Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

May-Trump: An Unholy Alliane

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 29th January, 2017

may-trump-2Normally it would be a matter of celebration that a British Prime Minister should be the first foreign leader to visit a newly-installed US President, but the pictures of Theresa May hand-in-hand with Donald Trump evoked nothing but shame. This is a man who has said the most disgustingly offensive comments about women, declared that Muslims will be banned from entering the United States (though that may prove to be unconstitutional) and demanded that Mexico should pay for a multi-billion dollar wall that he wants to build along the USA’s southern border. But Mrs May kept smiling while she was with the President and said she looks forward to a new era in which the US and Britain will lead the world. Apart from the fact that her image of a globally powerful UK on a par with the United States is nothing short of delusional, she will soon discover just how “friendly” the Trump administration is when the hoped-for bilateral trade deal is negotiated. The reason the British Prime Minister went rushing to Washington once she heard the dog whistle is of course because Mrs May wishes to recalibrate Britain’s foreign and trading relations in preparation for a hard Brexit, exiting the European Union and the single market. By doing so — if that folly goes ahead — she will turn her back on our 27 EU partners, with whom we share not only laws but values, and instead put together a patchwork of ne best friends, many of whom share some disagreeable traits, from using the death penalty, having relaxed gun laws, and abusing human rights. To add insult to injury, the Prime Minster has announced that Mr Trump will make a state visit to Britain this summer, which would mean his staying with the Queen. If that outrageously offensive proposition does go ahead, I trust the monarch will find herself diplomatically indisposed.

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Why Britain Needs PR

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 16th December, 2015

imageBritish MPs will today have the chance of voting for a change in the country’s electoral system, from First Past the Post (where the candidate with the most votes in a given constituency wins the seat, irrespective of the percentage he or she gets) to a more proportional system. This debate has come about because the outcome of May’s general election was the most disproportionate ever. The Conservatives obtained an overall majority despite not having a majority of the votes, which is usually the case, but worse still, the SNP was grossly over-represented (winning all but three seats in Scotland) while the LibDems were reduced to a rump of eight seats. UKIP fared worst of all, winning just one seat despite having the third highest vote share. The Greens similarly managed just one. So all those latter parties are naturally keen to see a fairer system.

interestingly, it is the Labour Patty, or at least some key figures in it, such as Chuka Umunna, who have been pushing for a debate on the issue now. That is because they realise that Britain might be saddled with a Conservative government for a very long time otherwise. Of course there are some Labour MPs and activists who have always been in favour of proportional representation (PR), but no Labour government has ever done anything about it when in office, having benefitted from the current system. There was a referendum early in the last parliament about whether to adopt the Australian system of the Alternative Vote (a very inferior alternative, in the eyes of most supporters of PR), which would have made things slightly better had it passed. But Labour failed to campaign strongly alongside the LibDems in favour, while the Tories firmly opposed. The Conservatives will also oppose the motion on moving to PR, arguing that First Past the Post gives us strong government, but that “strong government” is one that does not have the support of a majority of the electorate. Better to move to PR and enjoy a system that works well in many continental countries, where coalition governments reach consensus on issues and the pendulum swing from left to right and back again, as has so often happened in Britain, is far less marked. Under PR, the Labour Party could also divide into a Socialist Party and a Social Democrat Party, which would avoid the self-defeating internal battles we are seeing now. So, all in all, Britain’s democracy would be served better by PR — ideally the Single Transferable Vite system in place in The Republic of Ireland. But the current government will surely disagree.

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Refugees and Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015

YEM panelSeveral recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.

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UK Misses the EU Boat — Again!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015

Angela MerkelFrancois HollandeAngela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.

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Policies and Passion, Not Facts and Figures

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st April, 2014

IN or OUTAt the weekend, the former Labour MP Barbara Roche declared in a newspaper column, “I agree with Nick!”, referring to the two debates the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg held with his UKIP counterpart, Nigel Farage, over IN or OUT re Britain and the EU. Of course, I agree with Nick, too, but in trying to analyse why Mr Farage appeared to most people to have come out better from the confrontations– despite the fact that a narrow majority of Brits are reportedly now in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU — I have come to the conclusion that while Nick nobly stuck to facts, rather than Nigel Farage’s fantasy, facts and figures don’t necessarily win arguments of this sort. Farage came out with some very clear policy recommendations — end labour mobility within the EU, then leave the Union all together — which he put over with passion. I do not question Nick Clegg’s belief in the wisdom of continued British EU membership, or indeed of the need for European states to club together if they are going to compete properly in a highly competitive, multipolar world. But in such debates, perhaps he and other Liberal Democrats should show more passion — as he did when endorsing equal marriage, for example. Even people who are uninterested in politics often respond to passion. And it would be good when one has such a platform to put forward a clear, concrete proposal on how Liberal Democrats want to reform the EU from within. I’ve been trying to use that mixture of policy and passion in the hustings I’ve done so far, and though of course I will probably never win over any UKIP supporters or Tory Europhobes in the audience, I’ve found in general people have reacted well when I have unequivocally stood up for what I believe in, which is that Britain’s future is at the heart of Europe and that the EU must evolve in a way that guarantees peace and prosperity for all.

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Britain, Ireland and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th March, 2014

Ireland UK EUDan MulhallThe Irish in London have been in a fairly frolicking mood these last few days — perhaps not surprising considering St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to it than that. As the (relatively new) Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Dan Mulhall, put it at an event in the European Commission’s representation office, Europe House, this evening, the relationship between the UK and Eire has entered a whole new dimension by being fellow members of the European Union. That relationship has not always been easy in the past, given the resistance by certain English quarters to Irish home rule (the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone being a significant exception). But the combination of the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland and mutual interests within the EU have brought London and Dublin closer together now than ever in living memory. The Queen made what was generally regarded as a most successful visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, and the current Irish President,  Michael D. Higgins, is due here in London on the first ever state visit ere long. Ambassador Mulhall was in Europe House this evening for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by the Irish artist — long resident in London — Bernard Canavan, and naturally mused on the subject of Canavan’s work, which is largely about the Irish diaspora in the UK, from the Irish navvies working for Murphy’s to the nurses that helped keep the NHS afloat before more exotic helpmates arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps now some Brits could learn a thing or two from the Irish expats, not least a greater understanding of our common European identity, not only in culture but on a political level. All of the hundreds of thousands of Irish resident in the UK can vote here in the European elections on 22 May, of course, but so too can the residents of the other 26 EU member states other than Britain. The EU citizens, who make up such a vibrant part of London’s economy — as well as that in the UK as a whole — need to stand up and be counted, as to why Britain needs to be at the heart of the EU, not just for their future but for ours.

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The Consequences of UK Euroscepticism

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014

NOS logoTurhan Ozen and JFThis evening, at an inaugural debate at the new Network of Students (NOS) building in Whitehall my fellow London LibDem Euro-candidate Turhan Ozen and I debated the Consequences of the UK’s Euroscepticism with young people from Turkey, Russia (Chechnya), Ireland, the UK and elsewhere. I explained that when I was first sent to Brussels by Reuters soon after leaving university — and not very long after Britain joined the then European Economic Community — I was a bit of a Eurosceptic myself, but in the true sense of the word, i.e. examining critically and questioning what this evolving body and its institutions were all about. Seven years in the self-styled Capital of Europe really awakened me to the great potential of a more united Europe, as well as to the great richness and diversity of European culture. How much more so today, with 28 member states and a single market in which there is freedom of movement, which means young people can seek new opportunities for study, work or travel, and many older people find a place in the sun in which to retire. But all that is being put at risk by today’s Eurosceptics, who ought really to be called Europhobes. They hate the EU with a passion that at times spills over into xenophobia. Moreover much of the propaganda put out by UKIP, the Tory Right and their cheerleaders in the Press (Dail Mail, Daily Express et al) is packed with lies, distortions and myths, which means that those of us who are Euro-realists — acknowledging the validity of the European project, while recognising that some things need to be reformed — are forced to spend a lot of our time simply refuting rubbish. Like the “invasion” of Britain by millions of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants this month, which simply hasn’t happened. Or the claim that EU migrants are a huge burden on our welfare system — even ripping it off — whereas all the evidence shows that they make a substantial net contribution to the national coffers through their tax and national insurance. As I said this evening, my fear is that in trying to placate the Europhobes in his own party in the forlorn hope that this will quieten them down, David Cameron is acually encouraging them to demand more. At the same time, our continental partners are getting increasingly pissed off with hokey-cokey Britain, with one foot in and one foot out, while trying to shake it all about. No wonder growing numbers of continentals now shrug their shoulders at the prospect of a UK withdrawal, as opposed to the expression of dismay of a few years ago. The run-up to the European elections in May are going to be a rum affair in this country, with the major Coalition partner singing from a very different hymn-sheet from that of its junior partner. But so be it. Nick Clegg and everyone else, from Party President Tim Farron through Ministers to MPs and most LibDem activists are singing the same hymn, which proclaims that the Liberal Democrats are the party of IN. We must shout that from the rooftops so fellow Euro-realists realise there actually is a mainstream party in the UK that is sane on the matter.

Link: http://www.networkofstudents.org/nos/

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Standing up for Gibraltar

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 20th August, 2013

GibraltarGibraltar demo 1This evening I’ll be on a live current affairs programme on the English language service of the Iranian broadcaster PressTV, defending the British position on Gibraltar. By coincidence I sailed past Gibraltar last Wednesday (and got some very friendly waves from Spanish fishermen as they came up close, maybe partly because we were flying a Maltese flag, the ship being registered in Valetta). Anyway,  I have been to the Rock on a number of occasions, including an Executive of Liberal International some years ago, when Liberal Democrats from around the world were able to get an insight into this odd little place, with a population of under 30,000. That population is very mixed; a sizable minority has Spanish origins and some British, but many hark back to Malta, Morocco, Portugal and other places in the Western Mediterranean region. The territory is British, having been ceded in perpetuity by the Treaty of Utrecht, 300 years ago, but it is self-governing. Moreover, as regular intervals the Gibraltarians have been asked in a referendum whether they wish to join Spain or stay British, and the answer each time has been a resounding “British!”. There have often been spats between London and Madrid over the status of Gibraltar. General Franco, the dictator who ousted the Republican government in Spain in the late 1930s, actually closed the border to the colony in 1969. And at various times Spain has imposed restrictions on traffic. That’s what is happening at the moment, with some vehicles taking three hours or more to get across. Moreover, the Spanish have threatened to impose a €50 fee for entry into Spain from Gibraltar, which would be in complete contravention of the principle of free movement within the European single market. The official cause of the current dispute is the construction of an artificial reef off the shore of Gibraltar, which Spanish fishermen say will harm the environment and fish stocks, claims the Gibraltarians refute. But the matter has now been handed over to the European Commission to examine the claims and counter-claims. As Britain and Spain are both members of the EU (and Gibraltarians vote in European elections as part of the South West England constituency) this is the sensible way forward. The Commission President, José Manuel Barroso is Portuguese, so ideal as a peacebroker. But there will doubtless be much posturing by both sides until the matter is resolved.

Link to the PressTV debate: http://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.presstv.ir/detail/2013/08/21/319752/gibraltar-reef-rift-deflects-to-sovereignty/&ct=ga&cd=MTAwMDgzMDgxNDAzNTY0MDM0MjE&cad=CAEYAA&usg=AFQjCNEvluErVkKpwOKpitFhMlKz4kiswQ

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Germany’s Despair at Cameron

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th December, 2011

When Angela Merkel met David Cameron 10 days ago, she told him, ‘I want to help you!’ She understood that he had problems with his Europhobic backbenchers and was offering to work with him quietly to help sort out some way that last week’s EU summit in Brussels could help find a structure in which to strengthen the euro (and the eurozone with it) while meeting some of Britain’s particular concerns. But instead of welcoming this offer, when the summit’s opening dinner went on well into the night, the British Prime Minister threw his toys out of the pram, actually jeopardising Britain’s best interests in the process. He had of course already marginalised his party from the European mainstream by pulling it out of the EPP — to which Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and many of the EU’s other big hitters belong — so he wasn’t even present at the crucial EPP Leaders’ pre-meeting in Marseilles, or even properly plugged in to what was happening on the Continent in recent weeks. The Germans were aghast at his behaviour, I am reliably informed from the highest source — and not especially delighted that this allowed Sarkozy to prance around crowing like a cockerel ruling the roost. Nonetheless, the Germans have decided to keep schtum, as they believe that openly attacking Cameron would only make matters worse. They will remain silent while praying that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats manage to row the Coalition Government at least a little way back from the disastrous place that Cameron has landed us in. German banks based in the City are horrified by the way things are going; far from helping the City of London, they say, the PM risks undermining it. And a final comment from my high-level source from Berlin (with which I can only concur): ‘Those politicians and newspapers in Britain who describe themselves as Eurosceptics are not sceptical at all. Scepticism implies a healthy determination not to accept something until one has examined it thoroughly. They are actually Europhobes, who blatantly ignore or distort the truth unless it happens to fit in with their own prejudices.’

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Libya and the Responsibility to Protect

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th March, 2011

UN Security Council resolution 1973 regarding Libya is a milestone in the development not only of the concept of the Responsibility to Protect but also the realisation of its practical implications. Muammar Gaddafi had shown such flagrant disregard for the well-being of his people, in his brutal attempts to suppress the popular uprising against him, that the international community could not just sit back and watch a massacre take place. This of course goes counter to a longstanding principle in force really since the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648: the concept of the sovereignty of the nation state — in other words, that other countries should not interefere in the internal affairs of sovereign states. That is a principle that both Russia and China are keen to see maintained (because of their fears over restless regions such as Chechnya and Tibet) and explains why they both abstained on Resolution 1973. At least they did not veto it, thus giving a green light to international action, with UN backing. Britain, France and Lebanon took the lead on this, with the United States coming on board soon after. At least two other Arab states — the UAE and Qatar — have also indicated their willingness to be involved in the operation to protect the Libyan people. But inevitably the main thrust will come from NATO, with France and Britain again taking the lead. Like many who opposed the Iraq War, I feel that UN action on Libya was essential. But the challenge will be to bring a swift end to Gaddafi’s attacks on the rebels without things escalating or becoming too protracted. And then ideally Gaddafi must go — perferably pushed out by his own people.

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