Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

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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Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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Can There Be a UK Consensus on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd June, 2017

Queen's speech 2017The Queen’s Speech to Parliament today, setting out what Theresa May’s minority government hopes to achieve over the next couple of years — if it survives that long — was a watered-down affair. Gone were many of the more contentious pledges in the Conservatives’ election manifesto, such as increasing the number of grammar schools and organising a vote on whether to bring back fox hunting. But so too were the  threats to major legacies of the Liberal Democrats in the 2010-2015 Coalition government, such as the triple lock on pensions and free school lunches for infants. So there was some reason for cheerfulness. But of course the big issue was and is Brexit; the speech asserted clearly the government’s intention to lead the country out of the European Union by the end of March 2019, though there was precious little detail about any of the colossal aspects of this.

Theresa May 12 Later Mrs May rather cheekily said in the House of Commons that 82% of the British electorate had voted for parties that are pledged to make Brexit happen. I suspect that many of the first-time younger voters who backed Labour because of its appealing message of free tuition fees, public sector spending rises and higher taxes for the very rich, did not quite intend their ballot to be a blank cheque for Brexit. However, it is regrettably true that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have made clear their belief that the UK should withdraw from both the European single market and the customs union — one of the few things they agree on with the right-wing Protestant DUP MPs from Northern Ireland, who are reportedly holding out for more money for Ulster before they formalise a confidence-and-supply agreement with Mrs May. Interestingly, the Queen’s speech did refer to trying to find a consensus among the people of Britain about the best way forward, which might prove to be deeply challenging. There are MPs in both major parties who still think leaving the EU is a terrible mistake, not to mention the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and others. Perhaps therefore the best hope of a consensus would be around a soft-Brexit, however that might be defined. But with only 18 months to try to achieve that, as negotiations with our current 27 EU partners continue alongside, I do believe we will reach a stage sometime next year when Britain will be asking for more time to try and sort things out.

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Liberals Embrace the Diplomatic Community

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 19th June, 2017

NLC terraceFor many years, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) hosted a winter reception for London’s diplomatic community at the National Liberal Club, but the cost of this became increasingly difficult for such a relatively small organisation to bear, despite occasional welcome sponsorship. So it was with huge relief all round that the National Liberal Club (NLC) itself, under the dynamic chairmanship of Janet Berridge, took over the responsibility. The Club had the brilliant idea of rescheduling the event for summer instead, and this evening the gods were with us as it was a perfect June evening for a reception on the Club’s magnificent Terrace [pictured empty, but packed at the event]. The New European weekly newspaper sponsored the venture and former LibDem Leader Nick Clegg (who sadly lost his House of Commons seat in this month’s general election) was the guest speaker, emphasizing the Liberal Democrats’ commitment to internationalism as well as to Europe. There was an eclectic range of Ambassadors and High Commissioners present, as well as numerous LibDem Peers and paying guests from both LIBG and the NLC. Diplomats are only too aware that social gatherings oil the wheels of diplomacy and it is to be hoped that many of those present tonight will cement their relations with this section of Britain’s electoral spectrum by attending the LibDems’ autumn conference in Bournemouth in September.

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May Go? Might Go? Must Go!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th June, 2017

Theresa May 11According to the Sunday Times, Conservative MPs have told Prime Minister Theresa May she has 10 days to prove herself before they ditch her. Frankly, that is 10 days too long. It’s not just that she ran the worst election campaign in living memory. Or her inability to have human contact with people, including after the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster. The sad truth is that Mrs May is a liability, not just for the Tory Party but for the country, which is far more serious. In the face of all logic she has insisted that Britain’s talks with our 27 EU partners about Brexit should start as planned tomorrow, despite the fact that the government’s position is totally unclear. On the Continent the UK has become a laughing stock, with a pig-headed woman of little political ability in No 10 and a clown for a Foreign Secretary. What makes this situation tragic rather than comic is that our EU partners really want to have a good, ongoing relationship with Britain, ideally within the EU, but if not, then at least within the European Single Market and Customs Union. But Mrs May and the hardline wing of her party are ruling that out, as are, shamefully, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour so-called Opposition. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of Exchequer, is bravely trying to be a voice for reason inside the Cabinet, and there are a large number of MPs within both major parties, as well as of course the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens, trying to stop the lemming-like rush over the cliff edge of a Hard Brexit. The task for them now is to unite across party lines to resist the May Brexit national suicide cult. Might May go within the next 10 days? If the Conservatives have backbone they will indeed topple her. But whatever the political method used, May must go — and now!

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Donald Trump out on a Limb

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd June, 2017

Trump climate changeLast night the US President confirmed Europe’s worst fears, by announcing that he is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He is on record as saying that he doesn’t really believe in global warming, and although his pledge to give coal-mining a boost went down well in certain areas of the country during his election campaign the potential impact on the global climate is serious. It is encouraging that not only the European Union but also Russia and China have reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement, though sadly Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May — keen to enhance her status as Mr Trump’s best foreign friend as Brexit looms — reportedly commented that the US President is free to do as he likes. Whereas that is factually correct, it is politically inept. Britain should not be seen to be aligning itself with a climate change denier at this crucial moment in history. Many world leaders, including former President Barack Obama, have cited climate change as possibly the biggest threat facing humankind, which is why it is so important that countries around the world limit their emissions and take other measures to slow and ideally reverse the trend of global warming. It was a great victory for common sense when China came on board. Now Donald Trump has taken the United States in the opposite direction. I suspect he rather enjoys being out on a limb, such is his monstrous ego. But those who go out on a limb run the risk of someone cutting off the branch on which they are sitting, and for the planet’s sake, I hope that is what will happen before too long.

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Mrs May’s Reckless Complacency

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st May, 2017

Theresa May alarmTheresa May called a snap general election, despite earlier saying she wouldn’t, supposedly because she wants a strong mandate to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, though one can’t help wonder whether the true reason was because she thought she could wipe the floor with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and return with a huge majority in a parliamentary landslide. If the latter were the case then her calculation may prove to be wrong. Although just a few weeks ago the Conservatives were ahead by 20 per cent all recent opinion polls agree that that gap has narrowed considerably. Indeed, according to a new YouGov prediction, the Conservatives may not even have an overall majority on 9 June. Whether that turns out to be the case or not, what is clear is that the Prime Minister, far from being “strong and stable” — the slogan she keeps repeating, like some demented parrot — is distinctly wobbly. It’s not just that there have been a couple of major U-turns on the Tory manifesto, just days after it was published. Mrs May still shows no sign of knowing what her Brexit plan is and how she will get the best deal for Britain. She has succeeded in offending our continental EU partners and Ireland, compounding matters by snuggling up close to America’s Donald Trump, whom most Europeans view as beyond the pale. Moreover, the Prime Minister has arrogantly refused to take part in a multi-party leaders’ debate, thereby opening herself up to some pretty hostile questioning from interviewers. When she goes on visits around the country, she only appears before heavily vetted audiences, mostly made up of Conservative Party activists. The message not to engage with the electorate has obviously gone down to Tory parliamentary candidates as well. The Romford Recorder newspaper in East London/West Essex organised three Facebook hustings for the constituencies of Dagenham & Rainham, Hornchurch & Upminster and Romford, and no Conservative was present at any of them. It’s as if the Tories believe that their largely under-the-radar telephone and Internet advertising campaigns — buttressed by a largely sycophantic and Eurosceptic Press — will be enough to secure them victory. Such complacency is bad for democracy and may prove to be their undoing. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s complacency and arrogance could prove to be Britain’s undoing in the Brexit negotiations as well.

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Angela Merkel Nails It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th May, 2017

Angela Merkel 2In a campaign speech in Bavaria, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, today declared bluntly that Europe can no longer rely on the United States as a core ally, now that Donald Trump is in charge — and that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has put the United Kingdom beyond the pale, too. Although Frau Merkel emphasized the need for friendly relations with the USA, Britain and Russia, she declared, “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” The Chancellor is recently back from the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, and what happened there clearly made her realise that America under Trump and the UK under May cannot be fully trusted as allies. “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she said.

Trump May 1 The Trump administration, of course, leaked sensitive security information following the Manchester bombing, which must make even Mrs May regret that she cuddled up so closely to the Donald following his election victory. Even more uncomfortable is the reality that in the minds of the leader of Germany and of several of her continental counterparts, Trump, May and Putin (albeit not in equal measure) are now a triumvirate of the unreliable. How shaming for Britain, and it’s all the fault of the UK Conservatives embracing the hard Brexit narrative with all the fervour of new converts to the religion of UKIP. For an ardent European and Liberal Democrat such as myself this is painful in the extreme. Mrs May declared some weeks ago that the nation is behind her, 100%, but that is not true, Mrs May. It’s not just many among the 48% who voted Remain in last June’s EU Referendum who can see that you are in danger of leading Britain over the white cliffs of Dover without a parachute. Many who for various reasons voted Leave now also see the folly of your strategy. Actually, strategy is the wrong word, as it is all too clear that when it comes to Brexit you have no strategy, and your three idiotic Brexit Ministers have no plan. There are just 10 days for this message to get across to the general public before the general election voting. But the conclusion is clear: if you care about Britain’s future and its place in the world, Don’t Vote Tory!

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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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