Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

LibDems Surge Past 100,000

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 24th April, 2017

LibDems EU Simon HughesTwo years ago, following a disastrous general election, many pundits were writing the Liberal Democrats off as a serious political force. But how things have changed! The party has now pushed UKIP down into fourth place in the opinion polls and has notched up an impressive series of local council by-election wins over the past year, not to mention Sarah Olney’s great triumph in Richmond Park & North Kingston. Moreover, despite the crushing disappointment (for Remainers) of last June’s EU Referendum, the LibDems have emerged stronger as the one sizable national party that has a clear line on Brexit: we believe Britain is better off inside the European Union, but if the Conservative government, with the active support of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is intent on pressing ahead with a hard Brexit, removing Britain from the European single market and common customs area, then we will do everything to try to mitigate the damage. It would have been nice to have Labour singing from the same hymn-sheet, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair and some forthright MPs such as David Lammy have done, but nothing can hide the fact that Labour is deeply divided on the issue and is still trying to out-UKIP UKIP and the Tories in much of northern England. Sad. But the good news from the LibDems’ point of view is that a surge of people have joined the party since the Referendum, accelerating since Theresa May broke her promise and called a snap general election, in an egregious example of political opportunism.

LibDems 100,000So, today, Tim Farron was able to announce that party membership has topped 100,000 and it is still rising. That was a heartening message to deliver at his London general election launch, held in Vauxhall, where arch-Brexiteer Kate Hoey is re-standing as an MP (despite the fact that Lambeth had a phenomenally high Remain vote last June) and indeed has been endorsed by UKIP’s Paul Nuttall. So Vauxhall, previously way down the LibDem target hit-list, has now suddenly become very interesting for prospective parliamentary candidate, George Turner. It will be vital for London LibDems that we hold Richmond Park, as well as Tom Brake’s seat, Carshalton & Wallington, but there should be a good chance of recapturing places such as Old Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes), Twickenham (Vince Cable) and Kingston & Surbiton (Ed Davey), to name but three. I’ll be flying the flag in Dagenham and Rainham, but also doing as much as I can to boost our chances in target areas.

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Turkey Enters Uncharted Waters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th April, 2017

Turkey referendumWith over 99% of votes in Turkey’s constitutional referendum now counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is celebrating what he has described as his “clear win” — a mandate to change the nature of the presidency from a theoretically largely ceremonial role to an executive one. In fact, since assuming the presidency following a decade in power as Prime Minister, Mr Erdogan has already been acting as Turkey’s kingpin. The difference now is that he will be able do so constitutionally. But just how clear is his victory? On the basis of almost complete official figures, yesterday’s referendum vote gave 51.36% for “Yes” and 48.64% for “No”, which is an even narrower margin than the “Leave” vote’s win in Britain’s EU Referendum in June last year (which Prime Minister Theresa May nonetheless claims gives her to press ahead with her “red, white and blue” hard Brexit). But there is an important difference between the two referenda outcomes: in the UK, Remainers accepted the result as valid, even if many are still resisting its consequences, whereas in Turkey already the result is being contested. There have been accusations of irregularities, one of which was the decision by the electoral authorities to allow ballot papers lacking the official stamp to be counted. Some people have claimed they were intimidated. But most seriously, media that would have supported a “no” vote was largely muzzled. Over 10,000 people have been taken into custody since last year’s failed coup in Turkey, among them many journalists, broadcasters and media company executives. At least 100,000 people have been fired from their jobs, because of alleged links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement which Mr Erdogan asserted was behind the coup (which US-based Mr Gulen strongly denies). Turkey’s opposition parties will doubtless now protest about the growing power of Turkey’s “New Sultan”, as Mr Erdogan has been dubbed by his critics, though they may find it difficult to make their voices heard over the celebratory cheers of the ruling AKP. However, the President cannot be complacent. The constitutional referendum has highlighted just how far the country is split down the middle, even if his side has a slight upper hand. Predictably, the predominantly Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey voted heavily “No”, but so too did the three main cities, Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir, while the more conservative rural areas of Anatolia largely voted “Yes”. Again echoes of Britain’s Brexit vote! And just as in Britain the losing side has organised marches and kept up a storm of critical comment on twitter and other social media, so we can expect demonstrations in Turkey, which may not be as peacefully handled as their British counterparts.

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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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