Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

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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Arise, Sir Nick

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 26th December, 2017

D34327C6-5366-405B-A62B-E81EDCC1B26CThe news of Nick Clegg’s knighthood in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List has been so widely leaked that I think we can safely assume that it is true. Not surprisingly, there have been some sqwarks of protest from people on the Left of the Labour Party, who still haven’t forgiven him for taking the Liberal Democrat’s into Coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 — or “propping up the Tories”, as they prefer to put it. But let’s look at his record. As I sometimes recommend to my students, when they are writing essays, we shall start with the counter-arguments. In my view, Nick Clegg made two, serious mistakes (neither of which will come as a surprise to him, or indeed to most LibDems). First, it was unwise to endorse the National Union of Students’ campaign to freeze student fees, including urging all LibDem parliamentary candidates to sign up for it, as it clearly was going to be difficult to persuade any Coalition partner to agree to that at a time when the country was financially squeezed. Not surprisingly, the issue blew up like a hand grenade in his face, when the Conservatives insisted fees must rise instead.The damage to the voters’ trust in the LibDems was massive. But the second mistake was in many ways equally damaging, namely the enthusiasm with which he bounced into the Rose Garden at Number 10 Downing Street alongside David Cameron, as if they were the best of mates, almost brothers. There needed to be a clear distance between the Coalition partners, as usually happens on the Continent. Subsequently, the LibDems got blamed for some uniquely Tory policies, ranging from austerity measures to the iniquitous “bedroom tax”, but Nick Clegg’s detractors usually ignore the fact that he and other LibDem Ministers during the 2010-2015 government got through a whole raft of positive, progressive changes, despite their numerical weakness, including the pupil premium, free school meals fo the youngest kids, equal marriage, the triple-lock on pensions and a range of environmental measures. And by guaranteeing a stable government for five years, the Coalition helped Britain weather the economic storm. Of course, one could list more issues, on both sides of the argument, but on balance I believe Nick Clegg did serve his country well in government and even if I am sceptical of “honours”, I believe he is as worthy as most recipients to get one. He is badly missed from the House of Commons during these tumultuous Brexit times, and his ousting in the general election earlier this year was a tragedy, not least because the voters of Sheffield Hallam now appear to be represented by a total (Labour) noodle.

Posted in UK politics, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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The Sun’s “Iconic Passport” Con-trick.

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd December, 2017

0D80C254-AD73-484B-B5FB-0895D3509F6CThe Sun newspaper is trumpeting its “success” in getting Britain’s “iconic” blue passport back, after a long and at times hysterically nationalistic campaign. But the whole thing is a con-trick. The new, pale blue passport that will in principle come into use from October 2019 is nothing like the old one. It’s the wrong colour, the wrong size, the wrong texture and doesn’t have the little windows that the old British passports had. Although I haven’t seen the inside pages of the proposed new passport, I bet they will be different too. So, in a nutshell, the new passport has nothing whatsoever in common with the “iconic” old one, other than it is not the burgundy EU-UK passports that we have now. But in a post-Truth world, why would a pernicious rag like the Sun care about facts? Like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — and the Daily Telegraph on a bad day — the Sun is just concerned with anti-EU propaganda, sometimes in the ugly forms of migrant-bashing and outright xenophobia. No other EU member state has such an irresponsible gutter Press like the UK’s, which is a major reason why the Brexiteers won — narrowly — in last year’s EU Referendum. That’s why it is so important to expose their lies, as well as to campaign to keep our burgundy passports, with all the European citizenship rights that they represent.

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Why John Bercow Is a Hero

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th December, 2017

449177D3-C066-4CA9-943B-07239321330CThe Speaker of Britain’s House of Commons, John Bercow, has come in for a lot of flack over the years, mainly from his fellow Conservatives. But he has proved himself to be a hero in the way that he maintains debating standards in the chamber and is unafraid to stand up to bullies. We saw that brilliantly this week when he defended MPs who have received death threats and other abuse because of their opposition to Brexit. Speaker Bercow not only stressed that these MPs were doing their duty by speaking up for what they believe in but also took a swipe at newspapers such as the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express and even the Daily Telegraph for publishing headlines and articles that have accused critics of Brexit of being traitors and “Enemies of the People”. It’s worth pointing out that few Conservative politicians dare take on the right-wing rags head-on out of fear of becoming targets themselves. Theresa May is just the latest in a line of British Prime Ministers who have kowtowed to Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre. But refusing to stand up to bullies — and that is what these men are — only encourages them. Though he knows he will be the subject of yet more unflattering stories and epithets, John Bercow has not been afraid to do so and deserves praise for it. It’s just a pity that most of the Conservative Cabinet are more spineless.

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Brexit: Has Britain Changed Its Mind?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th December, 2017

9517D996-7D01-49CD-8288-93A42B9D1525According to an opinion poll commissioned by the Independent newspaper, UK voters are having second thoughts about the wisdom of Brexit, with 51% now favouring Remain, 41% Leave and 8% don’t know. That’s quite a shift since the vote 18 months ago. Of course, one shouldn’t read too much into one opinion poll, but there are other signs that some who voted Leave now feel they were lied to (remember the red bus promising £350million a week for the NHS?), or that the cost of leaving is too great, only to end up in a worse situation than we are in now. The Prime Minister, Mrs May, battles on with confidence that she can deliver a deal that will be good for Britain, though all our 27 EU partners — including the Republic of Ireland — believe this is delusional. Mrs May has to try to keep her rabid Hard Brexiteers at bay, though it is now clear that she faces a bigger threat from Tory Remainers, who champion staying in the single market and the customs union. That would certainly soften the Brexit blow. But the real tragedy of the current situation is that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is going along with the Brexit madness (though a few dozen of his MPs are standing up against that line). Perhaps it will only be if a series of increasingly anti-Brexit opinion polls over the next few months that Labour will understand it needs to change tack. A meaningful vote in the House of Commons could stop Brexit in its tracks. But better still would be a referendum on the Brexit deal, asking people if that is really what they want. The Brexiteers will howl — in fact, they are already howling — but votes in Parliament and in the country would be exercises in open democracy, which they in principle are meant to support.

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Brexit Bites, Even in ALDE

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd December, 2017

3079F192-03A6-4967-B73B-8C17AA5F88D2At the official buffet dinner reception at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress in Amsterdam this evening the results were announced for the President and Vice-Presidents of the Board. As Hans Van Baalen, a Dutch MEP, was the only candidate for the former, it was no surprise that he won re-election, with only a score of nay-votes. But the Vice-Presidential results are giving everyone here at the Congress food for thought, some negative, some positive. To start with the bad news first, Baroness Ros Scott — seeking re-election, as one of seven candidates for six posts — came bottom of the poll. This is certainly not an indictment of her record, as she has been tireless in her work for ALDE and the Liberal cause throughout Europe, as well as in the House of Lords. But it looks as if Brexit was a factor, for which Theresa May and her UKIPTory government are to blame. Britain has become the embarrassing member of the European Family, the drunk uncle who offends everyone and knocks the furniture over. Of course Ros has never behaved like that herself; far from it. But many of our EU partners are sick to the back teeth with Britain, not least the post-2004 newcomers of formerly Communist central and Eastern Europe, who were not around when Britain was a force for good in the EU (c.f. Lord Cockfield and the implementation of the single market). No, for the past decade or so, Britain, as misrepresented by successive governments, has been a pain in the arse, personified by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That the latter should have been made Foreign Secretary, despite having been sacked by The Times for lying about Europe when he was a correspondent in Brussels, and subsequently insulting the peoples of so many countries, is something that leaves most continental Europeans open-mouthed with disbelief. Add to that the resentment caused by boorish British behaviour since the EU Referendum and you have the perfect storm of the marginalisation of a previously great country sinking into a cesspit of irrelevance and narrow-mindedness. That this probably contributed to Ros Scott’s defenestration from the ALDE Bureau is particularly sad. Guy Vehofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and currently both President if the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, as well as that Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, pledgd in his short address to tonight’s dinner that the UK’s leaving the EU would not mean that the British Liberal Democrats would cease to be members of the family. But clearly we are not now in the inner circle. However, while this development saddens me greatly, for Ros personally, for the LibDems and for Britain, there is a more positive piece of news tonight. The person who topped the poll in the vote for Vice-Presidents was Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP, a Bulgarian from that country’s Turkish minority community, and therefore a Muslim. The EU is moving forward, even if Britain now risks being left behind.

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ALDE Agrees Brexit Should Be “If” Not “When”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 1st December, 2017

E6A43C6B-374F-4F6A-9FD2-41F92C5A8DA0The British Liberal Democrat’s have always played a prominent role in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), but last year’s EU Referendum result inevitably threw a spanner in the works. One of the main focuses of the ALDE Congress currently taking place in Amsterdam is the preparation for the European Elections in 2019. If Mrs May’s timetable of Britain’s departure from the EU before the end of March 2019 is realised then Brits will have no direct participation in those elections; the Brexiteers have effectively disenfranchised UK citizens both in Britain and in other EU member states. Yet it has been abundantly clear to British delegates at Amsterdam that we will LibDems remain full members if the European family. After all, not all ALDE member parties are in EU states. Moreover, when some of us expressed dismay that some of the Congress papers referred to “when Britain leaves the EU”, participants readily agreed to talk instead of “if Britain leaves the EU”. Of course, at the moment it is likely that Brexit will happen, but the possibility that it won’t becomes increasingly obvious as the huge difficulty and cost of Brexit — especially with the incompetent Conservatives in charge — are clear. It could well be that Mrs May’s government will collapse next year, in which case all bets are off. Wishful think8ng? I don’t believe so. And it is great to know that our ALDE partners really would like us Brits to stay.

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