Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘EU’

Brexit: Groping in the Dark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th September, 2016

img_1421it’s almost two months since the British electorate voted by a slim majority to leave the European Union, but even though the new Prime Minister Theresa May emphatically declared “Brexit means Brexit”, no-one seems any the wiser what Brexit will entail — least of all the three men who have been chosen to deliver it: David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. Last night, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, a panel that included Jacqueline Minor from the European Commission’s London Representation, Timmy Dooley from Ireland’s Fianna Fáil and Manfred Eisenbach from Germany’s FDP grappled with the possible outcomes. EU leaders have made clear that Britain cannot expect to enjoy access to the European Single Market unless it accepts freedom of movement, and it’s difficult to see how that circle can be squared. Outside of the EU the U.K. may therefore have to apply to join the World Trade Organsiation and abide by WTO rules, but that would mean it having to negotiate bilateral trade deals with most of the rest of the world, as well as with the EU. First, though, it would have to disentangle itself from EU membership. It took Greenland (technically part of Denmark) three years to withdraw and they only had to deal with fishing. The UK’s withdrawal would be infinitely more complicated and is likely to take much longer. Only after that could new trade deals be finalised, which could take many years as well as adversely hitting the UK economy. Everyone on last night’s panel agreed that one has to respect the outcome of the EU Referendum; one couldn’t just run it again, in the hope of getting a different outcome. But it would be perfectly feasible to put the new trade deal — whenever it is reached — to the vote, at which point people might realise Britain would be better off staying in the EU. That is indeed the line being premoted by the LibDem leader Tim Farron, who got a standing ovation at a packed rally earlier in the evening.

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The March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd September, 2016

March for Europe LibDems 1Many thousands of Britons in cities across the country today took part in a March for Europe, demonstrating our belief (despite the outcome of June’s referendum) that the UK is better off in the EU. Liberal Democrats were well represented. Theresa May’s trio of Brexit Ministers — Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox — have yet to make any credible proposal for what Brexit would look like. Some in the government hope Britain could somehow still be part of the European Single Market while others want to be completely outside that. To me, both positions are unrealistic. Why would the other 27 EU member states give us free access to the single market without our contributing to the EU budget and accepting free movement of labour? It just doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the go-it-aloners have failed to understand the implications of going into a situation where we would be operating under WTO rules. Theresa May is under great pressure from Ian Duncan Smith and other hardliners among the Brexiteers to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, but she is wisely not doing so. The special summit at Chequers the other day failed to come up with any coherent Brexit strategy and there is little likelihood one will be fashioned soon. So probably we will drift on in the curious limbo of remaining in the EU, but with a foot out of the door, for several years. An astonishing number of people who voted for Leave seem to believe we have actually already left, but we haven’t and we won’t do so for ages, maybe never at all. In the meantime, every time I post something pro-EU on twitter, such as about today’s March for Europe, Brexit trolls send me tweets, many of them offensive, accusing me of not respecting democracy. On the contrary, it is the democratic right of the millions of us who voted to stay in the EU to keep on expressing our opinion. To stifle us would be dictatorship, not democracy.

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The UK’s Creative Industries post-Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th August, 2016

LibDem CreativesLast night the relatively new Liberal Democrat Creatives group heard Lord (Tim) Clement-Jones outline some of the challenges facing the UK’s creative industries as a result of June’s vote for Brexit. He is part of the LibDems’ parliamentary team covering the Department of Culture, Media and Sport brief. We know from opinion polling that the creative sector voted overwhelmingly for Remain, but Tim argued that we now have to assume that Britain will leave the EU and that therefore we must try to make the best of it. Britain’s creative sector has been a phenomenal success in recent years, growing two or even three times as fast as the rest of the economy and accounting for an annual turnover of more than £80 billion. It’s not just the quality of content and innovation that have made this possible but also the skills of British technicians and crews, especially in the AV sector. In principle, given the global nature of the English language Britain should continue to operate at an advantage when targeting the US and Commonwealth markets, but the future situation with regard to the UK’s relationship with the EU is far more problematic. Currently we have to conform with EU directives but we also have a strong voice in how EU regulations are formed, which will no longer be the case after Brexit. Even more worrying is the likely impact of an end to free movement of labour, goods and services. It will probably be more difficult for British film-makers, actors, technicians and others to work on the Continent and similarly there may be curbs on EU citizens coming to Britain, which would certainly impoverish cultural exchange. That may also effect the facility for and desire of European students coming to Britain to study such things as drama, film and television. But the central problem at the moment is that no-one knows exactly what Brexit means and what sort of deal Britain will manage to negotiate with the 27 remaining states. Some LibDem Creatives in the audience last night expressed fears that we could, for example, see a return to the need for carnets for technical crews travelling to the Continent, meticulously listing all their equipment, which could be horribly time-consuming as well as financially draining. Despite Tim Clement-Jones’s attempt to be at least a little upbeat the mood in the room — appropriately a performance space over a pub in Bermondsey — was predominantly gloomy, as most people thought Brexit would be negative for the sector. Indeed many of us continue to hope that Britain will pull back from the brink when it is clear that no Brexit deal can be anything like as good as what we enjoy at the moment as members of the EU.

 

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A Missed Chance to Reform The EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th July, 2016

The United Kingdom was scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July 2017, giving the Brits a wonderful opportunity to help steer an EU reform agenda with the support of several of its continental partners. But Prime Minister Theresa May has told her EU counterparts that Britain will not in fact assume the presidency. The reason is clear: she has declared that “Brexit is Brexit”, and even if the UK technically will remain a member of the Union until the end of 2018 or even beyond, it has already started to walk out of the door. With each day that passes, now, the government in London will have less and less influence in Brussels. British Ministers will not be listened to with the attention they previously got, British MEPs cannot expect to be appointed to key positions in the European Parliament and the other 27 states will inevitably focus inwards on how to move the EU forward without the obstreperous Brits. This all adds up to a tragic missed chance to help make the EU work better for all its members. The majority of EU states are now likely to integrate further, with Britain firmly on the outside. Perhaps the best Britain can now hope for is some sort of associate membership, or at least to be part of the EEA (European Economic Area), but that would of course mean accepting free movement of people, which is what many Brexiteers said they wanted to end. The sad truth is that the government still has no clear plan for what Brexit will mean, but is blindly heading in that direction. For me this is the greatest national tragedy since the end of the Second World War.

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Cypriots for REMAIN

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 14th June, 2016

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

Nicky Morgan Cypriots.jpg

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The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th June, 2016

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

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Should EU Migrants Fear Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 25th May, 2016

The American novelist Mark Twain was fond of saying that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. And with both the Remain and Leave sides in Britain’s EU Referendum campaign sharing sometimes completely contradictory statistics in the run-up to the vote on 23 June, it’s no wonder people are confused.

How do EU citizens in the UK feel?

There are an estimated 2.2 million EU migrants who live and work in the UK, having taken advantage of the European Single Market’s freedom of movement of people, goods and services. How do they feel about the possibility of Britons voting to leave the EU?

Unsurprisingly, 87% of the 1,000 continental EU citizens living in the UK surveyed by totaljobs in May 2016 said they are concerned about Brexit. There is no guarantee that they could stay in Britain post-Brexit, though 75% of respondents said they would try to do so. That might mean they would have to apply for a work visa, which may not be guaranteed.

If they were pushed out of Britain after Brexit – perhaps passing thousands of expatriate Brits returning home from their lives in mainland Europe because of a reciprocal withdrawal of rights – many say they would go back to their home country. But slightly more would look for work in another EU member state, the survey uncovered. Wage differentials certainly make that worthwhile for people coming from low-wage economies.

Some British tabloids have claimed that EU migrants, especially from formerly communist states of central and eastern Europe such as Romania and Bulgaria, came to Britain essentially to take advantage of the country’s relatively generous, non-contributory benefits system, but the totaljobs survey findings do not support the idea of such a powerful ‘pull factor’.

Europeans-and-Brexit-2

Working in the UK

Fewer than half of respondents cited better benefits when asked how working in the UK had affected their career, whereas two thirds mentioned higher earnings. Notably, a majority of the European migrants surveyed were earning less than the average British salary of £26,000 a year. Career progression and a healthier work-life balance also figured prominently in their responses.

For a clear majority of respondents, coming to Britain was all about work: Better job opportunities and higher salaries than those available back home. By far the biggest group represented among the EU migrants in Britain are people aged between 25 and 44 – a prime stage of life for developing their careers.

Others cited educational opportunities, including the chance to improve their English, which is recognised as the number 1 language in the EU and in the wider world.

Some came to Britain for personal reasons, being married to or in a relationship with a Brit, or else joining family already living here. Yet others simply wanted to experience another culture, with many settling in London, which is currently enjoying a particularly vibrant period culturally and economically.

Employers in both the manufacturing and agricultural sectors in the UK often say they like to have workers from the continent because they have a good work ethic. In some cases, employers find it difficult to recruit suitable British workers to do the job.

Similarly, while some Brits argue that competition from EU migrants pushes down wages, a recent study by the London School of Economics maintains that is in fact not the case.

How many Europeans are in the UK?

EU migrants probably make up no more than 5% of the total labour force in Britain. The Poles are by far the largest single group of (non-Irish) EU migrants in the UK, and made up a fifth of the totaljobs survey respondents.

In 2004, when Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus joined the EU, Britain, unlike most other existing member states, did not impose transitional arrangements that would have stopped migrants from the accession states moving in for a number of years.

Inevitably Britain was something of a magnet, though not all those who came in the first wave stayed very long, particularly after the financial crisis of 2008. Incidentally, the government considers those who stay for less than a year to be ‘short term migrants’ and does not include them in the headline immigration statistics.

That largely explains why considerably more EU migrants were given National Insurance numbers than show up in the official immigration figures provided by the Home Office. Yet these statistics may only tell some of the story; although the British border force monitors people coming into the country, it does not check those leaving, so no one can be completely sure how many continental EU citizens are living here at any given moment.

Also notable, each year the EU migrants arriving in Britain are outnumbered by immigrants from other parts of the world, a higher proportion of whom are hoping to settle permanently.

Europeans-and-Brexit-1

Do EU citizens think it’s worth staying?

Well over half of the migrants polled said they were satisfied with the experience of working in Britain and that they felt more comfortable in the work culture of Britain than they did back home. Yet not all were comfortable in the current political climate as the EU Referendum approaches.

A third of respondents, notably those who had been in the UK for less than five years, said they would feel discriminated against if they were looking for a job now. They also worried about possible political developments in the country after a potential Brexit.

One option for some would be to protect themselves by applying for UK nationality. Half of the 1,000 survey respondents said they had indeed considered it and nearly 10% were in the process of doing so. Yet in contrast, a significant proportion of the total believed they would leave Britain within the next two years.

The British government says it called the Brexit referendum in response to public demand; the last such vote, to confirm Britain’s membership of the then-European Economic Community, occurred back in 1975.

The decision to hold this referendum has affected many migrants’ opinion of Britain negatively, especially among those aged 34 or younger. Perhaps they belong to a generation that takes the realities of the European single market for granted and are especially unhappy that freedom of movement might be curtailed.

Job security is the top concern, with younger migrants in particular fearing they will be kicked out of the country. Some also worry about a possible rise in xenophobia and possible discrimiation.

Other preoccupations are primarily financial. Currency fluctuations could mean that the pounds migrants earn by working in Britain would be worth less back home post-Brexit, while air fares – important for those who return to their home country regularly to visit family and friends – might rise substantially.

The information and speculation about the consequences of Brexit available are so inconsistent that it is hard for people to judge what the likely impact really would be. To make matters worse, according to the survey, 60% of the EU migrants questioned said the HR departments of the firms where they worked had not kept them informed about the potential work policy changes caused by Brexit.

That may appear shocking, until you realise that the HR people probably have no idea themselves.

More questions than answers

The truth is, no one knows exactly what the consequences of Britain leaving the EU would be, or indeed what sort of future relationship the UK would have with Europe. A Norwegian or Swiss model – both of which have been suggested – would mean that freedom of movement for EU workers would continue, whereas a Canadian model would see that right ended.

What does seem certain is that it would take several years of negotiation and legislative changes for Britain to disentangle itself from the EU, which means that a vote in favour of Brexit would not be the end of a process, but just its beginning.

[This article was first published by Totaljobs Group: http://www.totaljobs.com/insidejob/impact-brexit-europeans-working-uk/   ]

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Europe in Concert

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th May, 2016

Europe DayThis evening the annual Europe Day concert in St John’s Smith Square — sponsored by the Netherlands EU presidency and the London office of the European Commission — featured music by Lully, Hellendaal, Handel, Vivaldi and van Wassenaer, performed by the European Union Baroque Orchestra and three singers from the European Opera Centre — two organisations that promote young musicians and singers from across the continent. It has always struck me as significant that for centuries, music united Europeans, long before the political concept of the European Union was born. Even many Brexiters acknowledge the richness of Europe’s shared cultural heritage; indeed, the Chairman of the Leave campaign, Lord Lawson, lives mainly in France and Nigel Farage has a German wife. But the mood in the church tonight was one of EU solidarity, including the now traditional rendition at the end of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy,  the unofficial EU “anthem”. I have always felt that to be a particularly stirring piece of music, redolent of the optimism that was also present among the EU’s founding fathers. Europe Day itself, always 9 May, is the anniversary of the Schuman Declaration of 1950, in which the French Foreign Minister, Robert Schuman, proposed the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community, arguing that this would make it impossible for its members — notably France and Germany — to go to war again. One can argue until the cows come home whether it was NATO or what is now called the European Union was more responsible for underpinning peace in Europe. If we are honest, it was a bit of both, but even more there was a feeling after the horrors of World War II: Never Again. But this evening there was a different edge to the Europe Day Concert. As the Head of the Commission’s London Office, Jacqueline Minor, expressed it (I paraphrase): “Well, we hope to see you here again next year!” That can only be a hope, because if the UK electorate votes to leave the EU on 23 June that will be an end to Britain’s participation in the still evolving European Project. We will have turned our back on our neighbours and walked away. There is nothing noble or wise in that course, I believe.

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Barack Obama Is Right on EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 22nd April, 2016

Obama EUThe US President, Barack Obama, has taken the opportunity of his short visit to Britain to underline why he believes it is in Britain’s interest — as well as that of the rest of the world — for the UK to remain in the European Union. He argues cogently that Britain is stronger IN and has more global influence. Most of British business, as well as international institutions such as the IMF, agree, but that has not stopped the advocates for Brexit attacking Barack Obama with all guns blazing. UKIP’s Nigel Farage, disgracefully but predictably, has called Obama the most anti-British President ever, but much more shameful have been the comments of the outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Not content with accusing the Americans of hypcosrisy in wanting Britain to be part of the EU, on a very dodgy use of analogy, BoJo has now declared that maybe the fact that Obama’s father originated from Kenya means he has an axe to grind with post-colonial Britain. This is barely concealed racism, as well as an unsavoury use of innuendo. Perhaps we should be not surprised, given the way that his putative successor, the Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, has been been resorting to barely disguised Islamophobia in his attacks on Labour opponent Sadiq Khan. Boris Johnson seems to be inspired by the tousle-haired populist on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald Trump, and is throwing his principles to the wind. Maybe he thinks that will give him a better chance of becoming Tory leader after Cameron retires, but he deserves to be proved wrong. Barack Obama is an infinitely greater politician  than BoJo and it is his voice the British public should listen to, not the self-serving porkies and insults of second-rate Trump Johnson.

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ASEAN Diaspora Shuns Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th April, 2016

ASEAN UK diaspora meetingThere is mystification among many diaspora citizens of the 10 member states of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as to why some politicians in Britain feel that the UK would be better off outside the European Union. At least that was the sentiment of a useful round table discussion held at the National Liberal Club in Westminster last night, co-hosted by Khanh Minh Ho (the Vietnamese Chair of the ASEAN UK Business Forum) and Merlene Emerson (Singaporean-born Liberal Democrat candidate for the London Assembly). Not a single person present said they were in favour of Brexit. As one Malaysian participant put it, “my clients see Britain as a useful gateway to the European Union. If the UK goes for Brexit, attention and investment are likely to shift to France or Germany.” The guest speaker at the event, Nick Hopkinson, Chair of London4Europe, succinctly outlined the benefits of Britain’s EU membership and said that the various models of a new relationship with the EU after any British withdrawal — Norwegian, Turkish or Canadian, for example — just don’t stand up in comparison. Himself of Canadian origin, Nick said that Britain was far stronger as an EU member state, not least in negotiating trade deals with other parts of the world through the EU. The nation that a 60-million nation could wield more negotiating clout than a 500-million bloc is just not credible. That is something that ASEAN itself has understood. With a similar size of population to that of the EU, ASEAN has a far stronger international presence as a group rather than as 10 separate countries. Though ASEAN’s integration has not got anywhere near as far as that of the EU — and maybe never could, given the huge diversity of both political and economic systems among its member states — it has nonetheless moved towards a free trade area and is increasingly cooperating on an ASEAN-wide basis on a wide range of issues, not least relating to the environment. Because the UK has long given a total franchise to resident citizens from Commonwealth countries, only Malaysians and Singaporeans among ASEAN nationals in the diaspora here will be able to vote in the May elections and the 23 June EU Referendum, but the message from all those present last night was: No to Brexit!

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