Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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The Sun’s “Iconic Passport” Con-trick.

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd December, 2017

0D80C254-AD73-484B-B5FB-0895D3509F6CThe Sun newspaper is trumpeting its “success” in getting Britain’s “iconic” blue passport back, after a long and at times hysterically nationalistic campaign. But the whole thing is a con-trick. The new, pale blue passport that will in principle come into use from October 2019 is nothing like the old one. It’s the wrong colour, the wrong size, the wrong texture and doesn’t have the little windows that the old British passports had. Although I haven’t seen the inside pages of the proposed new passport, I bet they will be different too. So, in a nutshell, the new passport has nothing whatsoever in common with the “iconic” old one, other than it is not the burgundy EU-UK passports that we have now. But in a post-Truth world, why would a pernicious rag like the Sun care about facts? Like the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — and the Daily Telegraph on a bad day — the Sun is just concerned with anti-EU propaganda, sometimes in the ugly forms of migrant-bashing and outright xenophobia. No other EU member state has such an irresponsible gutter Press like the UK’s, which is a major reason why the Brexiteers won — narrowly — in last year’s EU Referendum. That’s why it is so important to expose their lies, as well as to campaign to keep our burgundy passports, with all the European citizenship rights that they represent.

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No More UK European Capitals of Culture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd November, 2017

E9C44B9C-B12A-4DDC-877A-B56FD48CE0D1The EU programme of designating cities as European Capitals of Culture has brought new life, the Arts and increased tourism to places throughout Europe, including in Britain. Liverpool was a notable beneficiary, transforming the run-down port city into a vibrant cultural centre. Three UK cities were in the running to be chosen for the accolade in 2023 — Dundee, Leeds and Nottingham — but the European Commission announced today that as Britain is due to quit the EU in March 2019, their bids will now be shelved. There have been predictable protests from the Brexiteer media claiming that the EU is “punishing” Britain by stopping further UK European Capitals of Culture. But the situation could not be clearer: if you resign your membership of a Club you forfeit your right to benefit from its facilities. Brexit is not only going to harm the UK economy (that is already happening, though we’re still in the EU); it will also deprive British citizens of advantages of EU membership in cultural and educational ways, too. Did the people in Dundee, Leeds and Nottingham who voted Leave realise that they were shooting their cities in the foot? Scotland, like London and Manchester and university cities such as Bath, Cambridge and Oxford, voted strongly Remain but they will all be hit by Brexit, too. I have blogged before about the devastating effect on universities from EU academics leaving, as well as from the fall of student applications from other EU member states. So far, the opinion polls don’t really reflect a clear public awareness of what is at stake, however. Many people voted Labour in June’s general election because they did not want to give an endorsement to Theresa May’s Hard Brexit strategy, yet it is increasingly obvious that in its own way, Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit will be just as bad. It will probably be well into 2018 before the realisation sinks in, but the longer it takes, the more difficult it will be for Britain to step back from the cliff edge.

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Why Brexit Should Be Stopped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st October, 2017

BrexitMany thousands of people are expected to demonstrate today in Manchester on the StopBrexit! March. I am sad not to be able to be with them, as I am preparing for the new academic year at SOAS that begins tomorrow. However, I am braced for a storm of abuse from Brexiteers, who will doubtless claim that I and other pro-Europeans don’t respect democracy, as last year’s European Referendum delivered an approximately 52:48 vote in favour of leaving the European Union. On the contrary, I do respect democracy, which is why I support wholeheartedly the Liberal Democrat position that when the Conservative government has agreed the terms of an exit deal with our current 27 EU partners this should be put before the British electorate asking them whether this is really what they want. By then the consequences of Brexit will be much clearer than they are now, let alone in the theoretical situation of June 2016.

Keep Calm and Stop BrexitAs it is, the signs are not encouraging. The pound has slumped in value and foreign investment in the UK is falling. Having been one of the fastest-growing economies in the G7 a year ago Britain is now one of the slowest. EU workers have already started leaving the country because of the uncertainty about their future status, causing staffing problems in different sectors of the economy, not least the NHS, farming and the hospitality industry. That situation is bound to get more acute. Banks and companies have started moving some of their operations out of London to Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt, thus diminishing the prime position of the City, which contributes so much to the UK economy.

The situation regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — currently effectively invisible — is intractable, as any restoration of border controls would risk reigniting civil strife. The imposition of customs regulations for goods from the EU at Dover and other UK ports would clog the ports up within days. Currently, the Government is arguing that there needs to be a transition period of perhaps two years after Britain in principle leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, but that will only delay the inevitable cliff-edge. And in the meantime, Britain’s international image and influence are being rapidly diminished. We are a far stronger player on the global stage as a member of the EU than we can ever be outside. Finally, let us remember what the then UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage, said just before the Referendum, namely that a 52:48 result would be “unfinished business”. He was anticipating a 52:48 vote to Remain, of course. But on this one occasion, at least, he was right. The outcome of the Referendum is unfinished business and it is only right and proper that the British electorate should be given the opportunity to decide, probably in 2019, whether they are really happy to see their country sliding downhill as a result of leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc.

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Mrs May’s Florentine Tragedy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd September, 2017

Theresa May Florence speechYesterday, in Florence, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, set out — partially — how and why Britain intends to leave the European Union. She said she chose that location because Florence had played  a central role in the Renaissance, “a period of history that inspired centuries of creativity and critical thought across our continent and which in many ways defined what it meant to be European. A period of history whose example shaped the modern world. A period of history that teaches us that when we come together in a spirit of ambition and innovation, we have it within ourselves to do great things.” Britain’s current 27 EU partners, not to mention many millions of Brits, may be left wondering why, if coming together to do things is so important, the UK government is now taking Britain away.

BrexitThe answer, according to the Prime Minister and other Brexiteers, is that this is “the will of the people”. On 23 June, 2016, in a Referendum marred by lies and hyperbole (the latter on both sides of the debate), UK voters chose by a margin of a little under 52 to 48 to “Leave” rather than “Remain”. The referendum was only advisory, in keeping with Britain’s (unwritten) constitution, but the Government had said it would implement the people’s decision. In March this year, Mrs May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, starting the clock ticking on a two year exit process. But as soon became clear, two years is not nearly long enough to entangle more than 40 years of legislative and regulatory integration. Hence Mrs May’s suggestion in her Florence speech that there should be a transition period of about two years, following the theoretical departure at the end of March 2019, during which the relationship with the EU, in trading terms at least, would be more or less the same. This sort of argument has been rightly derided as having one’s cake and eating it. Besides, it is probably over-optimistic to believe that everything will be sorted out even by March 2021.

EU and UK flags marchMeanwhile, the adverse effects of Brexit are already being felt. The pound sterling fell against the euro and the dollar, prompting a rise in inflation. Yesterday, following Mrs May’s speech, Moody’s downgraded the UK’s credit rating. Thousands of EU citizens who have been working in the UK have already left, driven out by the uncertainty of their situation and the overt hostility from some more extreme Brexiteers. The NHS is in crisis because of the shortage of nurses and in London, many restaurants have closed off sections because they cannot get enough waiting staff as EU workers leave. Fruit will literally rot in the fields of some British farms this autumn, for the same reason. Over the next year or so it is highly likely that things will get worse, which is why the British electorate should be given the opportunity of a fresh vote on the deal that the British government’s Brexit team negotiated, with an option to remain in the EU if they don;t like it.

Whether the EU27 would be prepared to let us remain, after causing such disruption since June last year, is another matter. Doubtless British Cabinet Ministers rallied round the Prime Minister yesterday, to congratulate her on her speech, but I fear history will judge that she was actually raising the curtain on what will turn into a Florentine tragedy.

Below is a link to Theresa May’s speech as reported on the Independent’s website. 

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/theresa-may-florence-speech-in-full-read-brexit-plan-eu-talks-single-market-divorce-bill-a7961596.html

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Pound Euro Parity?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 19th August, 2017

Pound Euro exchange rateIn the run-up to last year’s EU Referendum, many UKIP and Tory Brexiteers proudly wore pound signs (£) in their jackets, symbolising for them the strength of Britain standing alone. But I wonder how they are feeling now that the pound sterling has sunk so much in value? Airport currency exchanges in the UK this week have been offering just under one euro per pound and at ATMs on the Continent the exchange rate is not much better, So for UK travellers going to the Continent, things are about a quarter more expensive than they were in June 2016. People staying at home are being hit, too, as inflation caused by higher import prices is now exceeding wage rises. Of course, some exporters are benefitting from sterling’s fall, but for many of them that boon will be short-lived, as more expensive imported raw materials and components will mean that their costs will rise, and so must their prices. So the net effect of voting Leave last year has been that most people are worse off — and Brexit hasn’t even happened yet! Britain’s economy has meanwhile fallen from being the strongest-growing among OECD countries to the weakest. The Eurozone is doing better than it has for some time and the euro itself has risen against the US dollar, too. Naturally, as a Remainer I believe that the sensible thing now is for the government to admit that Brexit is going to be far worse than they imagined and therefore they will pull the plug on it, organising a referendum for permission to do that, if necessary. But I very much doubt that Theresa May, let alone her Brexit team, has the courage to do that. So the UK may indeed crash out of the EU in 2019. And I would not be surprised if some future UK government has to go knocking at the EU’s door, asking to be let back in, accepting the euro and all.

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A Patriotic Front against Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th August, 2017

EU and UK flags marchAs the damage to Britain’s economy from looming Brexit becomes ever clearer, it is time for Remainers to make the patriotic case for staying in the EU. The Brexiteers wrapped themselves up in the Union Flag during last year’s EU Referendum and talked about “taking back control”, peppering their arguments with distortions and lies, but there is no denying that a certain nostalgic nationalism in their arguments resonated in some parts of the country and in certain sections of the population. Since the Referendum, Remainers have been branded “traitors” and worse, simply for arguing that the electorate ought to be given the chance to have another vote, when a Brexit deal had been negotiated, to ask them if that is really what they want. If the Conservative government proceeds with its Hard Brexit plan (or, worse still, allows Britain to crash out of the EU without a deal), then the prospects are dire indeed. Already sterling has slumped to a level of almost parity with the euro, forcing up inflation and making foreign travel notably more expensive, but other consequences of a Hard Brexit will hit sectors of the British economy such as fruit farming desperately hard, as seasonal EU worker are no longer able to come to Britain. EU citizens living in Britain are already having their status undermined. Individual Brits in future face losing a whole series of rights and protections, from EU health and safety standards to visa-free travel to the Continent, the EHIC health card, access to Erasmus+ and so on. Hardline Brexiteers say any suffering — including a big knock to the economy — is worth it. But many people who voted Leave last June are not Hardline Brexiteers and are understandably dismayed that they may have been conned. So as pro-EU marches take place in London, Manchester, at the major political party conferences and other venues, let us proudly hold aloft both the EU flag and our Union flag. Let us come together from all political parties and none, in a united Patriotic Front against Brexit!

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Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

Jeremy Corbyn smallThis morning, on the Andrew Marr show, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party, argued that a country had to be a member of the European Union in order to remain part of the European single market. That is, of course, nonsense; Norway is a prime example of a country whose people voted not to join the EU but which enjoys the benefits of being within the single market. Given Corbyn’s more than 30 years as an MP (all the time as a back-bencher, until unexpectedly propelled into the leadership position) he must have learned enough about the EU to understand the difference. Or maybe he didn’t. The kindest interpretation of his remarks on the Marr show is that he believes that Britain must leave the single market as well as the EU (and presumably the Customs Union), presumably because he is implacably opposed to freedom of movement of workers in the EU, which is one of the pillars of the single market. But I fear his objection goes deeper. He knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. During last year’s EU Referendum campaign, Corbyn in principle sided with the remain camp, but so sotto voce that it made no positive impact. Rather like Theresa May’s position, in fact. And now Britain has the terrible situation in which both the Conservative Prime Minister and the Labour Opposition Leader are essentially arguing for what has been dubbed a Hard Brexit: a future outside the EU, the single market and the Customs Union, with the real possibility of the country crashing out of the EU in March 2019 with no deal in place covering our future relationship with our current 27 EU partners. No wonder the pound sterling has dived and banks and companies are starting to transfer operations out of London and other UK cities to places such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt. This is madness and absolutely not what a clear majority of the British public wants. The Leave side won by a tiny margin last year, following a campaign based on lies and false promises. Mrs May bears a terrible responsibility for pressing on with a Hard Brexit since then, but Jeremy Corbyn is now clearly also in the dock, which is why a growing number of Labour MPs and activists are calling for the UK to at least stay in the single market and customs union, if not the EU itself. It was the groundswell of new Labour activists that shot Jeremy Corbyn to where he is now. Perhaps it is time for them to bring him back down to reality.

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Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

Macron MerkelThis weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it. But what a wasted opportunity for Britain! Two years ago, the then Pime Minister, David Cameron, said he was in poursuit of EU reforms but by unwisely pressing ahead with the EU Referendum before any significant reforms had taken place he was almost condemning Britain to leave. The tragedy is that now that Emannuel Macron is in the Elysée Palace, he and Germany’s Angela Merkel can be the dynamic duo promoting change. Of course this is not the first time that France and Germany have ruled the European roost, but had Britain stuck in there we could have seen a powerful triumvirate, with London, Paris and Berlin all determined to see a more efficient and forward-looking European Union.

Boris During the referendum campaign in the UK, Brexiteers argued that by leaving the EU Britain would “free” itself and be able to capitalise on new market opportunities. But what is abundantly clear is that instead the UK is in the process of cutting itself off from its biggest trading partner, alienating our friends and neighbours and is apparently in danger of heading for an economic recession. A year ago, we had the fastest growing economy among the G7, whereas now we have the slowest, and whereas wages have grown in other G7 countries here they have fallen, accentuating the pain of austerity. The Brexiteers claimed that the EU was a sinking ship and that we were better off jumping overboard. But that argument will look ever more fanciful as Britain gets tossed around in choppy waters while the EU steams confidently on ahead.

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Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

Today is the first anniversary of Britain’s EU Referendum. Doubtless some arch-Brexiteers, such as Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Maggie, have been celebrating what they consider to be the UK’s first anniversary of independence. This is of course tosh, on almost every level. We are still members of the EU until at least 29 March 2019, but more importantly, being an EU member state does not undermine a country’s independence, but rather member states voluntarily share aspects of sovereignty for the common good. Britain has done very well as an EU member state, though not a single UK Prime Minister since we joined in 1973 took full advantage of the opportunities offered. Theresa May, or whoever will replace her, can only look on impotently over the coming months as Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron help fashion a reformed and confident EU, in which the UK will have no formal role, unless Brexit is reversed, which at present seems unlikely. Last year I came to Lisbon  immediately after the Referendum, to salve my wounds with some continental culture and joie de vivre. By coincidence, I am in Lisbon again now, but this evening I did not raise my glass to celebrate the Brexit vote but rather to savour being a full European citizen while I still can.

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