Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

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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The Liberal Democrats’ Manifesto Launch

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th May, 2017

Tim Farron manifesto launchDespite the dismal rain outside, the atmosphere in the Oval Space in Bethnal Green was electric this evening for the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto launch — reminiscent of the very best LibDem autumn conference events, packed with activists and complete with a well-stocked bar. After a warm-up act (and fundraising pitch) by St. Albans candidate Daisy Cooper, Tim Farron hit the stage to give a barnstorming speech which can have left no-one –including those watching via the numerous TV channels filming — where the party’s heart lies. Right at the fore of the manifesto and in Tim’s speech was the restated belief that Britain is better off inside the EU. No ifs, no buts. And, not surprisingly, Theresa May got a roasting for adopting not only UKIP’s language but their policies too. Similarly, Jeremy Corbyn was criticised for instructing his MPs and peers to embrace Brexit and vote for Article50 to be invoked.

Tim Farron’s line could not have been clearer: although the party that accepts that a (narrow) majority voted to leave the European Union in last June’s EU referendum, the vote indicated a departure but not a direction. Did all those who voted Leave really endorse leaving the European single market with all the likely economic shock that that will deliver? Palpably not. So, say the LibDems, when Mrs May has a deal hammered out with our current 27 EU partners that ought to be put to the people in a referendum, not just to politicians in Parliament. And, yes, one option in that fresh vote would be to stay in the EU is voters thought that was preferable. Many people are a bit punch-drunk from votes at the moment, but will that be the case in 12 or 18 months time, when the effects of looming Brexit really bite? Already inflation has increased ninefold, largely as a result in the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling, and the economy has stopped growing. Let;s see. But certainly among the hundreds of LibDem candidates and supporters at the manifesto launch this evening, Tim Farron’s clear message could not have been sweeter.

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Weak and Unstable: Britain’s Brexit Government

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th May, 2017

Theresa May 8Theresa May and her camp followers have adopted with gusto the rather tiresome mantra “Strong and Stable”. I wonder if they realise that it was Adolf Hitler who brought that phrase to prominence, in Mein Kampf. Now, I am not suggesting Mrs May is a neo-Nazi, like Marine Le Pen. But apart from the fact that she scores nuls points for originality in political slogans, the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable” catchphrase repeated ad nauseam is an egregious example of alternative facts, an Orwellian distortion of words that chimes with the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. And, of course, in this case it is all about Brexit. What the Conservative government is doing, having co-opted UKIP’s agenda, is trying to hoodwink the British public into agreeing that it is providing decisive leadership in Britain’s best interests — whereas the reality is that it is doing precisely the opposite. The cack-handedness of their whole approach since the EU Referendum last June has illustrated their incompetence. They hadn’t planned for a Leave vote, and once it happened they floundered around, with chief ditherer and fantasist Boris Johnson despatched to the Foreign Office to try to explain things to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, with the possible exception of Putin’s Russia and other enemies of liberal democracy plus Donald Trump, is aghast. And instead of dealing sensibly with our 27 EU partners in the prolonged negotiations that are about to start, Mrs May has indicated that she intends to try to brow-beat them, cheered on by rabid Brexit media such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. No-wonder several of her key Downing Street advisors have resigned, as even true blue apparatchiks know that you do not succeed in negotiations if you insult the other side to their face. The sad truth is that the whole Brexit thing is going to go horribly wrong, with serious damage to the British economy and not least to the poorer parts of the British population — and Mrs May is going to blame it all on Brussels, as she wraps herself Boudica-like in the Union Jack. But she should remember that Boudica lost, as she will lose. “Strong and stable” May is a myth. She is weak and unstable, but the only way to stop her is to vote her out of office.

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Mrs May’s Other Galaxy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd May, 2017

May JunckerAll of us who have had a finger on the European pulse over the past 40 years have sensed that Britain’s Conservative government is on another planet when it talks about the possibility of the country having at least as good a deal with our current EU partners after Brexit as we have now as a full member of the EU. This literally defies reason. But I was dismayed by the reaction (as reported in leaks to the media) from European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, after his cosy chat over dinner at 10 Downing Street with Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Brexit Secretary, David Davis, to learn that he thinks Mrs May is actually in a different galaxy. This is all too credible, alas. The UKIP-Tory Brexit is the ultimate omni-shambles, the blind leading the blind; at least they recognsie that Boris Johnson is so bonkers and uncollegiate that he needs to be side-lined. But that is not enough. It would appear that Mrs May, ignorant and stubborn (always a dangerous combination in politics), is determined to lead the country over the precipice of a hard Brexit. With the arrogant attitude that she and the three Brexiteer Ministers have displayed there is not a cat in hell’s chance of a decent Brexit deal being reached before the two-year period from invoking Article 50 expires in March 2019. And that means a hard crash, which will hit the poor first, as well as EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens living in other EU member states. But Mrs May and her Brexit Taliban crew don’t care. They will still have their salaries and pensions and spousal or family money, while the poor bloody infantry sinks into poverty and unemployment. What is particularly infuriating is that Her Majesty’s official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, is facilitating Brexit, rather than doing their job in pointing out the madness of it all (even though some Labour MPs, and indeed some Tory MPs, know that this is crazy). So it is left to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens and the nationalist forces in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to sound the alarm. But will the population hear it, given the flood of anti-European, sometimes xenophobic, even neo-fascistic bile being poured out through the country’s popular Press? Brave souls like the philosopher A.C. Grayling keep up the good fight from outside mainstream politics, but all of us who care about not just the future of the EU but the healthy future of the United Kingdom should also stand up and shout, too. And, yes, that means you young people on social media, many of whom never quite got round to voting in last year;s EU Referendum. It’s our future, but especially your future. And Mrs May needs to be sent off into orbit in her own galaxy while we bring Britain back down to earth.

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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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