Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto Launch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th May, 2017

Tim Farron manifesto launchDespite the dismal rain outside, the atmosphere in the Oval Space in Bethnal Green was electric this evening for the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto launch — reminiscent of the very best LibDem autumn conference events, packed with activists and complete with a well-stocked bar. After a warm-up act (and fundraising pitch) by St. Albans candidate Daisy Cooper, Tim Farron hit the stage to give a barnstorming speech which can have left no-one –including those watching via the numerous TV channels filming — where the party’s heart lies. Right at the fore of the manifesto and in Tim’s speech was the restated belief that Britain is better off inside the EU. No ifs, no buts. And, not surprisingly, Theresa May got a roasting for adopting not only UKIP’s language but their policies too. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for instructing his MPs and peers to embrace Brexit and vote for Article50 to be invoked.

Tim Farron’s line could not have been clearer: although the party that accepts that a (narrow) majority voted to leave the European Union in last June’s EU referendum, the vote indicated a departure but not a direction. Did all those who voted Leave really endorse leaving the European single market with all the likely economic shock that that will deliver? Palpably not. So, say the LibDems, when Mrs May has a deal hammered out with our current 27 EU partners that ought to be put to the people in a referendum, not just to politicians in Parliament. And, yes, one option in that fresh vote would be to stay in the EU is voters thought that was preferable. Many people are a bit punch-drunk from votes at the moment, but will that be the case in 12 or 18 months time, when the effects of looming Brexit really bite? Already inflation has increased ninefold, largely as a result in the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling, and the economy has stopped growing. Let;s see. But certainly among the hundreds of LibDem candidates and supporters at the manifesto launch this evening, Tim Farron’s clear message could not have been sweeter.

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So What Will Happen after Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th May, 2017

Theresa May 9Theresa May’s UKIPTory government is ploughing on with Brexit, giving every impression that she expects to walk away after two years of talks with our current 27 EU partners without a deal. The one realistic part of her scenario is that Britain won’t get a worthwhile deal if the Prime Minister and her unsavoury trio of Brexit Ministers insist that they want to have their cake and eat it, i.e. leave the European single market and end freedom of movement and yet somehow still enjoy all the benefits of EU membership. Impossible, as any rational human being must realise. You are either a member of a Club or not, paying your subs and obeying the rules, or the best you can hope for otherwise is some sort of reciprocal arrangement that won’t be anything like as good as the real thing. During the EU referendum, the Brexiteers attacked the Remainers for what they called “Project Fear”, in other words the projections that experts (much derided by those on the Leave side who prefer emotions to facts) that the British economy would take a massive hit if we do have a hard Brexit. We are still in the EU at the moment and are therefore still benefiting from our open trading relationship within the biggest trading bloc in the world. Yet already the shocks are being felt just because the government is pressing ahead with Brexit, shamefully cheered on by the supposed Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who has declared that “Brexit is settled”. No it isn’t! And because there are still more than 18 months left before Britain goes over the cliff edge there is still time to soften the blows or, if the British electorate wants it, even to stop Brexit in its tracks.

UK inflationIn the meantime, inflation has shot up from 0.3% to 2.7%, almost entirely because of the fall in the value of the pound sterling and the associated increase in import costs. That is hitting people on low incomes, even those in employment whose modest wages are not now keeping up with inflation. Moreover, leading financial services firms and other companies have started expanding their premises in cities such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt as they prepare to move thousands of their employees out of London once their ability to operate freely in the EU from London is curtailed. And it’s not just people on generous City salaries who will leave or lose their positions. Jobs will soon go in various sectors of manufacturing industry as well as the hospitality industry and services. I accept that a slim majority of those who voted in last June’s EU Referendum indicated that they would prefer Britain to leave the EU. But did all of them really realise what the sort of hard Brexit Mrs May and her colleagues are pursuing would mean? I don’t believe so. And I can’t help feeling that the reason the Prime Minister called this snap election is not so much because she think Labour is on the ropes, but rather because she wants to get the election out of the way before the Brexit shit really hits the fan.

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Yes, Animals Have a Place in Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 12th May, 2017

cowsTheresa May’s snap general election is already being described by the political pundits as unlike any other. That’s partly because she has called it for one (official) reason: to get a mandate to be tough in Britain’s Brexit negotiations with our 27 EU partners. Unofficially, it’s clear the Conservatives believe that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is in such disarray that they are can be easily vanquished at the polls. But even if some aspects of this election campaign are unusual in other ways it is very familiar. Already, for example, candidates are being bombarded with emails (in the old days, they used to be letters) from constituents lobbying them on issues from A to Z. It’s all part of the democratic process and I always make the effort to respond to them all. That was quite a task when I stood for the European Parliament and the whole of London was my electorate. Anyway, one of the first organised lobbying groups off the mark in Dagenham & Rainham in this election are people concerned with the treatment of animals, whether relating to farming techniques, so-called blood sports, vivisection or cruelty to domestic animals. Some commentators may feel that elections should be 100% about people, but I share the view that it is right that animal welfare is on the agenda. If we can’t treat other creatures properly then it is a poor reflection on our humanity. The major concern of the voters who have been in touch is that animal welfare in this country is covered by over 40 EU laws and they fear that once Britain leaves the European Union some of those laws may be watered down or abolished. They’re right to raise that anxiety, and the next Parliament should ensure such weakening of animal protection does not happen. In the meantime, however, Mrs May’s Conservative government has floated the idea — not for the first time — of lifting the ban on fox hunting. That pitch may be popular among traditionalists in the Tory shires, but it would go down in the cities like the proverbial lead balloon.

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Protect Our EU Citizenship Rights

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 11th May, 2017

Retaining European CitizenshipThis morning I was contacted by a lady living in France who is registered to vote in the UK constituency of Dagenham & Rainham where I am standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate in next month’s general election. I suspect she will be the first of many, as hundreds of thousands of British expats on the Continent are concerned about what the future holds for them once Brexit happens. One of my sisters and her husband are among that number, having retired to Spain some years ago but now left wondering if their rights (including access to health care) that have been guaranteed under our common EU citizenship will continue. Similarly, a significant proportion of the teachers I work with at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) are nationals of other EU member states and they are understandably worried about their future status. It is unforgivable of Theresa May’s Conservative government to present these people on both sides of the Channel as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. Key negotiators on the EU27 side, such as Guy Verhofstadt on behalf of the European Parliament, have indicated their willingness to find a formula that would allow those Brits who wished to to preserve elements of EU citizenship and certainly they are keen that the position of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens on the Continent is clarified quickly. The constituent in France who contacted me asked for a pledge of support for two specific things, which I was delighted to be able to give, namely:

  1. the lifetime continuation of UK and EU citizens’ rights, as proposed in the EU negotiating directive*; and
  2. the ring-fencing of the agreement on these rights from the rest of the negotiations

These demands strike me as not only reasonable but essentially humane. The result of last year’s EU Referendum has been unsettling in many ways, from the fall in the value of the pound sterling to the recent slowing of UK industrial growth. But the most critical thing to get settled first is to put the minds at rest of those people who are British citizens living in other EU member states and of EU citizens based here. Mrs May and your three Brexit Minsters: can you demonstrate that you actually care?

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On the Theme of Islands

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th May, 2017

Europe Day concert 2017The annual Europe Day concert in St. John’s Smith Square is always an emotional occasion for me. Although I abandoned any ambition for a musical career in my early teens, music still has the ability to move me more than any other art form. So strong is its influence that I cannot write with music on in the background, as it distracts my mind from the task at hand. But it’s not just the music that stirs my emotions on Europe Day; my belief in the European project is unshaken, while arguing that the EU should certainly reform — as many political leaders on the continent, such as the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs supremo, Federica Mogherini, now concede. And yes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy does sometimes bring tears to my eyes. How brave Emmanuel Macron was to use that European anthem for his victory celebration in the Louvre on Sunday, rather than the Marseillaise! Would even Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron dare to do that in the UK? I have attended several Europe Day concerts and for me tonight’s programme beat all previous offerings. The Maltese presidency chose a subject thread for the evening: Music on the Theme of Islands — underlining not only Malta’s maritime history but also the situation of the British Isles, too. There was a brilliant selection of both orchestral and choral music, from Sibelius’s The Tempest to Martinú’s Ariane. Of course, there was an added edge to this evening’s concert as everyone was aware that it might be the penultimate occasion of its kind, assuming Britain leaves the EU by the end of March 2019. In common with many people in the church this evening, I find that a matter of immense sadness. But while I would prefer to stop Brexit in its tracks it is absolutely vital that a Hard Brexit is avoided and that the UK maintains as close a connection with the EU27 as possible.

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Weak and Unstable: Britain’s Brexit Government

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th May, 2017

Theresa May 8Theresa May and her camp followers have adopted with gusto the rather tiresome mantra “Strong and Stable”. I wonder if they realise that it was Adolf Hitler who brought that phrase to prominence, in Mein Kampf. Now, I am not suggesting Mrs May is a neo-Nazi, like Marine Le Pen. But apart from the fact that she scores nuls points for originality in political slogans, the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable” catchphrase repeated ad nauseam is an egregious example of alternative facts, an Orwellian distortion of words that chimes with the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. And, of course, in this case it is all about Brexit. What the Conservative government is doing, having co-opted UKIP’s agenda, is trying to hoodwink the British public into agreeing that it is providing decisive leadership in Britain’s best interests — whereas the reality is that it is doing precisely the opposite. The cack-handedness of their whole approach since the EU Referendum last June has illustrated their incompetence. They hadn’t planned for a Leave vote, and once it happened they floundered around, with chief ditherer and fantasist Boris Johnson despatched to the Foreign Office to try to explain things to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, with the possible exception of Putin’s Russia and other enemies of liberal democracy plus Donald Trump, is aghast. And instead of dealing sensibly with our 27 EU partners in the prolonged negotiations that are about to start, Mrs May has indicated that she intends to try to brow-beat them, cheered on by rabid Brexit media such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. No-wonder several of her key Downing Street advisors have resigned, as even true blue apparatchiks know that you do not succeed in negotiations if you insult the other side to their face. The sad truth is that the whole Brexit thing is going to go horribly wrong, with serious damage to the British economy and not least to the poorer parts of the British population — and Mrs May is going to blame it all on Brussels, as she wraps herself Boudica-like in the Union Jack. But she should remember that Boudica lost, as she will lose. “Strong and stable” May is a myth. She is weak and unstable, but the only way to stop her is to vote her out of office.

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Mrs May’s Other Galaxy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd May, 2017

May JunckerAll of us who have had a finger on the European pulse over the past 40 years have sensed that Britain’s Conservative government is on another planet when it talks about the possibility of the country having at least as good a deal with our current EU partners after Brexit as we have now as a full member of the EU. This literally defies reason. But I was dismayed by the reaction (as reported in leaks to the media) from European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, after his cosy chat over dinner at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Brexit Secretary, David Davis, to learn that he thinks Mrs May is actually in a different galaxy. This is all too credible, alas. The UKIP-Tory Brexit is the ultimate omni-shambles, the blind leading the blind; at least they recognsie that Boris Johnson is so bonkers and uncollegiate that he needs to be side-lined. But that is not enough. It would appear that Mrs May, ignorant and stubborn (always a dangerous combination in politics), is determined to lead the country over the precipice of a hard Brexit. With the arrogant attitude that she and the three Brexiteer Ministers have displayed there is not a cat in hell’s chance of a decent Brexit deal being reached before the two-year period from invoking Article 50 expires in March 2019. And that means a hard crash, which will hit the poor first, as well as EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other EU member states. But Mrs May and her Brexit Taliban crew don’t care. They will still have their salaries and pensions and spousal or family money, while the poor bloody infantry sinks into poverty and unemployment. What is particularly infuriating is that Her Majesty’s official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is facilitating Brexit, rather than doing their job in pointing out the madness of it all (even though some Labour MPs, and indeed some Tory MPs, know that this is crazy). So it is left to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens and the nationalist forces in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to sound the alarm. But will the population hear it, given the flood of anti-European, sometimes xenophobic, even neo-fascistic bile being poured out through the country’s popular Press? Brave souls like the philosopher A.C. Grayling keep up the good fight from outside mainstream politics, but all of us who care about not just the future of the EU but the healthy future of the United Kingdom should also stand up and shout, too. And, yes, that means you young people on social media, many of whom never quite got round to voting in last year;s EU Referendum. It’s our future, but especially your future. And Mrs May needs to be sent off into orbit in her own galaxy while we bring Britain back down to earth.

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Proud to be a Saboteur

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th April, 2017

JFIn the weeks since Theresa May invoked Article 50 and Britain started heading down the slippery slope to exit from the European Union, whole swaths of the Tory Brexit Press has gone into hysterical overdrive in its futile attempt to try to silence those of us who believe passionately that we are better off inside the EU. On social media, too, the Brexiteers have been ridiculing “Remoaners”, accusing us of being against democracy, whereas we Liberal Democrats, in particular, are the champions of democracy by insisting that not only Parliament but the British electorate should have the chance of saying yes or no to whatever deal with the EU27 Theresa May and her team come up with in 2019. But it’s the intolerant nature of much of the right-wing media comment that is disturbing, at times verging on the fascistic. The High Court judges who gave a ruling that displeased the Brexiteers were denounced as traitors and enemies of the people, whereas in reality the independent judiciary is an essential safeguard of our democratic society. Gina Miller, who has courageously used the courts to challenge blind Brexit, has been vilified and threatened. The latest epithet coined by the Brexit Press to describe Remainers is “saboteurs”, as the Daily Mail, Express and others parrot the line that we are trying to thwart the will of the British people. I am not convinced that a majority of the electorate actually wants the sort of hard Brexit that Mrs May is pursuing — which entails leaving the European single market and customs union, as well as many European agencies. But just as early members of the Religious Society of Friends proudly accepted their detractors’ insult, “Quakers”, and made it their own, so I and many others are proud to adopt the term “Saboteur”. because to sabotage the government’s plan for national suicide is a noble cause. So I stand shoulder-to-shoulder with highlighted Saboteurs such as Ken Clarke (Conservative), Peter Mandelson (Labour), Caroline Lucas (Green) as well as, of course, Tim Farron and virtually the entire Liberal Democrat Party.

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LibDems Surge Past 100,000

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th April, 2017

LibDems EU Simon HughesTwo years ago, following a disastrous general election, many pundits were writing the Liberal Democrats off as a serious political force. But how things have changed! The party has now pushed UKIP down into fourth place in the opinion polls and has notched up an impressive series of local council by-election wins over the past year, not to mention Sarah Olney’s great triumph in Richmond Park & North Kingston. Moreover, despite the crushing disappointment (for Remainers) of last June’s EU Referendum, the LibDems have emerged stronger as the one sizable national party that has a clear line on Brexit: we believe Britain is better off inside the European Union, but if the Conservative government, with the active support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is intent on pressing ahead with a hard Brexit, removing Britain from the European single market and common customs area, then we will do everything to try to mitigate the damage. It would have been nice to have Labour singing from the same hymn-sheet, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and some forthright MPs such as David Lammy have done, but nothing can hide the fact that Labour is deeply divided on the issue and is still trying to out-UKIP UKIP and the Tories in much of northern England. Sad. But the good news from the LibDems’ point of view is that a surge of people have joined the party since the Referendum, accelerating since Theresa May broke her promise and called a snap general election, in an egregious example of political opportunism.

LibDems 100,000So, today, Tim Farron was able to announce that party membership has topped 100,000 and it is still rising. That was a heartening message to deliver at his London general election launch, held in Vauxhall, where arch-Brexiteer Kate Hoey is re-standing as an MP (despite the fact that Lambeth had a phenomenally high Remain vote last June) and indeed has been endorsed by UKIP’s Paul Nuttall. So Vauxhall, previously way down the LibDem target hit-list, has now suddenly become very interesting for prospective parliamentary candidate, George Turner. It will be vital for London LibDems that we hold Richmond Park, as well as Tom Brake’s seat, Carshalton & Wallington, but there should be a good chance of recapturing places such as Old Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), Twickenham (Vince Cable) and Kingston & Surbiton (Ed Davey), to name but three. I’ll be flying the flag in Dagenham and Rainham, but also doing as much as I can to boost our chances in target areas.

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Why Europe Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th April, 2017

IMG_2269One of the most depressing things about the whole Brexit business is the way that the UK’s Conservative government is turning its back on Europe. It’s not just Theresa May’s apparent desire to lead the country out of the European Single Market — though the potential hit to the economy from that is enormous — or the rejection, on the basis of the 52% Leave vote in last June’s EU Referendum, of the European project in political terms, even though that is something I continue to believe in passionately. No, the worst thing is many Brexiteers’ pretence that Britain is not part of Europe, as if somehow the English Channel were a thousand miles wide. Not only do such British (though in truth, English) nationalists show an extraordinary lack of knowledge of history but they don’t seem to realise that the bulk of the UK’s population is a hybrid mix of different European origin (prior to the post-War injection of new blood from the Commonwealth). Culturally, we Britons are most definitely European; Bach and Goya and all the thousands of other creative talents, past and present, contributed to a body of culture that is extraordinarily rich and diverse, and shared by Europeans. In Rome this week, walking among the antiquities  or viewing the magnificent exhibition of portraits by Giovanni Boldini, I am struck as ever by the sense that this is our heritage, our Europe. The idea that we might in future have to apply for visas to come to the Continent, or that visas will be necessary for EU citizens to visit Britain, if the worst outcome of the Brexit process occurs, is horrible to contemplate. All that explains why I hope that much of the snap UK election that Mrs May has called will be about Europe, and why Europe matters, and why we are Europe and Europe is us. At least the Liberal Democrats get the message.

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