Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Corbyn Has to Go

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn smallOn a personal level, I have always got on well with Jeremy Corbyn. We have sometimes shared platforms, at home and abroad, on issues of mutual concern, such as Kurdish rights and Palestine. On such occasions, his integrity and passion for justice shine through. I haven’t seen him so often since he became Leader of the Labour Party; in fact, I believe the last time was a glimpse of him within a huddle of admirers at (Lord) Eric Avebury’s memorial event. But of course I have been following what he has been doing. And not doing. Especially in respect to Brexit. Jeremy always had grave misgivings about the European Union, as a “capitalist club” which supposedly did not have the interests of the workers at heart. But one would have hoped that with the evidence about the economic and social benefits that Britain has enjoyed during the 45 years of its EEC/EU membership, he would have appreciated the fact that it is better to be in than be out. In principle, he backed Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum, but so sotto voce as to be almost inaudible. And despite the cross-party clamour for a People’s Vote on the Conservative government’s EU deal (always assuming it reaches one), he has basically sat on the fence about the whole issue. Indeed, that is putting it kindly, as in fact both his legs are dangling over the side of No New Vote and Leave.

Labour Party Conference 2018Meanwhile, despite the fact that the May government is probably the most incompetent in recent political history, with Brexit clearly going disastrously wrong, the Conservatives have been ahead of Labour in several recent opinion polls. This is not because voters believe Theresa May is doing brilliantly; on the contrary, her approval rating is dire. But Jeremy Corbyn’s is even worse, when people are asked who they would like to see as Prime Minister. Jeremy does of course have a huge fan club, not least the Momentum movement, which helped the Labour Party to surge to an astonishing 600,000+ members — more than all the other political parties put together. But Momentum does not speak for all Labour voters, let alone for the public at large. Moreover, the plain truth is that a very significant proportion of the British electorate do not see Corbyn as a credible leader to steer Britain through the approaching choppy waters. He could, of course, redeem himself at the forthcoming Labour conference in Liverpool by coming out in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, as many of his MPs and indeed labour Party members want. But if he doesn’t, then I think most people (and certainly informed political commentators) will come away with the view that Labour is not ready for power, unless and until Jeremy Corbyn goes.

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Boris Johnson: Trump or Chump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 7th September, 2018

Boris Johnson scowlThe Daily Mail and the Sun today are both headlining a story that former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been thrown out of the family home by his wife because of yet another alleged extramarital affair. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, however, as he has behaved like a cad in this and other matters. Besides, he earns so much from his cringe-worthy column in the Daily Telegraph that he can afford to stay in a smart hotel near Parliament while it is sitting. Or indeed buy a house in his constituency, Uxbridge; I can imagine his nose wrinkling at that thought. But of course peccadilloes are not the real reason Boris should be in the dog-house. It’s his political dishonesty and overblown ego that grate. Even some of his senior fellow Conservatives have started to call him a charlatan. It is well known that in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum he couldn’t decide whether to back Leave or Remain, eventually opting for Leave because he thought that way he would win the backing of genuine Brexiteers in his party. And having done so, he became their cheerleader.This was clearly all part of his plan to become Prime Minister. Theresa May bought him off by making him Foreign Secretary, rather than sacking him — inflicting harm on Britain’s reputation abroad in the process — but one has to feel a little sorry for Mrs May, as she knows that Boris would metaphorically slip a plastic bag over her head when he feels the time is ripe. Moreover, opinion polls suggest that Boris would be Conservative voters’ preferred candidate as a replacement Leader, which is a pretty damning indictment of the quality of other Tory Ministers. And Boris does reach parts of the electorate that other Tories don’t; I’ve lost count of the number of young black Londoners who have told me they think Boris is great — a laugh. But Boris is much more than a comedian with a handy way with words. He sees himself as an English Trump, which at this delicate stage in Britain’s political evolution is the last thing the country needs. I rather doubt that sufficient Conservative MPs would give him their backing to make a leadership bid viable, anyway, as they realise Boris is more chump than Trump. And they have no wish for Britain to become even more of an international laughing stock than it is already, thanks to Brexit.

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Devaluation of Political Discourse

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th July, 2018

Donald Trump 5Last night I did one of my occasional slots on the one-and-a-half hour (Bangladeshi) Channel S TV current affairs show, Let’s Talk. It was sweltering in the studio — the air conditioning was too noisy to be left on during live transmission — and all three of us (me, the host and another studio guest) were roasting in suits and ties. Moreover, the topic for discussion was a heated one: reactions to Donald Trump’s recent visit to the UK and the effect of Trumpism on politics globally. A caller for Oxford bemoaned the fact that Trump has encouraged people to follow his example to use coarse words (as well as bending the truth, of course), which enabled me to talk about what I see as the davaluation of political discourse. Rational debate has often given way to shouty confrontation, and “alternative facts” are seen as equally valid as the truth, providing you believe in them. I am all in favour of satire at appropriate moments — and indeed quite often poke fun at the more absurd arguments of Brexiteers on twitter. But it is clear that social media have encouraged the decline in respect for logic and evidence-based judgments. Mr Trump is partly to blame for this, as some people, on both sides of the Atlantic, feel that if the Tweeter-in-Chief can blast off like an angry child in a playground, so can they. The mainstream media has aided and abetted this lowering of standards. As I said on the programme last night, it was disgraceful that a newspaper such as the Daily Telegraph should pose the question whether Theresa May is a “traitor” because of her Chequers Soft Brexit plan. The gutter Press, not least the Express and the Mail, have continued their obnoxious Brexiteer tirades; do you remember that awful headline about Supreme Court judges being “enemies of the people”? Brexit and Trump are two sides of the same coin, and just as Trump’s rhetoric encourages white Americans to turn against immigrants, Muslims and Mexicans, so the Brexiteer narrative, personified by Nigel Farage, has turned a section of the British public against East Europeans, other ethnic minorities and Islam — fuelling support for anti-hero “Tommy Robinson” and the English Defence League. The BBC, for which I worked almost full-time for 20 years, is itself guilty in giving undue oxygen to extremists; Farage has appeared on Question Time more than any other guest. Meanwhile, both in the United States and here in Britain, society is polarising to such a degree that it is no longer fanciful to draw parallels with the 1930s. We all know what the devaluation of political discourse led to then. It is in everyone’s true interest to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

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Bye-bye BoJo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th July, 2018

Boris Johnson and John McKendrickYesterday there was a collective sigh of relief within the Westminster village when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson finally resigned. His sudden departure from one of the four great offices of state had been looming for months; the only question was: would Prime Minister Theresa May sack him or would he quit? It was probably quite shrewd of Mrs May to leave the initiative up to him, therefore making herself theoretically blameless, though the drama of his leaving was anyway upstaged by Brexit Secretary David Davis jumping ship first. As ever not a gentleman, BoJo sent the PM a particularly unpleasant letter of resignation, effectively calling her compromise deal on Britain’s strategy for the Brexit negotiations (which he had in principle endorsed at the weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers) a betrayal of Leave voters, as well as claiming Britain will become a “colony” of the EU as a result. However, the general feeling around Westminster is that Johnson has weakened, not strengthened, his own political position (the only thing that ever really concerned him) and that he is therefore further away from his goal of becoming Prime Minister. Several of his erstwhile colleagues in government have been quite uncomplimentary about him, but the prize for unfond farewells must go to the Attorney General of Anguilla, John McKendrick QC, who tweeted the photo shown here with the caption: “Meeting the worst Foreign Secretary we’ve ever had amongst the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Anguilla. Disinterested and out of his depth he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance.” Touché!

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Facing Austria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd July, 2018

Logo EU-Ratsvorsitz 2018At the weekend, Austria assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union. That is quite a challenge at the best of times, but at present it is something of a poisoned chalice. The second half of 2018 is make-or-break time for the Brexit “negotiations”; even if diehard Remainers like myself now hope for “break”, so that the whole thing goes away, it is going to be a tetchy period. Not that Brexit is top of the agenda anywhere except in London (and possibly Dublin). As the Chargé d’Affaires of Austria to the Court of St James’s said in remarks at the opening of the Facing Austria exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in London Smith’s Square this evening, “security” is the number one issue for Vienna — and with a new centre-right-far-right Coalition in power there, that means addressing the concerns of good Austrians about “illegal migrants”/refugees. We can expect Austria to take a firm stand on this, hand-in-hand with other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, aka the Visegrad Group: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is already feeling their uncomfortable breath down her neck. It is therefore somewhat ironic that one important element of the 20 photographers’ work in the Facing Austria exhibition is celebrating diversity (which is indeed official EU policy). Lovely shots of African men against snow-capped Alpine peaks and of dazed-looking Syrian refugees in Austrian cities, for example. Britain’s wretched Tory-(DUP) government has deliberately created a “hostile environment” for unwanted, undocumented incomers, but nobody does “hostile environment” quite as efficiently as Austria, when it is in the mood. Still, the six-month presidency has only just started, so let’s see if the often cheerful pictures in the exhibition are more reflective of the Austrians at the helm than some people might fear. It would be nice to think that the United Kingdom, as a self-professed bastion of liberal democracy, would be in there fighting hard to make sure that the EU doesn’t get pushed to the right over the coming months. But alas Mrs May is far too preoccupied trying to find the handle to the EU exit door, all the time worrying if it may come off in her hand.

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Have We Reached Peak London?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th May, 2018

City of LOndonLondon likes to present itself — with some justification — as the world’s premier global city. But it may be falling off its pedestal. Whereas until 2016 people flocked to London to find jobs in everything from banking to being a barista, these days the movement is more towards the exit door, as applications for NHS jobs from EU27 nationals plummet and European academics here search for pastures new. There is no doubt that Brexit (and the associated, barely concealed xenophobia manifest among certain sections of the British population). is the main reason for London losing some of its shine. Yes, Far Eastern investors are still buying property in London, but that’s mainly because the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling has made even high-end property a good deal for them. Of course, cities go up and down. London was a comparative dump in the 1970s, with a shrinking population, whereas Paris was where it was at. But Paris subsequently lost it.

Steve Norris small At a fascinating seminar on Making London Succeed for Everyone post-Brexit, hosted by the international law firm Eversheds Sutherland in the City this evening, Steve Norris — former Conservative MP and onetime London mayoral hopeful — declared that he thought we are maybe are at Peak London; actually, I think that we are already on the way down from that peak — and given the shambolic way that Theresa May’s government is mismanaging Brexit, that descent could accelerate. Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin are salivating at the exodus of financial services and other economic actors from London, while meanwhile cities like Berlin and Lisbon are asserting themselves as cutting edge cultural and high-tech centres, as Cool Britannia’s image fades. Steve Norris was probably right when he said that Cool Britannia was actually Cool London, but how much longer will that be the case? Research suggests that the high Leave vote in many of the English provinces reflected a Sod London feeling (as well as Sod David Cameron), but being an overwhelmingly Remain city may not save London’s skin. Obviously, from my perspective I hope Brexit doesn’t happen and that the plug is pulled before further damage is done. But I cannot be wildly optimistic. Britain risks becoming a not-particularly-important offshore island and London will struggle not to be pulled down with it.

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Amber to Red for the Tories

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th April, 2018

5F9ED72A-789F-44CA-92C7-2238321154A8British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd has fallen on her sword; her position had indeed become untenable over the weekend with revelations about how much she encouraged the “hostile environment” to “illegal” immigrants and approved of the policy of deportation before appeal, despite having tried to distance herself publicly from it all. The inhuman treatment of the so-called Windrush generation, who had their right to remain in the UK questioned and in some cases refused, was a particularly egregious example of this. Perhaps the final blow to her reputation came with the revelation that the Home Office had refused visas to 100 Indian doctors recruited by the National Health Service (NHS). Under Rudd’s watch, the Home Office has indeed become unfit for purpose. But one could argue that it became so under her predecessor, none other than the now Prime Minister, Theresa May. I can’t help feeling that Mrs May has sacrificed Amber Rudd in the hope of saving her own skin, because frankly it is time for her to acknowledge that old political adage “the buck stops here”. Theresa May was catapulted into the top job when David Cameron resigned after the disastrous outcome of the EU Referendum (which he called largely to try to silence Eurosceptic headbangers on the right of the Conservative Party). But far from proving to be a safe pair of hands, Mrs May has shown herself ready to give ideology precedence over common sense. This shows itself in two, related aspects: immigration and Brexit. The government persists in trying to reach its unrealistic target of getting net immigration down to below 100,000 a year, despite the fact that this is harming not just the NHS but other sectors of the economy too. And despite being a Remainer in the EU Referendum campaign, Mrs May has been pressing ahead with Brexit — again to appease the Tory right — in a most damaging way. The incompetence of the three Brexit Ministers — David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson — would be comic were this all not so serious. Britain’s international reputation has been trashed, not only among our 27 current EU partners but around the world. Moreover, from being the best performing economy among the OECD nations, the UK has crashed to the bottom. Growth was just 0.1% in the last quarter, with the real prospect of recession looming. And we haven’t even left the EU yet! Theresa May is lucky in that she lacks a credible Opposition in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but that should not let her off the hook. The amber light of  Rudd’s resignation should turn to a red light for the PM herself.

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ALDE’s Balkan Serenade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 28th April, 2018

A198F168-1FAA-4223-9CE5-D5648356448FThe Sofia ALDE (Alliance of Liberal Democrats for Europe) Council finished this evening with a dinner reception in the Lozenets Residence, a nostalgic monument to Communist grandeur; once an officers’ club it now serves as a government entertainment venue, with live music, rather good food and decor that took me back to 1960s Eastern Europe: square marble faced pillars with faux Doric capitals, symmetrical carpets and chandeliers about half the size that would look right. The hospitality was most generous, in true Balkans fashion; I am often embarrassed by how mean Northern European sometimes are in comparison. Though this was an ALDE event, Juli Minoves, President of Liberal International, gave a Liberal medal for sterling service to Sir Graham Watson, former leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament and later President of the ALDE Party. He recalled that he has been attending international Liberal events since the LI Congress in Ottawa, which I believe was my first entry into the circuit as well. Graham enjoys crafting eloquent speeches and his gracious acceptance of the award was no exception. But of course for all Brits present this was a bitter-sweet occasion, as our participation in ALDE will inevitably diminish if Brexit goes ahead, as seems likely (though not inevitable). It is paradoxical that the Brits (including the Conservatives) were the most enthusiastic of the EU member states in welcoming formerly Communist countries such as Bulgaria into the fold, but are now trying to remove the UK from the 28-member body. For the Bulgarians there is the added resonance that the late 19th Century, Liberal statesman William Gladstone was a great champion of Bulgarian Rights in Ottoman times — there is even a street in central Sofia names after him. So they ate particularly saddened by Brexit. At least the UK LibDems will be able to remain part of ALDE whatever happens over the next year or so, and in the Council meeting earlier today, a plea was made for continental parties to encourage their nationals resident in the UK (an estimated 3 million) to vote next Thursday for us to help to try to stop Brexit.

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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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