Several recent opinion polls relating to Britain’s forthcoming IN/OUT EU referendum have shown a swing to the “leave” side, though still predicting that “remain” will win. One explanation mooted for the shift in opinion has been the current refugee and migrant crisis, to which the response from EU member states has been mixed, to put it mildly. Angela Merkel rolled out Germany’s welcome mat, while Hungary (shamefully, given how other European nations welcomed Hungarian refugees in 1956), slammed the door in the refugees’ face. Britain’s Conservative government refused to be part of an EU-wide response and not for the first time the EU got blamed for the chaos that was actually a failure of its member states to pull together. So will public concerns over the refugees and migrants lead to a British withdrawal from Europe? That was the question at the centre of debate last night at a well-attended meeting put on by the London branch of the Young European Movement in King’s College last night. With unfortunate timing the fire alarm went off just just as the meeting was about to get underway, as if a UKIP gremlin had put a spanner in the works, which meant that we had to evacuate into the street, but later we reconvened to hear Nick Hopkinson (Chair of London4Europe), Anjuja Prashar (a Liberal Democrat candidate in May’s general election) and Elliot Chapman-Jones (from British Influence) share their views. As a Canadian, Nick could draw some comfort from Justin Trudeau’s sweep to power in Ottawa the other day, showing that hope can overcome fear and Conservative isolationism, while Anuja, originating from East Africa, emphasized the positive contribution immigrants have made to Britain, not least to London. Elliot interestingly predicted that the “leave” side in the Brexit referendum campaign will not focus on immigration, as one might assume, as they have the anti-immigration votes already in the bag; instead, he believes, their arguments will be economic. Economic arguments, of course, involve statistics, and as we saw in the TV debates between UKIP Leader Nigel Farage and the then UK Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, it is hard to combat lies, damned lies and statistics in political debate. Rather, I maintain, we will need to focus on emotions, showing why we in Europe are stronger together and poorer apart, especially in the globalised world of today.
Posts Tagged ‘EU’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th October, 2015
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Anuja Prashar, Brexit, Britain, British Influence, Canada, Elliot Chapman-Jones, EU, Germany, Hungary, Justin Trudeau, London4Europe, migrants, Nick Clegg, Nick Hopkinson, Nigel Farage, refugees, UKIP, YEM | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 27th September, 2015
Spending a gloriously warm, sunny late summer afternoon indoors in a lecture theatre is maybe not everyone’s idea of fun, but those people who signed up for the New Europeans’ debate on A New Deal for a New Europe but didn’t come this afternoon really missed a treat. Three major political groups from the European Parliament — the Socialists (PES), the Liberals (ALDE) and the European People’s Party (EPP, from which David Cameron, alas, withdrew the Conservatives) — were represented by the current President of the EPP group in the parliament, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Sergei Stanishev, the President of the ALDE Party (and former group leader) Sir Graham Watson, and Dirk Hazelll, Chairman of the UK Chapter of the EPP. There was a remarkable degree of agreement between the three, perhaps partly because all believe fervently that Britain ought to stay in the EU, both for the sake of Britain and for the sake of the EU. Graham Watson feared that in the current mood in the UK the referendum vote (on some still unspecified date in 2016 or 2017) could go the wrong way. That is why the “remain” campaign needs to fight hard. Sergei Stanishev (who was en route to the Labour Party conference in Brighton) spoke of the need for a truly European response to the great challenges the Union currently faces, including the refugee and migrant “crisis”.
Despite being a former Chairman of London Conservatives, Dirk Hazell lambasted David Cameron for his failure of leadership and the folly of the ambivalent Tory attitude towards Europe. Graham interestingly stated he thought that Britain ought to be part of Schengen, which got some murmurs of support from the predominantly young audience, and he argued that maybe Britain should have joined the eurozone when it had the chance, under Tony Blair. The whole history of the subsequent 15 or so years might have been different. Of course, there is not much to be gained (except as an academic exercise) in considering might-have-beens, and in principle the meeting was about the way forward. The eurozone is emerging from its own crisis, though one could be forgiven for not knowing so from reading the British press, but there needs to radical reform of the EU as a whole to make it fit for purpose. The big question for the UK is whether David Cameron can frame positive rather than negative demands for reform, and bring other member states onside through negotiation, rather than scaring them away with impossible demands.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 12th September, 2015
Many tens of thousands of people, of all ages and ethnicities, marched from Marble Arch to 10 Downing Street in London this afternoon in solidarity with refugees, especially those from Syria. The main chant and slogan on banners was “Refugees Welcome Here!”, echoing the actions of citizens in Germany and calling Prime Minister David Cameron to account for not being more generous — or indeed, precise — about how many refugees Britain will take and when. There were a good number of Socialist Worker Party members present, celebrating the triumph of Jeremy Corbyn in Labour’s leadership election and also a few genuine Trots, who made up for their small number by employing a mobile sound system that enabled them to drown out some of the pro-refugee messages with their diatribes against capitalism and all the “corrupt” mainstream political parties (including the Greens!). There was an excellent turnout of LibDems, not just from London, and Tim Farron was one of the keynote speakers. We were blessed with the most perfect Indian summer’s day, which added to the festive atmosphere. A sizable proportion of British people are ready to respond to the current refugee and migrant crisis, however hard media such as the Daily Express tries to poison minds against them. But clearly this is an issue which Britain cannot solve on its own, which is why the British government should be cooperating more closely with France, Germany and other EU member states that have taken a lead, as well as boosting global action by the United Nations. Some Syrian refugees are being driven by hunger to return to Syria from refugee camps in neighbouring countries, because the World Food Programme has had to halve rations as it has run out of cash. Saudi Arabia, for one, could fund what is needed there without blinking an eye.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th August, 2015
The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, set out in an article in today’s Sunday Times changes she would like to see made to the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union. This is one of the central planks of the European single market, which was largely put in place by the Conservative peer and European Commissioner Lord Cockfield and endorsed by Margaret Thatcher. Lord Cockfield, at least, must be spinning in his grave at Ms May’s outrageous demand that freedom of movement should be restricted to people who already have jobs, unlike the situation now, in which EU citizens can seek work in other EU member states, settle or retire there, study or simply make their lives more interesting by experiencing different European cultures, rather than spending their entire existence (apart from holidays) in an increasingly insular Tory Britain. One can only assume Ms May has set out her stall against free movement as part of a bid to outflank Boris Johnson in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but if that is true then it is shamelessly self-centered and against the true interests of Britain.
One of the reasons that the UK has emerged more strongly from the post-2008 recession was because of the talented EU migrants who came here to work or set up businesses. The revolting Daily Express and at times the Daily Mail would have us believe that all EU migrants are benefit scroungers, which is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The CBI, farmers and other groups of UK employers acknowledge the contribution EU migrants have made and I trust they will stand up and be counted against Ms May’s mean call. If David Cameron were to heed it and try to push for such a radical change to free movement with our EU partners it is certain that they would reject it, as the whole European project would start to unravel if it went through. Of course, that is what a disturbingly large number of Conservative MPs actually want to happen, not to mention UKIP. But the issue, if handled as badly as Ms May has done, could make it more likely that Britain would leave the EU, even though a “Brexit” would have serious consequences for our national economy. However, there is a more optimistic scenario following this new development which is that all those people who have benefited from the freedom of movement — the 2million+ Brits on the continent and the other EU citizens resident here — as well as young people who fancy studying or working abroad and older people who want to have the option to retire somewhere warmer will all gang up together to shout down this attempt to undermine their rights. And, one hopes, vote out this awful Tory government at the next election.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015
Freedom of movement is one of the pillars of the European single market, something that is not only good for business and the economy but good for individuals as well, as a majority of younger people in this country understand. Yet the Conservative government, egged on by the more repulsive elements of the right-wing Press, is trying to renegotiate some aspects of freedom of movement as part of a package that David Cameron wants to put before the British public in a referendum on the country’s EU membership some time over the next couple of years. On that he will fail, as there is no way that countries such as Poland will accept some of the things he has been suggesting. And why should the Poles? They — along with migrants from our other 26 partner states — have made a huge contribution to the British economic recovery. They pay in, in taxes, NIC etc, far more than they take out of our welfare state, and although UKIP and the more extreme Tory head-bangers may moan about the fact that there are over two million EU migrants in the UK they conveniently ignore the fact that there are almost as many Brits living on the continent. Yet the British public knows very little of the reality, often preferring to swallow scare stories from the Daily Express.
So it is a matter for congratulation that the NGO New Europeans has been running a series of meetings in England and Wales looking at the reality of the impact of EU migration on communities. The final one of these was held at Europe House in Westminster this evening, featuring a couple of academic presentations on the evidence before break-out sessions on the themes of health, education, housing and jobs. One point that really came home to me was how the Labour government in 2004 failed to make adequate provisions for the inevitable influx of workers from Poland in particular. The Labour Party has now renounced that policy of opening up to the new EU member states (just as it is busy renouncing most of its previous progressive policies at the moment in a scramble to sell itself to middle Britain). In the event, the migrants were blamed for what were in fact the British government’s shortcomings. It was interesting to hear from young researchers from Southampton how many Poles there have set up businesses, creating jobs, not ‘stealing’ them.Although we do not know when the referendum is going to be, it is essential that the true facts be in the public domain. Too often, with organisations such as Migration Watch active in the field we are seeing policy-driven evidence rather than evidence-driven policy being propagated. And as every true academic knows, that is classic bad practice.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th July, 2015
Richard Howitt is one of the most long-standing Labour members of the European Parliament, representing the East of England. As he himself pointed out at a lunchtime briefing for members of the Association of European Journalists (UK Section) at Europe House in Westminster today, that region is best known for its high percentage of UKIP supporters. Some of those can apparently be pretty thuggish; Richard Howitt was literally stoned during the Clacton by-election. However, in the Parliament his main work is on the Foreign Affairs Committee and he is enthusiastic about the (still relatively new) Commissioner for External Relations, Federica Mogherini. He is less impressed by the way that Britain’s Conservative government is handling matters European. I raised the issue of refugees from Syria, whose numbers now exceed 4 million. Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan have been shouldering an unfair share of the burden of looking after them and I for one was disappointed that EU member states failed to step up to the plate when the issue of possible quotas was raised at the Riga Summit. Richard Howitt clearly understands the demographic challenges that the UK faces unless it keeps an open door to EU migrants — which is a major reason he supports Turkish membership of the Union. Domestically, he party has hardened its stance on migration and immigration, but not for the first time the Labour MEPs have proved more liberal than their national counterparts, who still nervously guard their backs.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th May, 2015
Norway is not a member of the European Union, though as a member of the EEA, they have to obey European single market laws without having any imput into their formulation. In Oslo, they call that “fax diplomacy” — these days receiving instructions from Brussels by email, if they want (as they do) to function within the European single market of 500 million consumers. Incidentally, when they observe British conservatives flirting with the possibility of a Brexit, Norwegian politicians urge: Don’t do it! Anyway, it was interesting to be in Oslo today for Europe Day (9 May), not attending a concert in St John’s, Smith Square (London) for once, but at the City Hall in Oslo, following the Council meeting of the ALDE Party (European Liberal Democrats), which includes members from beyond the EU’s current boundaries. The (female, Conservative) Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, opened the event, demonstrating a singularly Nordic inclusiveness that is sadly still lacking in the UK. I attended a lunchtime fringe which was particularly interesting, showing how it is possible to increase wheat output in the EU, while at the same time boosting bio-diversity (including bird and bee life). This evening, we were the guests for Europe Day celebrations at Oslo City Hall, an extraordinary structure whose interior is redolent of the Socialist realist/fascist aesthetic of the 1930s. But the welcome from the Venstre deputy Mayor — young, trendy, and wearing orange Nike sneakers — could hardly have been more post-modern. As he said, in his welcome remarks, Oslo as a city would happily vote to be a member of the EU, but as for Norway, well, not yet…
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015
One of the striking characteristics of Britain’s current general election has been how very domestic the agenda has been: the NHS, job creation, the cost of living and so forth. Perhaps it is because I live in London, one of the world’s truly global cities, and write and broadcast about international affairs that I find so much of what the politicians are saying or putting in their leaflets dreadfully parochial. Of course local issues matter, but they need to be discussed in the wider context of what is happening globally, not just in economics but regarding the environment, migration, demographic trends and so forth. Moreover, despite UKIP’s higher profile than ever before in a British General election there has been remarkably little discussion about Britain’s role in the SU and the EU’s role in the world either, other than some very basic UKIP’s “we want to leave” and Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying “we should stay” (what the Tories say on the issue depends on which Conservative candidate you speak to). So it was a very welcome initiative on the part of the London branch of the European Movement, London4Europe, the other evening to put on a hustings for candidates from the five main parties at Europe House in Westminster. Interestingly, Mike Gapes for Labour and Dominic Grieve for the Conservatives were both more enthusiastically pro-EU and better informed than their national parties appear on the matter. Anuja Prashar for the Liberal Democrats (incidentally the only woman and only BAME candidate on the panel) not only stood up for the LibDems’ championing of our EU membership but was the only person really to contextualise the debate in 21st century global trends, not least the rise of the BRICS. Hugh Small spoke very competently from the Greens, whereas poor Robert Stephenson for UKIP was very much a fish out of water in this essentially pro-EU environment.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 13th April, 2015
Thanks to UKIP there has been a lot of discussion in Britain over the past year about a possible Brexit from the European Union. But there has been little realistic scenario-building about what would happen if the UK did leave (presumably after an IN/OUT referendum in which a majority vote OUT). However, the Italian film director Annalisa Piras has made a film imagining the fallout if a Brexit caused the EU to break up and be dissolved. The film was shown on BBC Four on 1 March (followed by a Newsnight discussion), but last night, at my lovely local Genesis Cinema in Stepney, and in conjunction with Cinema Italia UK and the NGO New Europeans, the full director’s cut was shown, followed by a debate including Ms Piras, the film’s executive producer, Bill Emmott (a former editor of the Economist) and others. The film itself mixes a fictional narrative centring on a British academic (played by Angus Deayton) explaining to a young girl sitting beside him on a plane going through a thunderstorm what the (now defunct) EU was all about. But most of the film is made up of news-reel material and interviews with politicians, journalists and others from a wide range of EU member states from France to Croatia. What happened in the Balkans in the 1990s reminds us that the possibility of War in Europe did not end completely in 1945, even if it is now unthinkable between EU member states. Indeed, footage from Kiev in Ukraine in the film underlined the point about the current dangers in the European neighbourhood; to confront them, Europe needs to be strong and united. Similarly, though the financial crisis nearly brought about the destruction of the euro and set back many member states’ economies only in solidarity can the 28 meet the challenges of global economic forces. Because there are so many interviews in the film the effect is kaleidoscopic, but my favourite without a doubt is one with a German lady of a certain age who proudly displays the iron crosses awarded to her ancestors over a century of conflicts, but who celebrates the fact that her children and grandchildren will never add to that collection by having to fight in a European war. The film’s ending is apocalyptic, as the plane is turned away from various airports and crashes (though the little girl parachutes out), which will doubtless reinforce criticism from Euro-sceptics that the movie is didactic and over the top. Despite that, it is in fact thought-provoking and deserves to be seen by a wider audience, not least students and other youth. They “get” the European project much more than their elders tend to do, and it is their future which is at stake.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angus Deayton, Annalisa Piras, Bill Emmott, Brexit, Cinema Italia UK, EU, Genesis Cinema, Kiev, New Europeans, The Great European Disaster Movie, UKIP, Ukraine | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th March, 2015
It is frustrating that so much of the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union is about the question “should we be in, or should we be out?” The Prime Minister, David Cameron, must shoulder some of the blame for this, for constantly trying to dance to UKIP’s tune, instead of standing up firmly on the side of most of British business (a natural constituency for him, one would have thought) to stress how important EU membership is for the UK’s economy and how risky leaving to “go it alone” would be. I wish Mr Cameron, and indeed other Tory government Ministers, could have been present yesterday at Thomson Reuters in Canary Wharf to listen to the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, give a masterly exposition of how the EU can steer itself through the next four or five years, by doing less better. The event was organised by the social democratic think tank Policy Network, focussing especially on EU reform as well as UK membership, but Mr Timmermans also highlighted the need for a more concerted European response to challenges such as Russia’s adventurism, Mediterranean migration and ISIS and related matters. I asked him if that meant that a recalaibration of the EU’s priorities might therefore be towards a stronger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), at the expense of internal market regulation, but he responded by quoting Harold Macmillan’s classic remark about “events, dear boy” — in other words, the EU must be able to respond pro-actively as necessary. Meanwhile, Britain marginalises itself from EU action to the detriment of both London and Brussels; I have already blogged about my dismay that Mr Cameron stood aloof from the Merkel-Hollande mission re Ukraine. On that specific issue, Mr Timmermans said that even if the Minsk Agreement has not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion, Minsk must be the basis for taking things forward.