Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

Brexit Does My Head In

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th January, 2019

depressed-manAccording to a new opinion poll from Channel 5 News and YouGov, one in ten people in Britain say that Brexit has had a large impact on their mental health. I know that is true in my case. Along with many Brits who believe that the country is better off inside the European Union I feel depressed and frustrated that the Conservative government is ploughing on with a course of action that is bound to harm the UK economy. In her desperate attempts to hold her party together, Prime Minister Theresa May is even continuing to flirt with the possibility of a disastrous No Deal Brexit, by which Britain would crash out of the EU on 29 March, with huge risks to the delivery of food and medicines and the supply chain of farming and industry. The Official Opposition is not much better either, as under Jeremy Corbyn Labour has failed to listen to the majority of its members who want an Exit from Brexit, probably through a referendum, dubbed the People’s Vote. Last night, Parliament debated the government’s disgraceful Immigration Bill, which will downgrade the status of EU citizens in this country if it is passed. Until almost the last minute the Labour leadership was saying that their MPs should abstain in the vote on this reading, until a howl of protest led to a partial U-turn, with a decision to oppose, but only on a one-line whip, which meant that not enough Labour MPs were in the chamber to vote it down (though some brave Tory rebels voted against). But if Brits like me have some sleepless nights over Brexit imagine how much worse it must be for EU citizens, many of whom have lived in this country for years and are now being required to apply for settled status so they have the right to stay in their own homes. Moreover, many EU citizens — and other foreigners — have been the butt of unpleasant xenophobic/racist abuse from a small minority of nationalistic bigots who have been empowered by the 2016 EU Referendum to vent their prejudices. Even speaking a language other than English in public is enough for some of these zealots to sound off. No wonder some people are turning to their doctors for prescriptions for anti-depressants. But given that physical exercise is known to alleviate depression, getting out and about campaigning for a People’s Vote is perhaps one route those of us who are feeling down about Brexit can follow.

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Farewell, European Medicines Agency

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th January, 2019

ema closingYesterday, staff at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in Canary Wharf, London, lowered the flags of the 28 EU member states in preparation for their move to the Netherlands. Following the vote for Brexit in the 2016 EU Referendum it was no longer tenable for the EMA to stay in Britain; the Dutch stepped in to help with the offer of temporary accommodation in Amsterdam’s Slotterdijk. That should be up and running by March, when the UK is due to leave the EU, unless Brexit is stopped or delayed. The departure of the EMA is a blow to Britain’s important role in the evaluation and supervision of medicines and is mirrored by the departure (actual or planned) of many commercial companies and financial institutions which also want to keep their headquarters in an EU member state. According to reports earlier this week, 250 companies currently in the UK are in talks with the Dutch authorities, while others are looking to other new locations. This Brexodus was inevitable as a consequence of the massive self-harm of Brexit. Brexiteers dubbed warnings about this “Project Fear”, whereas it is just plain fact. The UK has already lost billions of pounds because of Brexit and things will only get worse if Brexit goes ahead. A “No Deal” Brexit, which is the default position if Theresa May fails to get her deal (amended or otherwise) through Parliament, would be especially catastrophic, as supply chains will inevitably be disrupted. That includes supplies of medicines, many of which come from the continent, which is why some companies are busy stockpiling and the British government has bought a whole load of fridges as part of its contingency plans. No wonder diabetics and others who depend on the regular supply of drugs are worried. And the tragedy is that that this was all so unnecessary. As we wave farewell to the EMA we need to ask ourselves if this severance from the EU with the consequent reduction in benefits is really what the country needs.

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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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No, a General Election Is Not the Answer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th January, 2019

jeremy corbyn 3The Leader of he Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn has made a speech calling for a general election, arguing that this is the most “practical and democratic” solution to the current Brexit impasse. Quite apart from the fact that almost all recent opinion polls suggest that Labour would not win such an election, however much Mr Corbyn may dream of being Prime Minister, with less than three months to go before EU Departure Day, a general election would be a time-consuming distraction from the matter at hand. Besides, it is hard to see how such an election would be brought about, as most of the Tory rebels who have inflicted a couple of significant defeats on the Government in recent days would not vote for an election, and it needs two thirds of the House of Commons to do so. After Jeremy Corbyn’s speech, Channel 4’s Jon Snow asked a very pertinent question about whether the Labour Leader has given thought to the young people — including those not old enough to vote in the 2016 EU Referendum — who overwhelmingly want to stay in the European Union and who back a People’s Vote. Mr Corbyn’s response was that young people would benefit from the policies of a Labour government, which completely misses the point. The sad fact is that Jeremy is a Brexiteer, despite his half-hearted support for Remain in 2016, and what he wants to try to deliver is a Labour Brexit. This again is cloud cuckoo land fantasy, as the EU has made perfectly clear that there cannot be a new Brexit negotiation. The deal brokered by the Conservative government is the only one on the table. So instead of fantasizing about going to the country in the hope of bringing about a Socialist Britain the Labour Leader should listen to his members and supporters, who by a large majority want to Remain, and back the campaign for a People’s Vote.

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Brexit Is Breaking Britain’s Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th January, 2019

anna soubry demonstratorsI’m often on College Green, Westminster, filming TV interviews for Middle Eastern channels, but whereas the atmosphere there used to be rather jolly, things have recently taken a more sinister turn. One had become used to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray photo-bombing shots and couldn’t help but smile when he turned up with an immense pole so that he could hold up his placards even when the BBC installed high gantries in an effort to thwart him. But what has been happening in recent days is of an entirely different nature and that is the aggressive behaviour of far-right Brexiteers — often wearing yellow high-vis jackets — heckling and threatening both politicians and journalists. Anna Soubry, the brave Conservative former Minister who has been calling for a People’s Vote on the Brexit “deal”, was called a Nazi by hecklers and closely followed by them after a TV interview in a most intimidating way. While police were around, they were low-key in their response, apparently unsure how to balance the traditional British attitude to free speech with the right of citizens to be protected against serious abuse, including death threats. Fifty MPs have reportedly urged the Metropolitan Police to be more protective and many of us have in the back of of our minds the dreadful murder of MP Jo Cox in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum. The current Brexit Minister, Steve Barclay, has argued that the bad behaviour by the far right is a reason why we should not have a People’s Vote, as public division would become even more strident if we did. But that is a profoundly undemocratic position to take, in my view. One should not give in to intimidation. Meanwhile, things are likely to get worse over the next few days, with a parliamentary vote on Mrs May’s deal scheduled for next Tuesday. If it is defeated — as is highly likely — then the country will enter into uncharted political territory; even the Prime Minister does not seem to have much clue what would happen next. All the more reason, therefore, to curb the activities of extremists who are threatening the peaceful conduct of political debate in this country. They claim they are defending British values (though their Britain is a white, racist construct), whereas in fact they are in danger of destroying them. Brexit is breaking Britain’s politics as well as trashing the country’s international reputation. The voices of reason, backed by the Law, must prevail.

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Diamantino *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd December, 2018

7DC8781F-E16E-4D52-A159-FFD18D589CECFew films merit the description “truly original”, but Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt’s Diamantino defies categorisation or comparison. The central story-line is deceptively simple: a super-talented and handsome Portuguese footballer (Carloto Cotta) with a childlike mind and understanding of the world has a kind of epiphany when he comes across a dinghy containing African refugees while out sailing on his yacht. Unfortunately the timing of this coincides with the sudden death of his beloved father and manager, leaving him at the mercy of his evil, scheming twin sisters. Things now take on surreal proportions in a whacky sequence of events that mix science fiction with political and social satire. The cinematic and popular culture references are legion, from billboards of our hero Diamantino in white briefs, David Beckham-style, to an exact Portuguese version of the ballot paper used in Britain’s 2016 EU Referendum. There is also a fairy tale quality to much of the narrative, where good battles evil in a swirl of conspiracies and gender fluidity. In short, this film is totally bonkers, but miraculously it works.

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Corbyn Slides off the Brexit Fence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd December, 2018

D36324D0-9152-474E-A3BC-BAB6AFD2BF61For months senior Labour politicians have been telling us that “all options remain on the table” regarding the Party’s policy on Brexit. In other words, Labour could possibly back a People’s Vote and campaign for Remain, which opinion polls tell us is what a significant majority of Labour members want. But the Party leadership clearly thinks otherwise. Jeremy Corbyn — probably encouraged by his two left-hand men, Seamus Milne and Len McCluskey — has made clear in an interview with the Guardian that if Labour wins a hypothetical election next year, Brexit would still go ahead. This is a clear betrayal not only of the millions of Remain-supporting electors who voted Labour in the 2017 general election in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit plans but also of the Labour Party’s autumn conference this year, which adopted a nuanced stance leaving various options open. Recently, both Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have been making disgraceful, unsubstantiated comments about EU migrants pushing down wages, while attacking the principle of Freedom of Movement. Of course, no-one should be surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is at heart a Brexiteer, despite campaigning half-heartedly for Remain in 2016. The day after the EU Referendum, he called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately. Ideologically locked into 1970s socialism, he sees the EU as an impediment to his dream of a Utopian Britain, in which he could just dole out state money to support or create industries irrespective of economic viability. But with only three months to go before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU it is now crunch time. Labour Remainers need to stop rabbiting on about having a general election (which the Conservative and DUP MPs won’t vote for anyway). Instead, the focus should be on getting a People’s Vote, with an option to remain, which would have wide cross-Party support in the House of Commons. If necessary, Labour MPs need to have the courage to sideline Mr Corbyn. The future of Britain is at stake.

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700,000 March for a People’s Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st October, 2018

March for the FutureCentral London was brought to a standstill yesterday when an estimated 700,000 people marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square calling for a “Final Say” on any proposed deal between Britain and the EU — with an option to remain in membership. So many people turned up, from all round the country — far more than even the organisers expected — that there wasn’t room for everyone to fit into Whitehall and Parliament Square. The weather was glorious and the atmosphere festive, despite occasional small groups of Brexiteers heckling from the sidelines. A number of MPs from all parties took part, though one conspicuous absentee was Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who reportedly ordered his front-bench team not to go. As Mr Corbyn has been a serial protester for decades and this was the biggest demonstration since the anti-Iraq War march 15 years ago the message could not be clearer: the Labour leadership is not listening to the overwhelming majority of the party’s membership who want Britain to remain in the EU.

March for the Future 1Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, is sticking to her line that there won’t be another public vote on Brexit, but as time goes by and she has failed to come up up with a deal, it is quite possible that she won’t be Prime Minister next year. The scheduled date for the UK’s departure from the bloc is 29 March 2019, but there are growing calls for the so-called Article 50 period to be extended or for some other fudge to be agreed that will essentially allow Britain to remain part of the EU’s single market and customs union for a while until a solution to such thorny issues as the land border on the island of Ireland are sorted out. It may well be that some problems just can’t be sorted out and that the numbers of people opposing Brexit will swell further as they realise that they were sold a pup during the 2016 EU Referendum by the false promises of the Leave campaign. Yesterday’s demo was so large that even the BBC had to take notice and some of the foreign TV coverage was spectacular. It’s good that our EU partners and the wider world knows that even if the Conservative government has lost its marbles over Brexit — cheered on by the even more extreme DUP from Northern Ireland — millions of Britons know Brexit is a terrible mistake — and that includes many who voted Leave two years ago.

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Bollocks to Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Bollocks to BrexitThe founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is to be congratulated for not submitting to pressure from (Labour) Lambeth Council to remove the giant sign over his company HQ saying Bollocks to Brexit! He has argued persuasively that Britain’s leaving the European Union — which it is scheduled to do on 29 March next year) will be bad for his customers and bad for his workforce, which has benefited from the Freedom of Movement that is part and parcel of the European Single Market. Rather than take down the sign he has instead invested in many more advertisements with the slogan posted near stations and other prominent places around London. After all, the Leave campaign was allowed during the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 to get away with driving a bus round with the lying slogan that the money the UK sends to the EU (itself a dodgy statistic) could be spent on the National Health Service instead. No surprise to learn now that that is not going to happen. In fact, Brexit is already costing this country hundred of million of pounds each week, and it hasn’t even occurred yet. And any increase in NHS funding (indeed needed) will probably have to come from higher taxation instead.

Brexit's Barking MadCharlie Mullins isn’t the author of the catchy Bollocks to Brexit! slogan, but it has gone viral, not only on social media, but also through sticky labels that have been appearing all over the place. On Sunday, I attended the Wooferendum march of Remainers and their dogs in Westminster, and many of the pooches were festooned with it as well. Over the coming weeks, in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on whatever Brexit deal is or is not agreed with Brussels, we can expect more campaigning activity, with a massive march in London on 20 October calling for a People’s Vote — i.e. a referendum on the deal, with an option to Remain — with support from people from every political party (except UKIP, probably) and none. Meanwhile, several local councils have been debating motions about whether to support a People’s Vote. I took part in a LibDem-led demonstration outside Camden’s temporary council offices last night, urging councillors to back such a motion, though sadly time ran out at the Full Council meeting before that part of the agenda was reached. I hope to attend a similar gathering outside Haringey Town Hall on Thursday. Both Camden and Haringey voted heavily Remain in 2016, yet the ruling Labour Party in both cases is divided on the issue. Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have received massive media attention, but the Labour Party is home to “Lexiteers” as well, not just on the right (such as Kate Hoey) but also the left, including among some supporters of Momentum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a Euro-sceptic for most of his 30-odd years in parliament, campaigned very quietly for Remain in 2016, but then called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately afterwards. He is still sitting on the fence over Brexit, though the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer, did say clearly at the Labour conference in Liverpool that a People’s Vote should be on the table, including an option to Remain. He looked rather startled when this provoked a standing ovation, but it is not really surprising, as over 80% of Labour members reportedly support staying in the EU. Moreover, according to a poll-of-polls in the London Evening Standard last night, a large majority of the 150 recent opinion polls on the Brexit issue have shown a majority for Remain if a new referendum is held. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right for people to change their mind and maybe that is indeed happening as the complexity and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU become clearer. So, yes, let’s have a People’s Vote. And let Bollocks to Brexit be our proud Remainer chant!

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AEJ-UK at 50

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th September, 2018

AEJ Brexit seminarWith Brexit looming on the horizon, there is not much for pro-Europeans to celebrate. However, yesterday afternoon the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)  held a seminar at Europe House in Westminster to mark 50 years of its existence. The theme was UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit, which most speakers were agreed would need to remain close — both on economics and security matters — even if Brexit does go ahead on 29 March 2019. However, several contributors, such as the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Martin Donnelly and the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, minced no words about Brexit being a mistake and held out hope that somehow it could be averted. In contrast, the former Labour MP and arch-Brexiteer Gisela Stuart (soon to take up the position of Chair of the FCO’s policy forum, Wilton Park) maintained that the voters had made the right choice in the 2016 EU Referendum and that the result had to be respected.

Given the audience — which included over a dozen journalists from other AEJ sections, from Ireland to Cyprus and Bulgaria — there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of the media in Brexit. Quentin Peel, former Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, admitted hat he had been lucky in working for an employer who wanted to know the details of complex European matters which were also of interest to the paper’s readers, whereas Peter Foster, Europe Editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, outlined the difficulty of covering the European story in ways accessible to the general public. The name of the Telegraph’s “star” columnist, Boris Johnson, was unsurprisingly bandied about, as people recalled his fabrication of anti-EU stories early in his career and now his championing of his own Brexit scenario. I was based in Brussels myself for eight years, initially with Reuters news agency, and it was there that I first joined the AEJ (French-speaking Belgian section). The everyday minutiae of news from the European Commission were challenging to convey in an interesting fashion, but the longer I stayed in Brussels and began to understand the purpose of the European project, the more I believed in its aims — which is why the prospect of Brexit does sometimes keep me awake at night and why I will continue to fight for Remain, probably via a People’s Vote or new referendum on whatever terms Theresa May’s government agrees with the other 27 EU member states, always assuming agreement is possible.

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