Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Bollocks to Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2018

Bollocks to BrexitThe founder of Pimlico Plumbers, Charlie Mullins, is to be congratulated for not submitting to pressure from (Labour) Lambeth Council to remove the giant sign over his company HQ saying Bollocks to Brexit! He has argued persuasively that Britain’s leaving the European Union — which it is scheduled to do on 29 March next year) will be bad for his customers and bad for his workforce, which has benefited from the Freedom of Movement that is part and parcel of the European Single Market. Rather than take down the sign he has instead invested in many more advertisements with the slogan posted near stations and other prominent places around London. After all, the Leave campaign was allowed during the EU Referendum campaign in 2016 to get away with driving a bus round with the lying slogan that the money the UK sends to the EU (itself a dodgy statistic) could be spent on the National Health Service instead. No surprise to learn now that that is not going to happen. In fact, Brexit is already costing this country hundred of million of pounds each week, and it hasn’t even occurred yet. And any increase in NHS funding (indeed needed) will probably have to come from higher taxation instead.

Brexit's Barking MadCharlie Mullins isn’t the author of the catchy Bollocks to Brexit! slogan, but it has gone viral, not only on social media, but also through sticky labels that have been appearing all over the place. On Sunday, I attended the Wooferendum march of Remainers and their dogs in Westminster, and many of the pooches were festooned with it as well. Over the coming weeks, in the run-up to a parliamentary vote on whatever Brexit deal is or is not agreed with Brussels, we can expect more campaigning activity, with a massive march in London on 20 October calling for a People’s Vote — i.e. a referendum on the deal, with an option to Remain — with support from people from every political party (except UKIP, probably) and none. Meanwhile, several local councils have been debating motions about whether to support a People’s Vote. I took part in a LibDem-led demonstration outside Camden’s temporary council offices last night, urging councillors to back such a motion, though sadly time ran out at the Full Council meeting before that part of the agenda was reached. I hope to attend a similar gathering outside Haringey Town Hall on Thursday. Both Camden and Haringey voted heavily Remain in 2016, yet the ruling Labour Party in both cases is divided on the issue. Conservative Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have received massive media attention, but the Labour Party is home to “Lexiteers” as well, not just on the right (such as Kate Hoey) but also the left, including among some supporters of Momentum. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was a Euro-sceptic for most of his 30-odd years in parliament, campaigned very quietly for Remain in 2016, but then called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately afterwards. He is still sitting on the fence over Brexit, though the Opposition Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer, did say clearly at the Labour conference in Liverpool that a People’s Vote should be on the table, including an option to Remain. He looked rather startled when this provoked a standing ovation, but it is not really surprising, as over 80% of Labour members reportedly support staying in the EU. Moreover, according to a poll-of-polls in the London Evening Standard last night, a large majority of the 150 recent opinion polls on the Brexit issue have shown a majority for Remain if a new referendum is held. In a democracy, it is a fundamental right for people to change their mind and maybe that is indeed happening as the complexity and cost of disentangling ourselves from the EU become clearer. So, yes, let’s have a People’s Vote. And let Bollocks to Brexit be our proud Remainer chant!

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Europe: The Tories Have Lost the Plot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st October, 2018

Jeremy Hunt 1Yesterday, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt compared the European Union to the “prison” of the Soviet Union and accused the EU of trying to prevent member states from leaving. That is the sort of intemperate language we came to expect from his predecessor, Boris Johnson, so it appears Hunt has taken over Johnson’s agenda as well as his role — an agenda that may well include a pitch for the Tory leadership when Conservative MPs feel it is time to ditch Theresa May. Mild-mannered Sir John Major is the only former Conservative Prime Minister left alive (apart from David Cameron, who initiated this Brexit mess) and he has made quite clear that he thinks Brexit is a terrible mistake. What a pity that Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher are not still around as well, as from their different perspectives they too would have put their boot into this pathetic government that has swallowed UKIP’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker.

May Juncker 1 Instead of negotiating with our 27 EU partners Mrs May and her colleagues have been increasingly insulting and threatening them. How not to win friends and influence people. If Britain crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal it will be entirely this government’s fault and we shouldn’t be surprised if the remaining EU members sigh “good riddance”! Britain under the Tories is becoming a nasty, xenophobic nation with a domestic “hostile environment” and an arrogant foreign policy akin to that of Donald Trump. But the UK is no USA, however much Tories wallow in the nostalgia of an Empire long since gone. It is no longer a top rank player on the world stage. Britain is now a middle-ranking country gradually slipping down the world economic league, and instead of using our membership of the EU to protect and grow our prosperity, the government is kicking our European partners in the privates, including and particularly the Republic of Ireland. One result could well be the break-up of the United Kingdom as the Scots, Northern Irish (and one day, maybe the Welsh) decide they do not want to be hitched up to the English nationalists. Listening to some of the people attending the Conservative Party conference, especially the youth wing of the Jacob Rees-Mogg fan club, it is obvious they do not really care about the social fabric of this country and are happy to make prep-school jokes about Johnny Foreigner. This used to be a party that prided itself on being competent, but on Europe — as on so much else — it has totally lost the plot. Interestingly, in London, Tory party membership has fallen below that of the resurgent Liberal Democrats’. But as the Tories sink beneath the waves somewhere in the mid-Atlantic they risk pulling the country down with them.

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Facing Austria

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd July, 2018

Logo EU-Ratsvorsitz 2018At the weekend, Austria assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union. That is quite a challenge at the best of times, but at present it is something of a poisoned chalice. The second half of 2018 is make-or-break time for the Brexit “negotiations”; even if diehard Remainers like myself now hope for “break”, so that the whole thing goes away, it is going to be a tetchy period. Not that Brexit is top of the agenda anywhere except in London (and possibly Dublin). As the Chargé d’Affaires of Austria to the Court of St James’s said in remarks at the opening of the Facing Austria exhibition at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House in London Smith’s Square this evening, “security” is the number one issue for Vienna — and with a new centre-right-far-right Coalition in power there, that means addressing the concerns of good Austrians about “illegal migrants”/refugees. We can expect Austria to take a firm stand on this, hand-in-hand with other parts of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, aka the Visegrad Group: the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is already feeling their uncomfortable breath down her neck. It is therefore somewhat ironic that one important element of the 20 photographers’ work in the Facing Austria exhibition is celebrating diversity (which is indeed official EU policy). Lovely shots of African men against snow-capped Alpine peaks and of dazed-looking Syrian refugees in Austrian cities, for example. Britain’s wretched Tory-(DUP) government has deliberately created a “hostile environment” for unwanted, undocumented incomers, but nobody does “hostile environment” quite as efficiently as Austria, when it is in the mood. Still, the six-month presidency has only just started, so let’s see if the often cheerful pictures in the exhibition are more reflective of the Austrians at the helm than some people might fear. It would be nice to think that the United Kingdom, as a self-professed bastion of liberal democracy, would be in there fighting hard to make sure that the EU doesn’t get pushed to the right over the coming months. But alas Mrs May is far too preoccupied trying to find the handle to the EU exit door, all the time worrying if it may come off in her hand.

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Trump out on a Limb over Iran

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th May, 2018

Trump IranWith much fanfare, Donald Trump today carried out his threat to withdraw the United States from the Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or Iran Nuclear Deal). While this move will be loudly welcomed in Tel Aviv and Riyadh, Washington can be left in no doubt about the displeasure of most of the rest of the world, including the other JCPOA signatories, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Indeed, because the Europeans knew what was coming, the EU as a whole — through the High Representative, Federica Mogherini — immediately declared its disapproval. Emmanuel Macron has failed to win Mr Trump over on the issue when he was in Washington recently, and the British Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, flew to the US capital specially over the Bank Holiday weekend to make the case for staying in the agreement, but to no avail. But if President Trump believes the Europeans and others will now meekly fall in line behind him on this then he is sorely mistaken. The deal took several years of careful negotiation before it came into force in 2015, with Barack Obama a keen supporter. One can’t help feeling that a major motivation for Trump’s behaviour was to have the chance to make a swipe at his predecessor. But like a school bully, Trump is in the wrong on this — out on a limb, indeed, for all the cheers from his recently appointed cohorts Mike Pompeo and John Burton. The other signatories will now work with Iran to try to keep the agreement on track. The US President, meanwhile, has been sent to stand on the naughty step — and probably wearing a dunce’s hat too.

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The Right to be Forgotten

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 1st March, 2018

Right to be ForgottenLast night I did a TV interview about the first British court case regarding the EU’s so-called Right to be Forgotten law, now being heard at the High Court. Actually, originally the broadcast was meant to be a debate with someone else, presumably from Google, which is contesting the claim against it, but there was a glitch with the skype link to him. Because the matter is sub judice, I don’t know the name of the plaintiff or the exact nature of the charge for which he was convicted years ago, other than it related to fraudulent accounting. The claimant is asking Google to remove links to articles about his case from their search engine, on the grounds that the 1974 UK Rehabilitation of Offenders Act means that some time after he had received the punishment for the crime the conviction then became “spent” and therefore should not hang around his head like a millstone, any time anyone does a Google search on his name. This is reminiscent of the case of a Spanish businessman years ago which led to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg bringing in the Right to be Forgotten in 2014, by which information provided through search engines that is incorrect, irrelevant or out-of-date can be removed. The Spaniard had hit financial difficulties and his property was sold off at auction, but he argued that as he tried to re-establish himself he should not be penalised by details of that situation being easily accessible. The ECJ judges were influenced by a concern that the privacy of EU citizens should be protected as much as is appropriate, which is, I imagine, why Hacked Off has got involved in the case now being discussed here in England. That is actually the first of its kind in this country, though another one is due soon. Google is arguing that it is in the public interest for the information about the plaintiff’s criminal record to be readily available. But it is interesting to note that of the approximately 2.4 million (sic) requests to Google to take down links made globally so far, 800,000 were successful. So something to watch!

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Truth in Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th January, 2018

post-Truth politicsMany people are put off politics because they don’t trust what politicians say. Alas, that situation has got worse over the past year or so, with the election of Donald Trump to the White House and the chaotic Brexit discourse in the UK. Of course, with Trump one can never be sure whether he is deliberately lying or simply does not know the facts. What is certain, though, is that in this new era of post-Truth, if you don’t like the facts just make up your own, and trumpet them as if they are valid. In Britain, Nigel Farage and the arch-Brexiteers are masters of that black art, proclaiming “alternative facts” such as Turkey being about to join the EU and there being 29 million Romanians and Bulgarians just waiting to flood into the country. The Daily Express newspaper is a daily catalogue of lies and distortion, but the Daily Mail, the Sun and even the Daily Telegraph are often as bad. Even the Government twists the truth. This week Mrs May was boasting that the government had got rid of unfair credit card charges, whereas in fact this was as a result of EU action. The Conservatives regularly claim credit for things that have proved popular (such as the raised tax threshold and same-sex marriage) even though these were Liberal Democrat initiatives. Now the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has got in on the act. This morning, on Peston on Sunday, he repeated the false claim that in order to be in the European Single Market one has to be a member of the EU, even though he has been told Norway and Switzerland, for example, are evidence to the contrary. I used to have a lot of respect for Corbyn, having worked with him on human rights issues relating to the Palestinians and the Kurds. But he has squandered that respect by becoming a cheerleader for Mrs May’s Hard Brexit, despite the pro-EU  leabings of a majority of Labour Party members. Moreover, he has joined in the delivery of lies and half-truths to try to destroy Britain’s European vocation.

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Europe at Sea *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 23rd December, 2017

Federica Mogherini 1The year 2017 is the 60th anniversary of the launching of the European project, but never since its foundation has the European Union (formerly the EEC) been under such pressure from its immediate neighbourhood. Russia has been interfering in the Baltic states in particular — and maybe in Britain’s EU Referendum, too — but most serious has been the flood of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict in Syria or poverty in Africa. Italy alone took in more than half a million Mediterranean boat people between 2014 and 2017. More than 17,000 such boat people have perished at sea since 2011. Both Italy and Greece were put under huge strain by the sheer scale of the humanitarian demand and shamefully not all of the other 26 EU member states rallied round to help, notably several in central and eastern Europe. Meanwhile, much of the responsibility for dealing with the influx and with security matters (such as the threat of terrorism) has fallen on the shouders of the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini. She is the prime focus of Annalisa Piras’s new hour-long documentary, Europe at Sea, now available on Amazon VOD. Though she had served briefly as Italy’s Foreign Minister, Ms Mogherini was considered a light-weight when she was first appointed, and therefore not a danger to the vested interests of some of the EU’s more powerful member states, but she has more than proved her mettle, both in dealing with the migration crisis and in building on the complementarity between the EU and NATO. She comes over in the film as compassionate (“You can be both strong and human”) but also hard-headed. She put together a Global Strategy for the EU”s response to the mulltifareous external challenges facing the Union, launched the day after Britain’s Brexit vote.

Merkel Macron Since the election of French President Emmanuel Macron, there is new impetus in the Franco-German relationship that will help steer the EU through its choppy waters at a time when Donald Trump is largely withdrawing the United States from the European scene. The great tragedy is that Britain should be in pole position too, but instead is tied up in its own Brexit navel-gazing prior to exiting the EU in 2019. The core message of this film is that the EU member states need to pull together if they are not to sink under the weight of the external challenges; the implication naturally is that Britain is once again missing the boat. Unlike Pisar’s earlier film, The Great European Disaster MovieEurope at Sea does not use any gimmicks of fantasy; rather, it is a straight-down-the-line, powerful,  factual documentary, with an eclectic range of top-rank interviewees and some occasionally harrowing footage. It is a tribute to Federica Mogherini’s work and determination, as well as to the potential for good that rests in European collective action. Brexiteers will hate it, but they should watch it, as they will learn something, as will everyone else. The film is a fine exposition of a noble cause.

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Brexit Bites, Even in ALDE

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 2nd December, 2017

3079F192-03A6-4967-B73B-8C17AA5F88D2At the official buffet dinner reception at the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress in Amsterdam this evening the results were announced for the President and Vice-Presidents of the Board. As Hans Van Baalen, a Dutch MEP, was the only candidate for the former, it was no surprise that he won re-election, with only a score of nay-votes. But the Vice-Presidential results are giving everyone here at the Congress food for thought, some negative, some positive. To start with the bad news first, Baroness Ros Scott — seeking re-election, as one of seven candidates for six posts — came bottom of the poll. This is certainly not an indictment of her record, as she has been tireless in her work for ALDE and the Liberal cause throughout Europe, as well as in the House of Lords. But it looks as if Brexit was a factor, for which Theresa May and her UKIPTory government are to blame. Britain has become the embarrassing member of the European Family, the drunk uncle who offends everyone and knocks the furniture over. Of course Ros has never behaved like that herself; far from it. But many of our EU partners are sick to the back teeth with Britain, not least the post-2004 newcomers of formerly Communist central and Eastern Europe, who were not around when Britain was a force for good in the EU (c.f. Lord Cockfield and the implementation of the single market). No, for the past decade or so, Britain, as misrepresented by successive governments, has been a pain in the arse, personified by Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. That the latter should have been made Foreign Secretary, despite having been sacked by The Times for lying about Europe when he was a correspondent in Brussels, and subsequently insulting the peoples of so many countries, is something that leaves most continental Europeans open-mouthed with disbelief. Add to that the resentment caused by boorish British behaviour since the EU Referendum and you have the perfect storm of the marginalisation of a previously great country sinking into a cesspit of irrelevance and narrow-mindedness. That this probably contributed to Ros Scott’s defenestration from the ALDE Bureau is particularly sad. Guy Vehofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and currently both President if the ALDE Group in the European Parliament, as well as that Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, pledgd in his short address to tonight’s dinner that the UK’s leaving the EU would not mean that the British Liberal Democrats would cease to be members of the family. But clearly we are not now in the inner circle. However, while this development saddens me greatly, for Ros personally, for the LibDems and for Britain, there is a more positive piece of news tonight. The person who topped the poll in the vote for Vice-Presidents was Ilhan Kyuchyuk MEP, a Bulgarian from that country’s Turkish minority community, and therefore a Muslim. The EU is moving forward, even if Britain now risks being left behind.

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Europe Coalesces as Britain Falls Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 10th November, 2017

D1AF3920-7B78-406C-A1FD-FA42B713BF62In last year’s European Referendum, UKIP and other arch-Brexiteers argued that the European Union is sinking and is bound to break up, whereas the developments of the past few months have shown that, on the contrary, the EU is pulling together while Britain, mismanaged by a Brexit-drunk Tory Party, is steering the country straight for the rocks. A year ago, the UK was one of the fastest growing countries in the OECD, whereas now it has sunk to the bottom. In contrast, even the previously afflicted nations of Southern Europe are picking up. Moreover, since Emmanuel Macron became President of France, there is a new spring in the EU’s step; “Mutti” Merkel is no longer the sole voice of EU strength. The Franco-German alliance is back with force. The great tragedy is that Britain ought to be one of a troika helping direct the EU, at a moment when China and other emerging economies are in the ascendant. Instead, craven to Little Englander nationalists and the running dogs of global capitalism, Theresa May and her unholy crew are deliberately destroying Britain in order the try to satisfy the most extreme Btexiteers. Britain can have a golden future, as a leading member of the European Union. Cast adrift, alone, it’s bones will be picked over by the carrion crows who unfortunately own the worst parts of the British media, and to whose insistent tune Mrs May dances along with Mad Hatter Boris Johnson and the rest of that unsavoury crew.

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The Future of UK-China Trade

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd October, 2017

JF addressing Chinese LibDems AGMLiam Fox and other Brexiteers in the UK’s current Conservative government are fond of saying that when we are “free” from the European Union, we will be able to enter into a great new dawn of trading partnerships with other big players around the world, not least China. Actually, it was David Cameron and the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who really championed the idea of a bright future hand-in-hand with the People’s Republic, though they never imagined that would be something totally separate from EU-China trading relations. Theresa May, interestingly, has been a little more cautious in her embrace of President Xi Jinping, who has been expertly consolidating his authority at the Chinese People’s Congress this week. But despite the bluff reassurances of Liam Fox, David Davis and Boris Johnson, forging an advantageous new trading relationship with China is unlikely to be straightforward, for a number of reasons. First, until Britain formally leaves the EU — in principle on 29 March 2019 — it cannot make any bilateral arrangement with Beijing. Moreover, there are not sufficiently qualified negotiators in Whitehall to handle such a sensitive matter (as the EU has dealt with our trade negotiations for the past four decades) and little Britain, with 60 million inhabitants, is going to be at a distinct disadvantage in taking tough with the colossus of China, unlike the 500-million strong EU, which is still the largest trading bloc in the world. Bilateral trade is already skewed in China’s favour, and is likely to be more so in future, not less. Other factors make prospects mixed. China under Mr Xi is becoming more assertive in global affairs, having largely sat on the sidelines for many years, even within the UN Security Council. Many people in China believe the time has now come for China to reassert its pre-eminence in the world, as was the case prior to 1500 and the rise of European Empires. The four hundred years of European dominance, followed by a century of American hegemony, may in future be seen as a blip in comparison to China’s long supremacy. Then there is the issue of Donald Trump, who is repositioning the United States to be more isolationist (and certainly more self-centred), racheting up conflicts with countries such as Iran and North Korea in a way that risks souring US-China relations. Yet Theresa May aspires to be Mr Trump’s greatest ally, despite disagreeing with him over the Iran nuclear deal. This could prove awkward. In the meantime, the British government has downgraded human rights as a priority in its foreign policy, which is sweet music to Xi Jinping’s ears — though Britain must be careful to ensure that as a future relationship evolves it does not end up dancing to Beijing’s tune.

This is a summary of remarks I made as the guest speaker today in London’s Chinatown at the AGM of Chinese Liberal Democrats:  https://chineselibdems.org.uk/

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