Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘DUP’

High Noon for Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 27th March, 2019

House of Commons 1Today the British Parliament will demonstrate how focused it is having seized control of the House of Commons agenda from the Executive. The Speaker, John Bercow, has to choose between 16 separate propositions that have been put forward on how to extract Brexit from its parliamentary impasse. He’ll probably select only half, at most, for a collective series of “indicative votes”, the idea being that this will give some idea where the mood of the House is at present — whether it is, for example, for a Norway-style future relationship with the EU, or for a new referendum or whatever. The feeling in the Westminster bubble is that it is unlikely that any one proposition will get majority support, which means that there may be a run-off between the two most favoured options (perhaps) on Monday.

Barry Gardiner 1In the meantime, Parliament has to pass a statutory instrument moving Brexit Day from 29 March to 12 April, otherwise the UK could just crash out of the EU at 11pm this Friday, as some of the hard Brexiteers would like. Meanwhile, the waters are muddied by contradictory signals from within the two main parties. Jacob Rees-Mogg and some of his European Reform Group chums have been hinting they could support Mrs May’s deal (Withdrawal Agreement) if the DUP from Northern Ireland does too, but that is far from certain. On the Labour side, Barry Gardiner has stuck his oar in, not for the first time, insisting that Labour does not wish to thwart Brexit, even though that is clearly what a majority of Labour members want. Over the channel, EU Council President Donald Tusk has asked the European Parliament to be prepared to give Brits a longer period to reflect on the future, which would mean the UK taking part in the European elections in May. And back in London, the Prime Minister still hopes that if she chooses her moment well (not something she has shown a great ability for so far) she will be able to get her deal through, as Brexiteers hold their nose at backing a deal they dislike in order to avoid having no Brexit at all. So, in a nutshell, today will be an action-packed one in the House of Commons. And with everything still to play for, no-one can claim to know exactly what is going to happen to Brexit now.

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Britain All at Sea

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th January, 2019

britain all at seaOne of the most popular tropes of the colonial era was that Britain rules the waves. But for the country that once boasted that it had an empire on which the sun never set, another metaphor is more apt today: Britain is all at sea. Ever since the shock result of the EU Referendum in June 2016, the UK has been on a downward spiral in terms of international standing, while at the same time riven by increasingly bitter internal divisions. Prime Minister Theresa May called an unnecessary general election in 2017, saying she wanted a healthy mandate with which to negotiate with our 27 EU partners Britain’s orderly departure from the Union. Instead, she lost her parliamentary majority, but she decided to ignore the message of that and instead has ploughed on with her vision of Brexit. This she has continued to do single mindedly ever since, losing several Brexit Ministers along the way. The deal she ended up with pleases nobody, yet she is insisting that the choice now before the country is between that and a catastrophic No Deal crashing out of the EU on 29 March.

leave means leave Parliament blew a giant raspberry at her deal the other day, defeating it by an historic 230 votes, yet she continues to press on with it, like a stubborn ox. The Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, meanwhile flaps around like an impotent mynah bird screeching “General election! General election!”, though there is no way the Conservatives and the Northern Irish DUP who prop them up are going to back one. And meanwhile the clock ticks on to Brexit departure day. Just how near to the deadline will it have to come before the Government blinks and either asks for an extension of Article 50 (or, preferably, rescinds it)? Meanwhile, the arch-Brexiteers have gone into full Blitz spirit, savouring the prospect of Britain standing alone, even if life will be more difficult. At a Leave Means Leave rally in central London last night, the more radical Leave supporters celebrated the notion of No Deal. Just show two fingers to the rest of the Europe, they argued,. And to Scotland and Northern Ireland (both of which voted Remain in 2016). And to Remainers. No wonder the rest of the world thinks Britain has gone completely mad, bobbing along in a leaking boat in the mid-Atlantic, singing Rule Britannia, as it risks sinks beneath the waves.

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Why Theresa Is Cross at Boris

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd October, 2018

May Johnson 1Boris Johnson reportedly attracted over 1,000 people to his fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference today. He remains the Tory activists’ darling. But the Prime Minister is not amused. In fact she told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that what she had heard about her former Foreign Secretary’s speech had made her “cross” —  which is strong language from a woman who confessed a while back that the naughtiest thing she had ever done in her life was to run through a field of wheat as a child. Typically, Boris did a photo shoot yesterday in a pair of his ghastly Hawaiian shorts running across a field in a move clearly aimed to poke fun at Mrs May and to draw attention away from other politicians present at Birmingham. His “Chuck Chequers” performance today had Boris groupies queuing round the block, while the main conference chamber has often been three-quarters empty. The real reason for Theresa May’s anger (other than his gross disloyalty and the fact that he has been singularly rude about her Chequers Brexit plan) was sparked because, she said, “he wanted to tear up our guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the UK.” As for Chequers, Boris reportedly said in a typical Johnson flourish that the PM risked being prosecuted under a 14th century law saying that “no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country” — describing Chequers as an “outrage”.

Boris Johnson runningHowever, many of Mrs May’s Cabinet colleagues share her distaste for Boris’s antics at a time when the government is trying to rally support behind Brexit negotiations. Those negotiations are looking increasingly fraught, however, with little likelihood of a breakthrough unless the UK government compromises on Chequers quite significantly. But that would provoke a backlash from MPs belonging to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, as well, probably, as from the DUP, on whose support Mrs May depends for her parliamentary majority. That means whatever deal is put to Parliament has a strong probability of being voted down. Mrs May’s future as leader would then be very much in doubt, though that may not lead to Boris taking over. As I pointed out in an interview with HispanTV this morning, under the Conservative Party rules, in a leadership MPs choose which two candidates to put before the wider membership for selection, and Boris has made many enemies among his colleagues in the House. “Charlatan” and “egotist” are two of the politer words being used about him, but should there be a contest some time over the next few months we can probably be assured of some far more colourful language as Tory MPs plot how to Stop Boris.

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Mrs May’s Rose-tinted Vision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2018

Theresa MayThis lunchtime the Prime Minister delivered her long-awaited vision for Brexit Britain. The speech was beautifully crafted (congratulations to whoever actually wrote it), but my analysis of the content is less complimentary. As there have been conflicting statements about Brexit even among Cabinet Ministers — along a spectrum from Chancellor Philip Hammond to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — it was good to hear what Mrs May, supposedly speaking on behalf of the Government, actually envisages as the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Some basic principles were very clear, namely that the Government respects the result of the 2016 EU Referendum and therefore Britain is leaving the European Union. Similarly, it wishes to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom. But other things were not so clear-cut. However, in a nutshell, what Mrs May was calling for was a bespoke deal for Britain that would be quite different from any other trade arrangement the EU has — for example with Norway or Canada — but would seek to achieve the best possible results for both sides, while defending the security and prosperity of the UK. She said Britain would like to stay inside some EU agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency, and would therefore accept a degree of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, though only on a piecemeal basis. The City of London will be dismayed that the Prime Minister accepted that banks and financial institutions based in the UK will not enjoy passporting rights to the EU because it will leave the single market; one can almost hear the stampede out of London for Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin already as a result. Equally, Britain will not be part of the customs union (or even Jeremy Corbyn’s “a customs union”), but the Government would still hope there to be frictionless trade with the EU. This really is having cake and eating it territory and is likely to be met with a giant raspberry from Brussels. Then there is the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Mrs May said the Government does not want to see the return of a hard border with border controls, asking rhetorically whether this is something Brussels would wish to impose. That is disingenuous, as clearly an external border of the EU cannot be completely open to the movement of goods, people and services so some sort of compromise solution will be necessary unless Northern Ireland has some separate customs arrangement from the rest of the UK — which is anathema to the Conservatives’ political bedfellows, the DUP. Despite the fact that the Government’s own studies showed that UK economic growth will be hit whichever Brexit route the country follows, Mrs May still sees the post-Brexit future through rose-tinted spectacles, in a world in which Britain will enjoy new freedoms and enhanced prestige while retaining what it wants from current arrangements. Cherry-picking, in a phrase. What she did not specify, however, is how her vision — which included a number of practical alternatives on trade — would benefit the country. But that’s not surprising, because it can’t.

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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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Ken, Julie, Shazia and a Tory Called Dave

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 30th January, 2010

There was a rowdy Question Time-style meeting (compered by DJ Stewart Who?) at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in Lambeth last night, at which the main sport for some was clearly Bindel-baiting. Columnist and radical feminist political activist Julie Bindel has upset the transgender community with several of her comments about gender dysphoria and related topics, and about 40 Trans-people and friends held a good-humoured demonstration outside the venue (corraled safely by police, well away from the entrance) chanting slogans criticising the RVT’s decision to ‘give a platform to bigotry’. Inside the pub was much noisier at times, as a few persistent hecklers shouted at her every time she said (or they thought she said) something that offended them, some even drawing parallels between her and Nick Griffin of the BNP. One person threw a plastic name-badge and lanyard at her. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the out-gay Tory parliamentary candidate for Eltham, David Gold, and I therefore found ourselves having to speak up for freedom of speech, as well as defining our own varying lines on the LGBT issues that were being raised. Shazia Mirza, the Muslim comedian who, like Julie Bindel, has been receiving death threats, brought some welcome light relief with some well-judged satirical jokes. It was a shame, though, that the evening became rather dominated by the Bindel-bashing, as I would have liked to ask the personable David Gold what he is going to do to protest about his party leadership’s cuddling up to homophobes in Northern Ireland and the European Parliament. And also to explain the extraordinary boxed quote at the top of his website, from ‘a former Labour voter’, viz: “My purse was stolen in the supermarket. Immigration is out of control. We need a change.” That strikes me as pandering to xenophobia, even racism, which sits oddly with his commitment to LGBT rights.

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