Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Dominic Raab’

A War with COVID19?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th April, 2020

War on coronavirus 1On both sides of the Atlantic, the rhetoric around the fight against the Coronavirus has become increasingly bellicose. Having initially tried to pass the whole thing off as a “Democrat hoax” President Donald Trump has now switched to wartime mode, though he can’t resist the temptation to take swipes at domestic political rivals, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, at the same time. In Britain, Boris Johnson — the author of a (not very good) book about Winston Churchill, among other things — quickly slipped into a Churchill tribute act when the virus started reaping lives here, though with a degree of Boy’s Own flippancy that would have made Mr Churchill wince. Now, of course, Boris Johnson is in hospital, having failed to shake off a bout of the virus himself and one can only wish him a speedy and full recovery. But even if Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is standing in for him at today’s COBRA meeting to discuss the crisis the language is still all about war. Even the Queen last night struck a note of wartime nostalgia in her national TV broadcast with an obvious reference to the (not entirely accurate) spirit of the Blitz, as well as making an allusion to Vera Lynn’s emotive song, We’ll Meet Again.

War on coronavirus 2Extraordinary measures unseen outside wartime have been brought in by the governments of Britain and many other countries, restricting people’s freedom of movement and association, in the belief that social distancing is the most effective weapon to stop the spread of the disease. And across the European Union border restrictions have reappeared after decades of open frontiers and nations are turning in on themselves. To an extent this is understandable, but battening down the hatches on a national level and evoking a wartime spirit could adversely affect international relations for years to come. Moreover, there has been a disturbing rise in right-wing nationalism, not least in some of the former Communist states of central Europe, and in the United States individual states are becoming rivals when it comes to things such as securing sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE). Surely the notion  of “we’re all in this together” should be international, indeed global, not just within national or state boundaries? COVID19 could have serious repercussions for the integrity and future of the European Union unless a more coherent common EU strategy to confront it is put in place. I know health is not usually an EU competence but in this instance it needs to be.  Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, has called for a global ceasefire in the myriad armed conflicts still ravaging various parts of the globe. No-one seems to be listening to him, alas, but they need to. Combatting COVID19 requires peace and international cooperation. So tone down the warlike rhetoric, guys, and adopt a more constructive approach.

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With Friends Like John Bolton…

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th August, 2019

John Bolton 2The hawkish US National Security Adviser, John Bolton, is in London for a couple of days, schmoozing Boris Johnson’s Brexiteer government. Though he is dangling the prospect of a significant US-UK trade deal after 31 October — whose terms will doubtless be more beneficial to Washington — his real motive for being here is to try to turn the screws on Britain to stand up against Iran. So far the UK has remained firm in its determination to try to salvage the Iran Nuclear Deal, from which the United States withdrew, and is thus more closely aligned with its European partners, France and Germany, on this issue. But the failure of the Europeans to rally round in support of a British suggestion to put together a maritime presence to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz means that the Brits have had to join a US-led operation instead. John Bolton will be trying to persuade the Conservative government that it should go further and throw its whole weight behind the US strategy of exerting “maximum pressure” on Tehran, by strengthening sanctions. The Americans have even sanctioned the Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who has been an important figure in trying to calm tensions between the Islamic Republic and the West. The last Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, established a good working relationship with Mr Zarif, but it is doubtful that his successor, Dominic Raab, will do the same. So the risk of Britain’s being dragged into a new military conflict in the Gulf (remember the invasion of Iraq in 2003?) is very real. Meanwhile, Mr Johnson (at the behest of special adviser Dominic Cummings, one wonders?) has instructed British diplomats to start withdrawing from joint meetings and initiatives with our EU partners even though we are still officially a member state. This will inevitably push us further into the arms of the Trump administration. No wonder Donald Trump — a self-declared Boris Johnson fan — and John Bolton look so happy. But frankly, with friends like John Bolton, who needs enemies?

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Theresa May’s Temper Tantrum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd September, 2018

Theresa May Downing StreetTheresa May returned from the Salzburg EU Council in angry bird mode. In a fiery statement at 10 Downing Street she accused our 27 EU partners of a lack of respect and demanded that they come up with a workable alternative to her rejected Chequers Plan for Brexit. She was obviously riled by EU Council President Donald Tusk’s admittedly cheeky Instagram posting of a photo of the two of them with a cake-stand loaded with pastries, captioned “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.” This was a reference to the charge that Britain is trying to cherry-pick some of the greatest benefits of EU membership as it formally leaves the Union. Most notably, the Chequers Plan proposes effectively remaining in the European single market for goods and food, but not for services. The British government has been told repeatedly that this is a non-starter, as the EU is determined that the single market must not be undermined; it is indivisible. The 27 remaining members are united on that and French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, was deeply irritated that Mrs May chirpily repeated her Chequers proposals at Salzburg all the same.

Tusk May cakeTo make matters worse, back in Downing Street the Prime Minister asserted that the EU had not explained why the Chequers Plan won’t work, which, to put it bluntly, is a lie. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, had set out very clearly the fundamental objections some time ago to his clueless British counterpart, Dominic Raab. The EU also believes that the British still have not come up with a workable solution to the Irish border issue — and it is for Britain to do so, Brussels argues, as it is Britain that is leaving the EU, not the other way round. But it was clear from Theresa May’s combative statement yesterday that facts are no longer at the centre of her political rhetoric. She has adopted the Trumpian disdain for truth that characterises her Brexiteer Tory MP colleagues. And it was to them, not to Brussels, that her remarks yesterday were really aimed. She is fighting to save her political skin. Chequers is dead as a dodo, but she is on the endangered list too, now. And meanwhile the clock ticks towards 29 March 2019, the scheduled date for Britain’s departure from the EU, which seriously threatens to be a disastrous crashing out with no deal unless common sense — and ideally a People’s Vote — prevails.

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Britain up a Cul-de-sac

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd August, 2018

May Corbyn 1August is traditionally the political silly season, where nothing of import happens and the media look for quirky stories to fill newspaper pages or broadcasting airtime. We have had a little bit of that this year, for example all the hype given to the rescue of a woman who somehow managed to “fall” off the back of a cruise ship. But otherwise here in Britain there is an air of gloom about the place, like an invisible pea-souper fog, all to do with Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May must know that she is on a hiding to nothing, pursuing her Chequers vision of a Brexit deal with the other 27 EU member states; Michel Barnier quiet rightly said after his meeting with Brexit Minister Dominic Raab on Monday that Britain cannot expect the rules-based EU to change its principles or to undermine the integrity of the single market just because Britain is hell-bent on leaving. But the official Opposition gives no cause for cheer on this front either. Jeremy Corbyn yesterday failed six times to give a straight answer to a straight question from Channel 4 News, as to whether he believed Britain would be better off outside the EU. Of course, both he and Theresa May know the answer to that is “No”, as is becoming increasingly clear, but they are afraid to say so. The Armageddon option on Brexit is a “no deal” situation, which Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently rashly suggested was a strong possibility, which professional bodies such as the British Medical Association and the Road Hauliers Association have warned would lead to serious shortages and cuts to services, as well as higher prices and a possible run on the pound. The plain truth is that Brexit Britain is up a cul-de-sac, and with both major parties (accordingly to Ipsos MORI) currently polling 40% each, the electorate clearly doesn’t know which way to turn. But as anyone who drives into a narrow cul-de-sac knows, there is only one sensible strategy to follow: back up and back out.

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