Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

My New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016

stop-brexit-smallI don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.

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Clean Brexit: Another Post-Truth Myth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th December, 2016

article-2737206-20e2281200000578-660_634x450A full six months have elapsed since Britain’s EU Referendum, yet the public is still being kept in the dark about what Brexit would mean. Prime Minister Theresa May refuses to divulge her “plan” (even to the Queen, which is surely a violation of convention). But many of us suspect that Mrs May still doesn’t have a clue about what should or should not happen. Alas, the clock is ticking towards her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50. Meanwhile, the Brexiteers have realised that the term “Hard Brexit” (whereby the U.K. would abruptly leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union) might sound a little off-putting, so they are trying to rebrand it as “Clean Brexit” — a euphemism that makes it sound sane, even desirable. George Orwell ought to be alive today to write about how language corrupts thought in post-truth Britain. It’s not just all the fanciful statistics that get bandied about, most of them plucked from the sky. The really invidious thing is the way that Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers are distorting language to persuade the public that somehow leaving the EU will be good for us. Never mind the fact that the EU has helped maintain peace in Western Europe for 70 years. Or that the UK economy has sunk from 5th in the world to 7th (or even 8th, according to some calculations) just since June. Or that the vultures in the United States and indeed some other EU member states are salivating at the rich pickings that may be waiting for them if the City of London loses some of its prime position. No, Farage, May and the three ghastly Brexit Ministers will continue to try to con us with soothing words, to make us believe that the future will be brilliant once we have achieved our “freedom” from the “dictatorship” of Brussels. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. But it is serious, and Brexit will only be stopped if people stand up and shout, “No, that’s not what we wanted, at all!”

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A Taste of Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th December, 2016

bulgarian-eveningLast night Kingston Liberal Democrats hosted a very successful Bulgarian evening at the Bulgarian House restaurant in Surbiton. This is one of a whole series of social events initiated by former MP Ed Davey to celebrate different member states of the European Union. Those of us who felt bruised by the outcome of the EU Referendum welcome such opportunities to savour European diversity, and what better way than through sharing food? It is interesting to note that according to opinion polls the popularity of the EU has gone up in the UK since June 23rd; perhaps people are beginning to realise just what we seem to be about to throw away. It’s a pity more was not done to celebrate EU membership before the Referendum; successive governments failed to make the case, instead lazily falling into the habit of blaming Brussels for anything that went wrong while claiming full national credit for anything that went right. It is telling that on the morning after the Referendum the most common google search in the UK was reportedly “What Is the EU?” If only more people had taken the trouble to find out before they voted! As the UK will remain a member of the EU for at least another two-and-a-half years, however, it is not too late to make up for lost time, not just celebrating the cuisine and cultures of our 27 partners but championing the cause of Europe as well. At the very least we should stay in the Singe Market, but of course, if we do that, we might as well stay in the EU as well. This should be an option in any future referendum that might occur after Brexit negotiations have produced a putative deal.

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Time for Brexiteers to Fess up

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd October, 2016

theresa-villiersIt’s unusual for banks to make the news over a weekend but social media are abuzz over reports that several major banks are considering leaving London, to relocate somewhere on the continent, to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the full benefits of being part of the European single market. During the EU referendum campaign, many of us on the Remain side warned that this might happen, but the Brexiteers poo-pooed the notion, saying that even if Britain leaves the EU it will continue to be able to trade exactly as before, whether in goods or services. Such an argument flies in the face of the realities of the single market, but alas too many Brexiteers were not prepared to engage with facts, especially if they were presented by people who actually knew what they were talking about. Similarly, also this weekend, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, announced categorically that the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire will not be able to function as it does now once the UK is outside the EU. I argued that point against the then Northern Ireland Minister, Theresa Villiers, at a public meeting in Barnet during the referendum campaign and she got thunderous applause from the audience by declaring that there would be absolutely no change to the open border policy after Brexit. What she said was populist codswallop, maintaining that we can have our cake and eat it.

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson was a serial offender in that respect, making all sorts of fanciful claims during the campaign about how green the grass will be on the other side of the Brexit fence, in total contradiction to the facts. Unsurprisingly, PM Theresa May got a very frosty reception from her 27 EU colleagues at the recent EU Council, so maybe the penny is beginning to drop with her that Brexit is both economically and politically disastrous for Britain. It has already caused the pound to plummet; just wait to hear the howls of protest when inflation starts to rocket as a result of higher-priced imports.  I very much doubt that Mrs May has the courage to say, as she should, “This is madness. Let’s pull back from the brink before banks leave and the economy contracts.” But until she does, the Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers should fess up and tell the British public and the more rabid elements of the national media that they lied, repeatedly, during the referendum campaign and that they are sorry, and that whatever unsatisfactory deal is cobbled together over the next two years or so should be put before the electorate to ask whether they really prefer that to staying in the EU, with all the benefits that that brings.

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Witney: A Golden Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

img_1518Tomorrow the voters of Witney in Oxfordshire will be going to the polls in a by-election caused by the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Normally this would be safe Conservative territory (despite the fact that one previous incumbent defected to Labour), but these aren’t normal times. David Cameron made the disastrous mistake of calling June’s EU Referendum, convinced that he would win, and his successor as PM, Theresa May, seems determined to march down the road to a “hard Brexit” despite all the warnings from economists about the damage that will do to Britain’s GDP. Interestingly, West Oxfordshire (of which Witney is the administrative seat) voted for Remain in the Referendum, but the Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. All this could produce a perfect storm for the Liberal Democrats as the party  that is not afraid to show its European colours. The LibDem candidate, a personable local businesswoman and councillor, Liz Leffman, is well known, having fought the constituency in 2005. Several pro-EU groups have endorsed her and hundreds of LibDem volunteers have been pouring in daily to campaign for her. The Tories deliberately called the by-election quickly, to avoid any opposition head of steam building up, so it is probably not likely that Liz can win, but coming a very strong second would send a very powerful message to 10 Downing Street. And if Liz did pull off an Orpington-style victory then the whole story of Brexit could be changed.

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A Closed or Open Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016

ciaran-devane-and-anSince the British EU Referendum in June there has been a lot of talk about “Hard Brexit” versus “Soft Brexit”, with Prime Minister Theresa May giving the impression that she favours the former, i.e. sacrificing access to the European single market in order to “get back control” of immigration. Remainers like myself not surprisingly think that is utter madness. But last night, at the British Council headquarters off Trafalgar Square, the Council’s CEO, Sir Ciaran Devane, asked an invited audience to think instead of the alternative between a “Closed Brexit” (with a more isolated Britain) or an “Open Brexit”, in which Britain would remain outward-looking and open not just for business but also for cultural interchange. Sir Ciaran was giving the Edmund Burke Lecture, sponsored by the venerable publication Annual Register and ProQuest, and made no secret of his own preference for Britain’s remaining in the EU, but if Brexit is going ahead then it is important that it proceeds in the most positive way possible. The British Council of course does have global reach, being active in around 150 countries and does far more than just promote British culture and values. Through its Young Arab Voices programme, for example, it is giving young people in the Middle East and North Africa skills that will help them express themselves. Other projects have a clearly developmental element of empowerment. Sir Ciaran lamented the fact that once Britain is out of the EU Ministers and officials will no longer be part of the regular meetings with our current 27 partners discussing all sorts of issues that impact on the creative industries. So it will be important to find other ways of exchanging information and views to prevent Britain becoming further isolated.

[photo: Sir Ciaran Devane and event chairman Alastair Niven]

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Brexit and the Baltic States

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016

Baltic States flags.jpgA few days before June’s EU Referendum invited to Riga to give a lecture on Brexit at the University of Latvia. The mood among the audience (and other speakers) was one of total mystification: why would Britain want to leave the EU after more than 40 years, when other countries are knocking on the door to get in? Three months later, the attitude of the Baltic States to the Brexit vote is one of sorrow and dismay, partly because they believe Britain’s departure (if it happens) will weaken the EU but also because they feel it will affect them. The possible return home of Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonia migrants currently working in the UK is one outcome, but as the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Asta Skaisgiryte, said at a Political and Economic Circle Forum at the National Liberal Club this evening, a major concern is about security, in particular the way that the EU will or will not continue to stand up to Russia. All the Baltic states are nervous about Vladimir Putin, following the Russian encroachment into Georgia and Ukraine, not to mention the dreadful decades of Soviet occupation, human rights abuses and deportations. But the Ambassador also highlighted a specific potential threat from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, arguing where would its growing naval and military might be focused if not westwards to Europe? Baroness Judith Jolly, a LibDem spokesperson on defence in the House of Lords. also concentrated on security matters in her comments from this evening’s panel. Although Britain will remain a member of NATO, pulling out of EU cooperation could weaken the North Atlantic Alliance. Moreover, Brexit could be a prelude to other political events that would have been unthinkable only months ago, such as a possible Donald Trump victory in the US presidential election in November or the triumph of the Front National’s Marine Le Pen in next year’s French elections. It was interesting that an unusually large turnout had registered for the seminar, which also heard from Tom Brake MP, LibDem Foreign Affairs spokesman in the Commons, Vytis Jurkonis from the Freedom Association office in Vilnius, and the Chairman, Lord Chidgey.

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UK Press Coverage of the EU Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st September, 2016

eu-referendum-uk-pressBritish newspapers are notoriously partisan, which is a polite way of saying politically biased. But do they actually influence the way people think and vote, or rather do readers gravitate to titles that reflect their own opinions? It has often been argued that the latter is the case, which might suggest that the bias does not really matter, yet when so much of the UK Press argued for Brexit, I couldn’t help wondering if that contributed significantly to the narrow vote to leave the EU. So I was pleased to be able to attend a seminar last night at Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament London representation, to listen to a panel discussing the findings of a report on UK Press coverage of the EU Referendum, published by the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism in association with PRIME Research. The study, which looked at the Tuesday and Saturday editions of nine leading newspapers, found that 41% of the articles that focused on the referendum were pro-Leave whereas only 27% were pro-Remain. When the readership reach of the different newspapers was factored in, the imbalance was even more marked, as 48% were then identified as pro-Leave and only 22% pro-Remain. The study noted that Europe was not a particularly important issue for voters until 2010 and only became so after it was linked to immigration. The referendum campaign itself coincided with a decline in David Cameron’s popularity and the Remain campaign appeared unable or unwilling to articulate a positive vision for Britain’s EU membership instead focusing on the risks of Brexit. The Leave side then cleverly exploited what it dubbed Project Fear. The Remainers concentrated almost entirely on economic arguments whereas the Leavers gave more weight to matters such as sovereignty and migration. Neither side could claim to have told the unblemished truth, though the most egregious lie was the £350 million a week claim the Leave campaign could be saved by no longer paying in to the EU budget, instead spending the money on the embattled NHS. The Daily Express maintained a barrage of anti-EU migrant stories, though the reach and therefore impact of the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph was more significant. The pro-Remain newspapers were essentially the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and the Financial Times, though interestingly polling results later showed that a significant number of Daily Mirror readers voted to Leave, underlining the social/economic class dimension to the vote.

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The Liberal Democrat Plan for Britain in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th September, 2016

tim-farron-1Guest post by Tim Farron, Leader of the Liberal Democrats:

Liberal Democrats believe that the British people should have their say on the final Brexit deal in a referendum. Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. British people have a right to have their say on whether the deal they are offered is the right one for them, their families, their communities and our country.

The Liberal Democrats remain a proudly pro-European party. Following the referendum, we are setting out clear answers to some of the big questions and what we think should happen next.

Key constitutional questions

Should we re-run the referendum to overturn the results of the first?

No. We believe that the Leave campaign lied blatantly, leading many people to believe things such as a vote to leave would mean £350 million a week for the NHS. However, we should not keep re-running the last referendum in order to get the result we wanted.

Should the British people have the final decision on the government’s negotiated deal?

Yes. In voting to leave, there was no opportunity to vote for how future trading relationships should be, or how we should work with other countries over things like criminal justice, law and order, ease of travel etc. Voting for a departure is not the same as voting for a destination. When the deal is negotiated, in however many years’ time, the British people must have a chance to say if they would prefer the new arrangement, outside the European Union, or would prefer to remain inside the European Union.

Should young people (16-18) have a vote in a future referendum?

Yes. Liberal Democrats would introduce legislation to lower the voting age to sixteen.

Should Parliament vote on Article 50?

Yes. Parliament is the supreme law-making body in the United Kingdom. There should be a formal vote in Parliament to give notice under Article 50 and trigger the process for withdrawal. Liberal Democrats will decide how they will vote after they see the terms on which the government proposes to negotiate.

Key issues for negotiation

Protection of rights for EU citizens and UK citizens

Those who have made the United Kingdom their home should be allowed to stay. We will seek to secure the same for UK citizens living in European Union countries.

Freedom of Movement and the Single Market

Any deal negotiated for the United Kingdom outside the European Union must include membership of the Single Market and protect freedom of movement.

Maintaining environmental standards

We have a duty to future generations to protect our environment and tackle climate change. We will ensure that everything is done to maintain those high standards in UK law.

Law enforcement and judicial co-operation

We must maintain maximum cooperation to ensure criminals are pursued quickly and effectively.

Protection of Erasmus, investment in our universities and research networks

We should do everything we can to protect Erasmus, as well as other EU funded schemes increasing opportunities for young people. We will campaign to sustain the levels of investment in UK universities and their associated research networks.

Travel and tourism

We must make every effort to ensure that we retain ‘soft’ traveller benefits such as the European Health Insurance Card, reduced roaming charges and pet passports.

British industries

The City of London must retain full rights in EU financial markets.  We must also protect the support provided by the European Union to domestic industries such as farming, tourism and the creative industries, as well as regional support for deprived areas.

Like our plan for Britain in Europe? Share it on social media!

 

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016

Tim Farron on Europe marchI was so shattered by last week’s EU Referendum outcome that I haven’t been able to write my blog, but yesterday’s March for Europe in central London lifted my spirits. An estimated 50,000 people congregated at Hyde Park Corner, before marching to Parliament Square, waving UK and EU flags and holding aloft hand-made signs, many bearing witty puns. There was a large Liberal Democrat contingent, with Tim Farron leading; both he and the party got numerous cheers, as having campaigned overtly for Remain. What I found most encouraging was the response of the public as the march went past: waves and yells from visitors on the London Tour buses and lots of honking horns from motorists. There was a carnival atmosphere, aided by the sun and spontaneous outbursts of song, yet there was no ignoring the fact that many people in the crowd (including me) were angry that Britain may be taken out of the EU on a narrow referendum vote at least partly influenced by the lies of the Leave campaign. Having brought about this disaster, by calling an unnecessary referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron has now washed his hands of all responsibility, though he will stay in office over the summer, a lame duck while five contenders of varying degrees of charm/repulsiveness slug it out to succeed him. All, alas, are committed to going ahead with Brexit, though many on the march yesterday hopes that the almost inevitable failure to come up with a desirable post-Brexit plan might change some minds. Other marchers were demanding an election. And where was Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? At an event in his constituency, apparently; having been lukewarm at best in backing Remain he had doubtless been advised that he risked getting booed if he turned up on the march.

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