Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Stefan Zweig on My Mind

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th August, 2017

Stefan ZweigI’ve been thinking a lot about the 1930s recently, what with the rise of xenophobia and intolerance on both sides of the Atlantic and the current supremacy of Donald Trump and the Brexiteers. Surely things must get better, one imagines, yet the lessons of between the two World Wars suggests not necessarily. What should one do if things continue to deteriorate from a liberal perspective? One solution would be to make permanent my Brazilian bolt-hole, where I have spent the past month and increasing amounts of time over the past 30 years. But would that be escapism? The same dilemma confronted the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, many of whose books I read when I lived in Belgium in the 1970s. He was first blessed with enormous success until damned and driven away by the Nazis, because of his Jewish heritage. After gaining British citizenship, he eventually moved to Brazil, where he committed suicide, together with his second wife, in 1942, on hearing news of the fall of Singapore. Some of his erstwhile friends criticised his flight to safety in South America as well as his pacifism, while others lamented the loss of a good and prolific writer and biographer, if not always a great one. I visited the Zweig’s house in Petrópolis, outside Rio de Janeiro, some years ago and thought what an idyllic place for a writer it was in many ways. But Stefan Zweig could not bear the thought that the world was doomed to be controlled by fascists and the like. Alas, he therefore missed the redemptive defeat of Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan. So perhaps even if I do decide to settle in Brazil some time in the not too distant future I shouldn’t let hope die.

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A Patriotic Front against Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th August, 2017

EU and UK flags marchAs the damage to Britain’s economy from looming Brexit becomes ever clearer, it is time for Remainers to make the patriotic case for staying in the EU. The Brexiteers wrapped themselves up in the Union Flag during last year’s EU Referendum and talked about “taking back control”, peppering their arguments with distortions and lies, but there is no denying that a certain nostalgic nationalism in their arguments resonated in some parts of the country and in certain sections of the population. Since the Referendum, Remainers have been branded “traitors” and worse, simply for arguing that the electorate ought to be given the chance to have another vote, when a Brexit deal had been negotiated, to ask them if that is really what they want. If the Conservative government proceeds with its Hard Brexit plan (or, worse still, allows Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal), then the prospects are dire indeed. Already sterling has slumped to a level of almost parity with the euro, forcing up inflation and making foreign travel notably more expensive, but other consequences of a Hard Brexit will hit sectors of the British economy such as fruit farming desperately hard, as seasonal EU worker are no longer able to come to Britain. EU citizens living in Britain are already having their status undermined. Individual Brits in future face losing a whole series of rights and protections, from EU health and safety standards to visa-free travel to the Continent, the EHIC health card, access to Erasmus+ and so on. Hardline Brexiteers say any suffering — including a big knock to the economy — is worth it. But many people who voted Leave last June are not Hardline Brexiteers and are understandably dismayed that they may have been conned. So as pro-EU marches take place in London, Manchester, at the major political party conferences and other venues, let us proudly hold aloft both the EU flag and our Union flag. Let us come together from all political parties and none, in a united Patriotic Front against Brexit!

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Miliband to the Rescue?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th August, 2017

David MilibandIn an article in today’s Observer, former Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, describes Brexit as an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm”, and thus becomes the latest in a long line of senior politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties to urge a rethink, in sharp contrast to the policy of their leaderships. The dissidents (whom I am tempted to call the Voices of Reason) include former Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair and several heavyweight figures in the House of Lords, as well, of course, as most of the smaller parties in Parliament. But could David Miliband be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back of Brexit? Unlike Tony Blair, he is not permanently tainted by the responsibility of promoting the Iraq War, and for many older Labour Party members, he has the status of the Dauphin over the water. He really ought to have become Labour’s leader, had not the trade unions backed his weaker brother Ed instead. How different UK politics might have been if that had been the case! But he can now play a crucial role in mobilising the anti-Brexit Labour voters (a majority of whom were Remainers in last year’s EU Referendum) and be part of a growing cross-party coalition calling for a second vote for the British people, to ask, on the basis of hard evidence of the negative effects of Brexit, whether that is really what they want. There has been a lot of talk lately about starting a new, centrist anti-Brexit party, but to my mind that is a waste of time and effort. There isn’t much time left before the window of opportunity to reverse Brexit closes, and all effort should be concentrated on making that happen.

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Dunkirk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th August, 2017

DunkirkFor once, I agree with Nigel Farage. He said that all young people should go to see the film Dunkirk; I would only a that all older people would benefit from seeing it too. But perhaps our reasons for recommending the film are different. Farage doubtless feels it fits into his Brexit narrative of Britain can stand alone and proud, whereas I consider it powerful evidence of why there must never be war in Europe again. Dunkirk was almost a disaster of gigantic proportions, with well over 300,000 troops trapped like sitting ducks on the beach, prey to German aircraft and later potentially ground forces. Winston Churchill feared that maybe only 10-15% would be rescued by ships from England, whereas the extraordinary flotilla of small civilian craft of all kinds that set sail across the Channel brought back many times that number. Indeed, a victory of sorts, snatched from the jaws of defeat. It was nonetheless a traumatic experience for most of the men involved, not just those who were killed or badly wounded.

Dunkirk Rylance War is a terrible thing, and the founding fathers of what has evolved into the European Union understood that it was necessary to change the way we do things, to prevent any such conflict happening again. France and Germany, who had clashed three times in less than a century, are now the closest of allies within the EU. Britain should be proudly in there too, whereas thanks to the outcome of last year’s EU Referendum, the propaganda of Mr Farage and his ilk, as well as the stubbornness of Theresa May, Britain is now apparently heading for a Hard Brexit, turning its back on our EU partners and allowing the rhetoric of British exceptionalism to flourish. A dangerous path to follow, indeed. But to return to Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk, it is also worth seeing on its own merits, brilliantly capturing the atmosphere of the operation, especially in the scenes of Spitfire dog-fights and the desperation of men trying to escape from a sinking ship. One could quibble with some small historical inaccuracies, but that would be petty. The overall effect is powerful and lasting. Mark Rylance consolidates his reputation as perhaps Britain’s greatest living actor with a totally credible performance as a humble skipper, determined to do the right thing, and the singer Harry Styles intriguingly shows he is a born actor. All in all, not a film to miss and best seen in a cinema that has the sort of acoustics that let the soundtrack literally make the place shake.

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Brexit Will Mean Airport Delays

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd August, 2017

border controls smallThe Daily Mail and Daily Express are all in a lather today about the fact that many British holiday-makers have been hit by prolonged passport checks at continental airports, with the papers accusing the EU of punishing these poor sons of Albion. The irony could not be greater, given that these very same newspapers have been cheerleaders for Brexit, one of their main rallying calls being to end freedom of movement between Britain and the rest of the EU. Or are they stuck in a Victorian mentality, according to which the citizens of the then greatest nation on earth were exempt from restrictions imposed on Johnny Foreigner? But let’s be clear: if Brexit does go ahead, as the Conservative government intends, then delays at airports and ports all round Europe, including Britain, are bound to get worse. Freedom of Movement for EU citizens will end in March 2019, the government has announced, and that is bound to be reciprocal. Moreover, if the Conservatives and their Corbynite lackeys insist on pursuing a Hard Brexit, under which Britain leaves both the European single market and the Customs Union, then the situation will be even worse. Currently citizens of EEA member states, such as Norway and Iceland, can pass through the same quick immigration control channels as EU citizens, but if Britain isn’t even in the EEA after Brexit, we Brits will have to queue up with Chinese, Indian, American and every other non-European visitor for a full check. Given the numbers of people involved, the chaos is likely to be severe. And those of you who hope you might escape it by taking a ferry from Dover or one of the other UK ports be warned: the reimposition of full customs controls are going to cause massive tailbacks. Of course, were the UK part of Schengen Brits would not be subject to any controls when travelling to other countries in the Schengen area, which is the joy of real freedom of movement in most of Europe. But joining Schengen was never part of any British government’s programme. So, unless Brexit is stopped or is considerably softened, prepare for the worse in 2019 — or develop a taste for staycations.

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Yes, There Are Fine British Europeans!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 1st August, 2017

Stephen HaselerI was saddened today to learn of the sudden death on 20 July of Professor Stephen Haseler, whom I often encountered at Federal Trust events and other pro-European occasions. He was a forthright speaker, whether as an academic or a broadcaster, and recently hoped that opposition to Brexit could lead to the realignment of British politics that he had long championed. It would be a fitting tribute to his memory if that is indeed what now happens. The Conservative government is charging blindly on with Brexit, despite the fact that it still has no clear plan for a post-Brexit Britain, while the official Labour Opposition’s leadership mouths meaningless slogans about enabling a “people’s Brexit”, even though most experts agree that Brexit is going to hit most people’s pockets hard. In fact, the negative effect is already being felt. Hard core Brexiteers say that doesn’t matter, that the pain is worth it to be “free” from the EU. According to one opinion poll today, a significant proportion of them would even be prepared to see members of their family lose their job, in order to achieve their precious Brexit. But those extreme Brexiteers are not a majority; in fact, several recent opinion polls have indicated that a clear majority of British voters would now vote to stay in the EU, in contrast to the narrow result in June 2016. There are plenty of MPs within both the Conservative and Labour parties who understand that Brexit is a grotesque form of national self-harm. It is time for them to set aside their knee-jerk party loyalty and to rally round with those in the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Greens and others who want to save the country from decline and isolation. Quite apart from all the citizens from other EU member states who currently live and work in Britain, there are millions of Britons who are committed Europeans, who recognise that European project, while in need of some reforms, is the best guarantor of peace and prosperity on our diverse continent. It is noteworthy that senior Conservative and Labour political figures, both in the House of Lords and in life outside Parliament, have stood up and denounced Brexit for the folly that it is. It is time now for more MPs to do the same, unequivocally, and for people to take to the streets over the summer and into the autumn political conference season, to show to our EU partners and to the wider world that, yes, Britain has plenty of fine Europeans too!

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Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th July, 2017

13-oct-al-riots 12.JPGIt was good to see Sadiq Khan suggesting today that Brexit could be stopped following another public vote — a situation the Liberal Democrats and Greens favour. As Mayor of London, he has the largest political mandate of any politician in Britain and he understands just how devastating Brexit could be for the capital, not just for the City, from which some banks and financial services institutions have already started withdrawing staff, but for the whole of London’s economy, in which EU migrant workers play such an important role. Moreover, Sadiq Khan perhaps has the clout to shift the Labour Party away from the Corbynite position of Hard Brexit towards Soft Brexit and then to No Brexit. Meanwhile the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart once again over Europe. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, at times appears to be the only Cabinet Minister keeping a cool head, but meanwhile the terrible trio of Brexiteers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — are pressing ahead on their course of national suicide, though it is clear to all that they still do not have a clear plan and cannot define what Brexit means, other than using Theresa May’s idiotic phrase, “Brexit means Brexit!” Former Tory MP, Matthew Parris, has an excellent piece in the Times today blaming the Conservatives for landing us on the current mess. And he is not alone among influential commentators arguing that Brexit needn’t, indeed shouldn’t happen. Moreover, from Ireland to Malta, political leaders are increasingly arguing that Brexit may not happen after all,  as the true price of its folly sinks in. The key thing is the extent of the shift in thinking among the British electorate, as it feels the pinch of Brexit-related inflation and other negative developments. The electorate needs to be shown that there is an Exit from Brexit, and that that is the sensible route to take.

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Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn smallThis morning, on the Andrew Marr show, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, argued that a country had to be a member of the European Union in order to remain part of the European single market. That is, of course, nonsense; Norway is a prime example of a country whose people voted not to join the EU but which enjoys the benefits of being within the single market. Given Corbyn’s more than 30 years as an MP (all the time as a back-bencher, until unexpectedly propelled into the leadership position) he must have learned enough about the EU to understand the difference. Or maybe he didn’t. The kindest interpretation of his remarks on the Marr show is that he believes that Britain must leave the single market as well as the EU (and presumably the Customs Union), presumably because he is implacably opposed to freedom of movement of workers in the EU, which is one of the pillars of the single market. But I fear his objection goes deeper. He knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. During last year’s EU Referendum campaign, Corbyn in principle sided with the remain camp, but so sotto voce that it made no positive impact. Rather like Theresa May’s position, in fact. And now Britain has the terrible situation in which both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Opposition Leader are essentially arguing for what has been dubbed a Hard Brexit: a future outside the EU, the single market and the Customs Union, with the real possibility of the country crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place covering our future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. No wonder the pound sterling has dived and banks and companies are starting to transfer operations out of London and other UK cities to places such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt. This is madness and absolutely not what a clear majority of the British public wants. The Leave side won by a tiny margin last year, following a campaign based on lies and false promises. Mrs May bears a terrible responsibility for pressing on with a Hard Brexit since then, but Jeremy Corbyn is now clearly also in the dock, which is why a growing number of Labour MPs and activists are calling for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union, if not the EU itself. It was the groundswell of new Labour activists that shot Jeremy Corbyn to where he is now. Perhaps it is time for them to bring him back down to reality.

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Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Macron MerkelThis weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it. But what a wasted opportunity for Britain! Two years ago, the then Pime Minister, David Cameron, said he was in poursuit of EU reforms but by unwisely pressing ahead with the EU Referendum before any significant reforms had taken place he was almost condemning Britain to leave. The tragedy is that now that Emannuel Macron is in the Elysée Palace, he and Germany’s Angela Merkel can be the dynamic duo promoting change. Of course this is not the first time that France and Germany have ruled the European roost, but had Britain stuck in there we could have seen a powerful triumvirate, with London, Paris and Berlin all determined to see a more efficient and forward-looking European Union.

Boris During the referendum campaign in the UK, Brexiteers argued that by leaving the EU Britain would “free” itself and be able to capitalise on new market opportunities. But what is abundantly clear is that instead the UK is in the process of cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner, alienating our friends and neighbours and is apparently in danger of heading for an economic recession. A year ago, we had the fastest growing economy among the G7, whereas now we have the slowest, and whereas wages have grown in other G7 countries here they have fallen, accentuating the pain of austerity. The Brexiteers claimed that the EU was a sinking ship and that we were better off jumping overboard. But that argument will look ever more fanciful as Britain gets tossed around in choppy waters while the EU steams confidently on ahead.

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No, We Don’t Need Patriotic Media!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th June, 2017

IMG_2519A UK government Minister, Andrea Leadsom, has urged British broadcasters to be more patriotic in their coverage of Brexit. US President Donald Trump would doubtless approve, but her intervention deserves to be greeted with a giant raspberry. The right wing of the Conservative Party loathes the BBC, in particular, and would like to force it to go commercial by threatening to abolish the licence fee that funds it. Actually, the BBC has leant over backwards to be as even-handed as possible over Brexit since last year’s EU Referendum, infuriating Remainers by giving particular prominence to Nigel Farage and the rump of UKIP. But what Ms Leadsom apparently wants is what the government already enjoys with the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun, etc, namely out-and-out champions of Theresa May’s “red, white and blue” Brexit, involving leaving the European single market and Customs Union and other bodies and instruments that have bound us to our EU partners for the past four decades. Hard Brexiteers, of whom Andrea Leadsom is by no means alone in the Cabinet, believe we need a Britain Stands Alone (from Europe) type of Brexit. The centenarian Vera Lynn will probably be brought out of retirement to sing again of the White Cliffs of Dover. But the plain fact is that opting for Hard Brexit is actually unpatriotic, as it will hit the UK economy, and therefore the living standards of ordinary Brits, hard. But don’t let’s get into an argument about true patriotism. I rather side with Dr Johnson, who declared that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And, yes, that includes you, Ms Leadsom.

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