Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Britain Casts Itself Adrift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2019

03ED2EAA-8A9B-4ADE-B461-49A127C5F5BEHot on the heels of the Conservative election win last week, guaranteeing that Brexit will happen on 31 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear that after leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be subject to EU rules and regulations. The government must know full well that this determination, if followed through, will mean that there can be no frictionless trade agreement with the EU27, either at the end of the projected transition period — arbitrarily set and enshrined in law by Mr Johnson’s Hard Brexiteers as 31 December 2020 — or ever. There is no way that the EU is going to compromise on its standards (from which British consumers have benefitted for nearly half a century) just to please London. So inevitably the UK economy will pivot towards the United States, the land of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. US pharmaceutical companies are already salivating at the thought of the killing they may make by foisting higher-priced drugs on the NHS. Of course, trade with the US will not in the foreseeable future make up for the inevitable shortfall in trade with the Continent and the Republic of Ireland. But Brexiteers argue that the UK will now be “free” to look elsewhere for trading partners (ignoring the fact that it always was). These presumably would include the Big Four BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, one should note that those four emerging powers do not share our values, let alone our standards, unlike the EU. I am not saying that Messrs. Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi and Xi are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I would not fancy being stuck alone on a desert island with any one of them.

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Europe in Flux

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 6th November, 2019

Europe in FluxThirty years ago this weekend the Berlin Wall came down, signalling the demise of Communism in Europe and the end of the Cold War. I still remember watching the extraordinary scenes on TV as East Berliners crossed into the West in a state of disbelief. It seems like yesterday. Yet for anyone under 35 there will be no real memories of when Europe was divided and nuclear obliteration was a background possibility. Or just how grey life was in much of central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Soviet Union. Or how cruel, not just in the gulags in Siberia but also under the Stasi in East Germany or in the inhuman prisons in Romania. However, it would be wrong to think that everything changed from dark to light in November 1989. The subsequent conflicts in former Yugoslavia were most acute in Bosnia Herzegovina (I went to Sarajevo not long after the dreadful siege was lifted), and the economies of many parts of the disintegrating Soviet Union collapsed. So it is right and proper that the photographic exhibition by Pierre Alozie, Europe in Flux, running at the 12 Star Gallery in Europe House, Smith Square, Westminster, until 6 December captures not just the euphoria of that astonishing night in Berlin but also the struggles and the suffering that followed in different parts of the former Communist lands. Indeed, some areas have still not fully recovered from the trauma. And some of the greatest social tensions today are in countries that were on the wrong side of the Wall during the Cold War, but are now members of the European Union.

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The European Liberal Family (ALDE)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 3rd November, 2019

12836C57-4082-48C4-B8C6-5EA2ED7AF71AFor most of last week I was in Athens, the cradle of democracy, for the ALDE Party Congress, which brought together dozens of Liberal parties from across Europe, not just the EU. I’ve been on the ALDE’s elected Council as a UK Liberal Democrats’ representative for many years and am currently standing for re-election to that role (all LibDem members can vote). As ever, one of the highlights of the Congress was the welcoming into membership of new parties, the details of which can be found on the ALDE website*. But inevitably a lot of the political discussion, especially outside the plenary sessions, was about Brexit. It was good to be able to confirm that the UK would not be leaving the EU on 31 October after all, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s do-or-die pledge. The British delegation worked hard to strengthen the resolve of our Continental counterparts (the Irish are well on board!) to support our efforts to Remain. When Luxembourg Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, declared in his plenary speech that he regretted the UK’s departure, he was rightly heckled by London MEP Irina von Wiese, “We’re not Leaving,”

5D6E7B66-4657-4764-A539-A4A387F6AD9BSubsequently, after the Congress, a 3-month extension to Article50 was granted by the EU27 and a general election was called in Britain for 12 December, in which Brexit will inevitably be a major issue. However, the ALDE Congress agenda was much broader than that and there was a range of interesting fringe meetings, including an event put on by (the worldwide) Liberal International on fighting Fake News and Alternative Facts.

ALDE itself is a very broad church, embracing social liberals, like the UK LibDems and D66 from the Netherlands, as well as more economically conservative parties, such as the German and Swiss FDPs. But there are many strongly shared values, not least on human rights (including LGBTi matters) and environmental protection. In the European Parliament, ALDE parties are together in the Renew Europe Group with Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche from France, and with 108 MEPs — a sharp rise from 2014 — constitute the third largest grouping, with considerable influence. But one of the healthy things about the ALDE Congress is to remind us all that Europe is far wider than just the EU and that all of us have a shared European heritage, despite our glorious diversity.

*link: https://www.aldeparty.eu

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The AEJ Congress in Greece

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th December, 2018

AEJ Congress Greece 1The Association of European Journalists (AEJ) held its annual Congress over the weekend, hosted by the Greek section. We were based in Agrinio, a rather pleasant little town of which, I confess, I had previously never heard, though sessions also took place in Vonitsa and Messolonghi. The Greek hospitality was wonderful, but of course it was the content of the discussions that was paramount. Greece has suffered a double whammy in recent years, with its economic crisis (it should never have been allowed to join the euro!) and the mass influx of refugees from Syria and elsewhere. The European Union has failed to enact a satisfactory strategy for dealing with this migration, largely because of a lack of unity among member states, ranging from Germany’s open door policy to stiff resistance from Hungary. There is an undoubted but unwelcome link between this situation and the rise of far right political parties in several EU member states — an issue that attracted much concerned debate within the AEJ.

AEJ Congress Greece So, too, did the matter of growing threats to media freedom, for example in Hungary (again!), but also to the extreme extent of assassinations of journalists, as in Malta and Slovakia. Though not all AEJ sections are in EU member states, the organisation is essentially supportive of the European project, so the challenges facing the EU currently were something of a dampener on the Congress, despite the warmth of the Greek hospitality. So, too, the issue of “fake news” or disinformation, which is not just an issue in Trump’s America. And as if that were not enough there is the whole horror show of Brexit, which is having a big impact beyond Britain’s shores, not least in Ireland. The British AEJ section held out the hope that Brexit may be stopped; the feasibility of that may become more obvious over the next few days.

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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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