Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘EU Referendum’

Witney: A Golden Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

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

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A Closed or Open Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016

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

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

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Brexit and the Baltic States

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 26th September, 2016

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

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UK Press Coverage of the EU Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st September, 2016

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

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The Liberal Democrat Plan for Britain in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th September, 2016

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

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

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

Key constitutional questions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should Parliament vote on Article 50?

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

Key issues for negotiation

Protection of rights for EU citizens and UK citizens

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

Freedom of Movement and the Single Market

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

Maintaining environmental standards

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

Law enforcement and judicial co-operation

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

Protection of Erasmus, investment in our universities and research networks

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

Travel and tourism

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

British industries

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

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London’s March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd July, 2016

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

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Don’t Let Jo Cox Die in Vain

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th June, 2016

imageI never met the young Labour MP Jo Cox but for some time I had been aware of her campaigning — on International Development, Syrian refugees and, most recently, for the Remain side in the EU Referendum. The image of her that will ways stick in my mind was of her and her husband Brendan and their two very excited young children in a rubber dinghy on the River Thames on Wednesay,  waving an IN flag at the Brexit flotilla commanded by Nigel Farage. The Coxes got sprayed with water by one of the fishing boats in response. But that small act of aggression was nothing compared to the awful murder of Jo Cox yesterday, by a man who several eye witnesses say shouted “Britain First!”

A few days ago I wrote of what I called the Trumpification of British politics, the way that a respect for truth and rational debate has increasingly gone out of the window in British political discourse. I lamented the way some politicians and campaigners are happy to lie brazenly, while on social media — not least Twitter — vile abuse against political opponents has become commonplace. I guess like many Brits I thought we might be spared the sort of physical aggression and outright violence that has been a feature of some of Donald Trump’s rallies in the United States, but clearly this is not the case. We even had Farage yesterday warning that people’s alleged anger at the number of foreign migrants coming to Britain could lead to violence. The poster he proudly stood by, showing a huge throng of migrants clamouring to be let in was horribly reminiscent of Nazi propaganda in 1930s Germany.

jo Cox’s widower put out an extraordinarily dignified statement after his wife’s murder, asking people not to forget what she stood for and to act in that spirit. It was right and fitting that political programmes such as BBC’s Question Time were cancelled last night as a sign of respect and that much of the Remain campaigning has been suspended. We need a period of calm reflection in Britain for us to come to terms with what has happened and its significance, and to bring us back from the brink. This evening, at 7pm, in Parliament Square, Westminster, there will be a vigil for Jo Cox and I hope to get back from Riga (where I was speaking yesterday at an event on the possible consequences of  Brexit) so I can attend. This should not just be an act of remembrance for a remarkable woman who during her brief year in Parliament was a beacon of decency and commitment but at least as important a loud statement that as Britons, we will not let her die in vain.

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Cypriots for REMAIN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016

Norman Lamb CypriotsGiven some of the depressing opinion polls about the EU Referendum over the past few days it was uplifting to be in a hall packed with Cypriots in north London this evening cheering on the campaign for Britain to Remain in the EU. There was a first rate line-up of politicians, including MPs Nicky Morgan (Conservative), Secretary of State for Education, Norman Lamb (LibDem) and Catherine West (Labour), all singing from the same song-sheet. As Commonwealth citizens, Cypriots registered in London can vote in next week’s referendum (as can Maltese and Irish) unlike other EU citizens, alas, and there are enough of them to make a difference. It was good to see the Cypriot High Commissioner (one of the most engaged members of London’s diplomatic community) sitting in the front row, in an audience that struck me as predominantly made up of businessmen and businesswomen (no bad thing). Norman Lamb stressed the positive aspect of immigration (including EU migration), whereas Nicky Morgan highlighted how many young Brits have benefited from Erasmus+, studying or getting work experience on the continent. Catherine West pointed out that the Labour Party has come out wholeheartedly in favour of EU membership (even if not all Labour voters agree). There is only a week to go before the vote, which means that it is vital that meetings such as this happen all over the country, to motivate those who back Remain to actually go out to vote, otherwise the Brexiteers could win by default.

Nicky Morgan Cypriots.jpg

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The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th June, 2016

Chris Bickerton European UnionCampaigning to Remain in the European Union ahead of the 23 June Referendum I have been struck by how little most people know about the EU. Perhaps that is inevitable, given that no previous British government has bothered to explain the Union to the electorate prior to the recent referendum brochure, which Brexiters have been damning as propaganda. Moreover, anyone relying on tabloids such as the Daily Mail or (worst of all) the Daily Express has been fed a diet of anti-EU prejudice and outright lies for years. So with little more than a fortnight to go before this crucial vote it was timely for Penguin Books to issue a dispassionate account of the EU, its history, its workings and its possible future: Chris Bickerton’s The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide (Pelican, £8.99). Europhiles will be disappointed that Mr Bickerton does not share their passion for the European project; he is quite dismissive of the peace dividend (despite the EU’s Nobel Prize) and does not really do credit to the founding fathers. However, he will equally dismay Eurosceptics because he does not write the whole thing off as an expensive, anti-democratic con-trick. Steering a middle line should in principle therefore enable readers to make up their own minds, though I personally wish that he could have made parts of text more engaging. He himself benefited from the EU’s freedom of movement, taking up teaching positions in the Netherlands and in France, but his main observation about that is how easy it was in Amsterdam because the Dutch speak such good English, whereas the wretched French insisted in speaking French. I can’t help but feel he somehow missed the point. That said, this is a useful and compact little volume which should help the uninitiated steer their way through the mysteries of the EU. Let’s hope it also then enc0urages people to vote on 23 June, preferably for Remain.

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Brexit: The Commonwealth Has Its Say

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th June, 2016

International Liberals Yes To EuropeOne of the favourite arguments of more lucid adherents to the Vote Leave campaign is that a Britain outside the EU would be able to rebuild a special trading relationship with the Commonwealth. However, the evidence does not bear this out. Trade links to the Commonwealth (as well as the nostalgia of Empire Loyalty) was a factor in Britain’s decision not to join the infant European Communities at the beginning, but the situation is very different today. Australia, for example, is much more focussed on China and the rest of East and South East Asia than on the “Mother country”, while Canada is closely tied economically to the United States. Former African colonies have grown and diversified their patterns of trade and relations, beneifitting from a series of aid and trade deals that they have enjoyed through the EU. Moreover, one after another, the leaders of Commonwealth states have been queuing up to declare to Britain: don’t opt for Brexit! One of the reasons we really like you these days is because you are part of the EU and its single market.

PA, KF, JEBut there is an even more important Commonwealth dimension to Britain’s EU Referendum on 23 June. All legally resident Commonwealth citizens in the UK (as well as the Irish) are entitled to vote, so long as they are on the electoral register (for which the cut-off time is midnight tonight). That means that people originally from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria and elsewhere can all have their say. Paradoxically, citizens of other EU member states — who risk being most affected by any vote in favour of Brexit — cannot, unless they happen to be from Cyprus or Malta.Some diplomatic missions, such as the Irish, worried about the impact of Brexit, have been urging their nationals to vote — and ideally for REMAIN. And a number of community groups and NGOs have been organising events, not least in London, to inform and energise their members. Last night, at the National Liberal Club in Westminster, an International Liberals Yes to Europe evening chaiored by Baroness Kishwer Falkner brought speakers from Canada (John English) and Cyprus (Praxoula Antoniadou), as well as a South African MP (Stevens Mokgalapa) via Skype link, all of whom stressed how crucial it is for Britain to be part of the EU if it wishes to remain a powerful player in the world. Otherwise, we attendees were warned, many richer Commonwealth citizens are likely to leave or to pull their money and investments out of Britain. This is not scaremongering. Already, billions of pounds have been withdrawn from Britain overall over the past six months, just because of the fear of Brexit. Praxoula Antoniadou, leader of the Cypriot (Liberal) United Democrats and a sometime Central Banker, warned that Britain after Brexit would see a brain drain, too. Even London would risk no longer being the magnet that it undoubtedly is today. That’s why so many Commonwealth citizens will be voting on 23 June — and they are numerous enough in a tight-run contest to make all the difference.

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