliness of beaches. EU collaboration and funds have boosted research, for the benefit of all. EU citizenship gives us freedom of movement throughout the Union, but Mrs May and her rabid Brexiteers are prepared to throw that away in their defence of an outdated nationalism. That nationalism is itself a paradox, as Brexit presents the greatest threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom since the 1920s. Will it be Northern Ireland that decides to bolt first, or Scotland? Both voted heavily for Remain last year. Meanwhile it is clear that sufficient people have changed their minds about Brexit as the realities become clearer, added to more younger people coming onto the electoral roll, for a new vote on Brexit to deliver a different result, which is why the hardline Brexiteers reject the idea of having one, even on the details of the final “deal” that the Government may or may not come up with. But in the meantime, Brexit may well destroy itself, through the sincere complexity of disentangling Britain from four decades of harmonisation with our European partners. The whole Brexit project may prove impossible and the May government might fall. I hope that happens. But tonight I shall hold aloft a glass at midnight, I hope in harmony with countless others, to toast my New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

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