Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Dunkirk

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 4th August, 2017

DunkirkFor once, I agree with Nigel Farage. He said that all young people should go to see the film Dunkirk; I would only a that all older people would benefit from seeing it too. But perhaps our reasons for recommending the film are different. Farage doubtless feels it fits into his Brexit narrative of Britain can stand alone and proud, whereas I consider it powerful evidence of why there must never be war in Europe again. Dunkirk was almost a disaster of gigantic proportions, with well over 300,000 troops trapped like sitting ducks on the beach, prey to German aircraft and later potentially ground forces. Winston Churchill feared that maybe only 10-15% would be rescued by ships from England, whereas the extraordinary flotilla of small civilian craft of all kinds that set sail across the Channel brought back many times that number. Indeed, a victory of sorts, snatched from the jaws of defeat. It was nonetheless a traumatic experience for most of the men involved, not just those who were killed or badly wounded.

Dunkirk Rylance War is a terrible thing, and the founding fathers of what has evolved into the European Union understood that it was necessary to change the way we do things, to prevent any such conflict happening again. France and Germany, who had clashed three times in less than a century, are now the closest of allies within the EU. Britain should be proudly in there too, whereas thanks to the outcome of last year’s EU Referendum, the propaganda of Mr Farage and his ilk, as well as the stubbornness of Theresa May, Britain is now apparently heading for a Hard Brexit, turning its back on our EU partners and allowing the rhetoric of British exceptionalism to flourish. A dangerous path to follow, indeed. But to return to Christopher Nolan’s film Dunkirk, it is also worth seeing on its own merits, brilliantly capturing the atmosphere of the operation, especially in the scenes of Spitfire dog-fights and the desperation of men trying to escape from a sinking ship. One could quibble with some small historical inaccuracies, but that would be petty. The overall effect is powerful and lasting. Mark Rylance consolidates his reputation as perhaps Britain’s greatest living actor with a totally credible performance as a humble skipper, determined to do the right thing, and the singer Harry Styles intriguingly shows he is a born actor. All in all, not a film to miss and best seen in a cinema that has the sort of acoustics that let the soundtrack literally make the place shake.

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Brexit Will Mean Airport Delays

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd August, 2017

border controls smallThe Daily Mail and Daily Express are all in a lather today about the fact that many British holiday-makers have been hit by prolonged passport checks at continental airports, with the papers accusing the EU of punishing these poor sons of Albion. The irony could not be greater, given that these very same newspapers have been cheerleaders for Brexit, one of their main rallying calls being to end freedom of movement between Britain and the rest of the EU. Or are they stuck in a Victorian mentality, according to which the citizens of the then greatest nation on earth were exempt from restrictions imposed on Johnny Foreigner? But let’s be clear: if Brexit does go ahead, as the Conservative government intends, then delays at airports and ports all round Europe, including Britain, are bound to get worse. Freedom of Movement for EU citizens will end in March 2019, the government has announced, and that is bound to be reciprocal. Moreover, if the Conservatives and their Corbynite lackeys insist on pursuing a Hard Brexit, under which Britain leaves both the European single market and the Customs Union, then the situation will be even worse. Currently citizens of EEA member states, such as Norway and Iceland, can pass through the same quick immigration control channels as EU citizens, but if Britain isn’t even in the EEA after Brexit, we Brits will have to queue up with Chinese, Indian, American and every other non-European visitor for a full check. Given the numbers of people involved, the chaos is likely to be severe. And those of you who hope you might escape it by taking a ferry from Dover or one of the other UK ports be warned: the reimposition of full customs controls are going to cause massive tailbacks. Of course, were the UK part of Schengen Brits would not be subject to any controls when travelling to other countries in the Schengen area, which is the joy of real freedom of movement in most of Europe. But joining Schengen was never part of any British government’s programme. So, unless Brexit is stopped or is considerably softened, prepare for the worse in 2019 — or develop a taste for staycations.

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Nostalgia for Brussels

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th July, 2017

Grand Place Brussels smallEncouraged by some heartening reviews of my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes¹, I have embarked on a new volume of recollections, this time covering the years when I was based in Brussels, initially working for Reuters news agency, covering the European Economic Community (precursor to the EU) and NATO, then subsequently freelance, writing books, magazine articles and carrying out various assignments and commissions in Africa and the United States. The period concerned is 1974-1981 and it is sobering to think that for young people today that is effectively history. However, what may be surprising to many readers, when the volume eventually sees the light of day next year, is the great affection I developed for the city of Brussels. It’s not just that it boasts one of the most magnificent city squares in Europe, or that the food is scrumptious. The quality of life in general is high and I loved the fact that so many Belgians (and indeed foreign resident) had real art in their homes, not just cheap reproductions. I also grew to love the Belgians themselves, both Flemings and Walloons, for their zest for life and originality. They are so very different from the caricature that comes over in jokes about their nationality, not least from the French. And, yes, I was converted to the European project, having arrived in Brussels as a young Eurosceptic but gradually understanding the extraordinary potential of the European endeavour. My nostalgia for Brussels, as I write my current memoir, is thus not just about the place and the people, but for being part of the EU — a situation now seriously in jeopardy thanks to Britain’s Conservative government and complicit Labour Opposition.

¹ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1501177046&sr=1-2&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

 

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Corbyn and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd July, 2017

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

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Britain’s Wasted Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd July, 2017

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

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

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Not a Happy Anniversary

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 23rd June, 2017

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

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Donald Trump out on a Limb

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd June, 2017

Trump climate changeLast night the US President confirmed Europe’s worst fears, by announcing that he is withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change. He is on record as saying that he doesn’t really believe in global warming, and although his pledge to give coal-mining a boost went down well in certain areas of the country during his election campaign the potential impact on the global climate is serious. It is encouraging that not only the European Union but also Russia and China have reaffirmed their support for the Paris Agreement, though sadly Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May — keen to enhance her status as Mr Trump’s best foreign friend as Brexit looms — reportedly commented that the US President is free to do as he likes. Whereas that is factually correct, it is politically inept. Britain should not be seen to be aligning itself with a climate change denier at this crucial moment in history. Many world leaders, including former President Barack Obama, have cited climate change as possibly the biggest threat facing humankind, which is why it is so important that countries around the world limit their emissions and take other measures to slow and ideally reverse the trend of global warming. It was a great victory for common sense when China came on board. Now Donald Trump has taken the United States in the opposite direction. I suspect he rather enjoys being out on a limb, such is his monstrous ego. But those who go out on a limb run the risk of someone cutting off the branch on which they are sitting, and for the planet’s sake, I hope that is what will happen before too long.

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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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France: Fingers Crossed for Macron

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd April, 2017

emmanuel-macronVoters in France go to the polls today in the first round of presidential elections. If the opinion polls are right, none of the 11 candidates is likely to garner as much as a quarter of the votes, but what is crucial under the French voting system is which two come first and second — even if there are only a few votes between second and third — as there will be a run-off between the two front runners in a second round of voting in two weeks’ time. Pundits on both sides of the Channel are agreed that what one might call “traditional” party’s candidates are unlikely to make the grade. More probable is that the centrist former investment banker and civil servant, Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, will go head-to-head with Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National dynasty. One has to note that the leftist Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been surging in the polls recently and it’s not impossible that the conservative Francois Fillon, recently accused of nepotism, might rally. So all is still to play for as voters make up their minds. Indeed, in the turbulent Western politics post-Brexit and Trump it maybe rash to even try to predict the outcome. What may be crucial is the turn-out; voting in France is not compulsory and some disillusioned voters may decide to stay at home. Even if Le Pen’s supporters may be more highly motivated (especially after the recent shooting of a policeman by a Frenchman of North African origin), which could mean she might just sneak into first place, most commentators believe she would be trashed in the second round. That is what happened to her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when Jacques Chirac wiped the floor with him in the second round in 2002 (though I suspect Marine could poll better than her father’s final tally of just under 18%). The question therefore is: who is best placed to beat Marine, even if in principle any of the leading contenders should be able to? I believe the answer to that is Emmanuel Macron, not just because he is new, looks good and is clearly intelligent, but for two other reasons related to policy. The first is that he is a keen European (unlike Marine, who argues for a “Frexit”, and is unsurprisingly chummy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin). The other reason is that Macron understands that if France is to compete effectively it has to reform its attitude to work, deregulation and so on. The economy needs a shake-up, which would benefit not only France but help strengthen the eurozone. That’s important for Britain’s trading future, too, whatever form of Brexit emerges from the May government’s current quagmire.

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Why Europe Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th April, 2017

IMG_2269One of the most depressing things about the whole Brexit business is the way that the UK’s Conservative government is turning its back on Europe. It’s not just Theresa May’s apparent desire to lead the country out of the European Single Market — though the potential hit to the economy from that is enormous — or the rejection, on the basis of the 52% Leave vote in last June’s EU Referendum, of the European project in political terms, even though that is something I continue to believe in passionately. No, the worst thing is many Brexiteers’ pretence that Britain is not part of Europe, as if somehow the English Channel were a thousand miles wide. Not only do such British (though in truth, English) nationalists show an extraordinary lack of knowledge of history but they don’t seem to realise that the bulk of the UK’s population is a hybrid mix of different European origin (prior to the post-War injection of new blood from the Commonwealth). Culturally, we Britons are most definitely European; Bach and Goya and all the thousands of other creative talents, past and present, contributed to a body of culture that is extraordinarily rich and diverse, and shared by Europeans. In Rome this week, walking among the antiquities  or viewing the magnificent exhibition of portraits by Giovanni Boldini, I am struck as ever by the sense that this is our heritage, our Europe. The idea that we might in future have to apply for visas to come to the Continent, or that visas will be necessary for EU citizens to visit Britain, if the worst outcome of the Brexit process occurs, is horrible to contemplate. All that explains why I hope that much of the snap UK election that Mrs May has called will be about Europe, and why Europe matters, and why we are Europe and Europe is us. At least the Liberal Democrats get the message.

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