Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘freedom of movement’

My New Year’s Resolution (for 2019)

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 31st December, 2018

7EF497C9-D1A4-4F68-A511-158B2B3DE9E4I’m not on the habit of making New Year’s Resolutions, but this year I feel it a must. 2018 has been pretty much of a disaster, as the storm clouds of Brexit have gathered, but 2019 is going to be much worse if Brexit actually happens. It seems incredible that both the Conservative Government and much of the leadership of the opposition Labour Party still believe in pressing on with leaving the European Union, despite all the evidence that the country’s economic growth will suffer and a wide range of sectors, from the NHS to the creative industries, will be hit hard. 2018 is ending on a sour note, as the Home Office tries to persuade millions of EU citizens and their offspring to register for permanent residence (at a charge of £65 per head for adults); some of them have lived in the UK for decades and have rightly considered it their home, but they are now being told they don’t have an automatic right to stay even in their own house. This is xenophobia, pure and simple, singling out people because they are foreign (European), even though most of them work and pay taxes like everyone else.

9F5643AB-A044-4E79-BF70-920A16E1D475Meanwhile, the government if throwing hundreds of millions of pounds away on extraordinary “preparations” for a No Deal Situation on 29 March 2019 — the latest and most grotesque example of which is a £100m+ ferrying contract to a company that actually has no ships, nor any expertise in the field. This is 21st Century P G Wodehouse, but deadly serious. The Brexiteer Press is cheering the end of Freedom of Movement for EU citizens so they can no longer just come to the UK to live or work, while ignoring that the Freedom of Movement for 65million Brits is likewise being taken away, with serious consequences both for the young and for retirees in particular. So by now it should be painfully obvious what my New Year’s Resolution for 2019 is: to fight Brexit with every fibre of my body and ounce of energy, ideally achieving a People’s Vote, with an option to Remain in the EU. I invite you to join me!

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In Praise of Migrants

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 18th December, 2017

903482B9-F40D-4B73-8C6E-AF3BF453455DMigration has always been part of the human condition. If the experts are right, then all of us originate from Africa if we go back far enough, and in the following millennia the human species settled the world. In more modern times, there have been several convulsive waves of migrants, such as ethnic Germans fleeing central and Eastern Europe after the Second World War, refugees from conflicts including Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and the desperate young Africans hoping to find a better life in the Eldorado if Europe or Central Americans heading for the US. Within the European Union, migration is recognised as a right, as freedom of movement of people is one if the Four Freedoms of the European Singke Market. Yet migrants often get a bad Press, not least from the rabid right-wing media in the UK and the US. But where would those countries be if it weren’t for the contribution made by migrants, often doing work that the indigenous people don’t want to do? So, on this International Migrants Day let’s think of migration not as a problem but as a blessing, that has often improved the lives of those move as well as of the communities who receive them.

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Germany Wants Britain in the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 5th December, 2015

Cameron EU 1At some stage between now and the end of 2017 voters in Britain will be able to have their say on whether they wish the country to remain a member of the European Union or to leave. One had hoped that by now David Cameron would have announced the date, so the referendum campaign could begin in earnest, rather than the phony war that has been stuttering along recently. But as it is highly unlikely that he will have definite responses from the UK’s EU partners to his list of four demands by the end of this month, as Downing Street had hoped, things will doubtless drift for some time longer yet. Meanwhile, the other 27 member states are hoping that Mr Cameron will be minded to recommend a vote to remain and that the referendum will indeed go that way. Despite often frankly being a pain in the arse in EU fora, Britain is too important a member to be allowed just to disappear by default and the message to London from other European capitals has been “please stay!”

McAllisterThat is particularly the case in Berlin. As David McAllister MEP, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told a gathering of the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ), the Germans believe the EU would be poorer and weaker without a British presence and will do almost anything (but not absolutely anything) to work with the British to try to find a compromise deal. However, there are red lines, not least of which is the Conservative government’s demand that the UK should be allowed to withhold benefits from EU migrants during their first four years of residence in the country. This would not only violate the principle of non-discrimination between workers from different EU member states but would also undermine the very principle of free movement of labour that is one of the cornerstones of the European single market. It is interesting to recall that much of the work in constructing that single market was done on the watch of British Conservative European Commissioner Lord Cockfield, who must be turning in his grave to see how it is now under assault (my observation, not Herr McAllister’s).

Any restrictions on EU migrants’ conditions and rights would of course have to be reciprocal, which would potentially hit the lives of many of the more than two million Brits living in other EU member states. Those who have lived outside Britain for less than 15 years and who have registered to vote in the UK will be able to vote in the referendum, which should boost the “remain” total. But the same is not the case for EU migrants who live in the UK, with the exceptions of the Irish, Cypriots and Maltese. As the outcome of the vote could have huge ramifications for the estimated 800,000 Poles in the UK, for example, that does seem unfair — especially as all legally resident Commonwealth citizens will be able to vote, even those from “new” Commonwealth states such as Rwanda and Mozambique, which were never even part of the old British Empire!

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Community Voices: EU Migrants in England

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015

New Europeans seminarFreedom 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.

New EuropeansSo 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.

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Long Live EU Labour Mobility!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st June, 2014

EU labour mobility 2EU labour mobilityI was saddened, but not surprised, to see in the Observer this morning that Frank Field, Kate Hoey and a few other UK Labour grandees have called on Ed Miliband to pledge to “constrain” EU labour mobility, i.e. undermine the principle of freedom of movement of people, which is a core element of the European single market. Such curbs, which many Conservatives also back, are of course a central plank of the UKIP agenda — so long as Britain remains an EU member. I understand why the UKIP surge in last week’s European and local elections last week has unnerved Britain’s two largest traditional parties, but that does not mean that the anti-immigrant and anti-EU rhetoric of Nigel Farage’s crew is right. On the contrary, true statistics — as opposed to UKIP propaganda and Daily Express lies — show that Britain has benefited hugely from labour mobility. Though over 2 million EU migrants have come to this country, a not much smaller number of Brits have moved to the continent. One in seven new businesses that have been set up in this country have been started by EU migrants, bringing new vibrancy to town centres in places like Southampton. Often people here complain that the migrants are “taking our jobs”, but the evidence does not back that up. Often the migrants are doing work that Brits just don’t want to do (such as fruit-picking and being waiters in restaurants). Moreover, to the predominanly young British who can’t find a job at the moment, I urge: skill up, maybe learn a language or two, improve your work ethic and throw yourselves into the energetic UK economy that is now the fastest growing in the OECD! Of course, the rise in population attributable to immigration has put real pressure on housing and schools and some social services, but the solution to that is to build more homes and other facilities, something Labour singularly failed to do during its 13 years in power. Moreover, I love the diversity that EU migration has brought to this country, especially to multicultural London. Far from being made uncomfortable by hearing people in the train speaking a foreign language, as Nigel Farage claimed, I see this as one aspect of our wonderfully rich and varied culture: an opportunity to learn more, not to go off into a nationalistic corner and sulk.

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Immigration, Blessing or Curse?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 17th January, 2014

immigration graphicimmigration graphic 2The Liberal Democrat President, Tim Farron, rightly won plaudits from liberal quarters when he said on the BBC’s Question Time last night that immigration is a blessing, not a curse, and that more politicians should be saying so. Doubtless his twitter and other social media timelines are now receiving a lot of very hostile comments, as well; immigration is an issue that tends to polarise the public, with some pretty extreme language being used by those who sing to the tune of the late Enoch Powell. Some of these viscerally anti-immigration voices are motivated by what can only be described as racism, but more often the problem is fear: a fear that immigrants will take jobs at a time of high unemployment among local people, that they’ll put an undue strain on council housing (not that there’s much of that around these days) or the social services and education. Fear can make people say irrational things, which is why it is important to have a measured debate about immigration in this country, based on facts not emotions, avoiding the xenophobic rhetoric and Armageddon prophesies of the more unprincipled Press, such as the Daily Mail and Daily Express. Let me state at the outset that it is a given that no nation in the modern world can have an “open door” policy for unlimited immigration. Britain doesn’t (despite what some UKIPers seem to believe), and shouldn’t. But controlled immigration for a country like Britain is not only desirable but necessary. Given demographic trends among the indigenous population, we need a regulated influx of younger, energetic workers to help pay for the pensions and social care of older citizens. Moreover, as most big businesses accept, for Britain to retain a leading role in key sectors such as financial services and the knowledge economy, we need to attract the brightest and the best from overseas to keep ahead of the curve. There are a couple of other important matters to be taken into consideration, which should also temper the UK immigration debate. The first relates to freedom of movement within the European Union, or EU migration, which should be seen as one of the greatest achievements of the single market and of huge benefit for Britain, both in terms of the workforce that has been attracted here — in all sectors of the economy — and in the opportunities it has given to British subjects living, studying or working in the other 27 EU member states. Instead of adopting the red tops’ negative narrative on freedom of movement, the Conservatives who lead the Coalition government should be championing the benefits. The other issue is the perception of many Brits that the country is “full” and therefore should shut the door completely to EU migrants and immigrants from other parts of the world. This is a false perception largely based on the fact that the UK economy and population are concentrated to an unhealthy degree in London and the South East. The solution to that is to regenerate areas of the country that saw a sharp decline in the post-War period because of the collapse of manufacturing, mining and other industries — and immigrants could play an important role in making that regeneration happen.

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Why EU Freedom of Movement Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 16th January, 2014

freedom of movementEarly this morning I was interviewed on Voice of Africa radio countering some of the negative propaganda in Britain about migration from other European Union member states, notably from Bulgaria and Romania. On 1 January, the temporary restrictions on the free movement of labour from those two countries were lifted and there were scare stories in the more sensationalist newspapers — including the Daily Mail and the Daily Express — warning that Britain risked being flooded. UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, stoked fears by declaring that 29 million migrants would have the right to come. Disgracefully, some Conservative politicians have also jumped on the anti-migrant bandwagon, pandering to the worst sort of xenophobic impulses. In fact, in the first fortnight of 2014 only a handful of migrants from Bulgaria and Romania have arrived on these shores, and most of those already had jobs lined up. Conservative Ministers have hinted darkly that the principle of free movement within the EU should be over-turned, even though this is one of the greatest achievements of the European single market, which benefits British workers, retirees, students and others just as much as it benefits people coming here to make a new life. Any unilateral action by Britain would be illegal under current EU laws and invite retaliation, and it could potentially jeopardise the status of UK citizens abroad. There are a million Brits living in Spain alone. Moreover, as I told Voice of Africa listeners, the impression given by the popular press that EU migrants are milking the UK’s benefits system is a distortion of the reality. Only 3% of EU migrants claim benefits such as job seeker’s allowance and as a whole they pay far more into the system than they take out. It is reasonable that there should be a period before such benefits can be claimed by new arrivals, perhaps three months — but certainly not two years, as some politicians on the right have argued. Just as Britain benefits from EU membership, in areas such as jobs, environmental protection and security, so the country gains from freedom of movement and Liberal Democrats should not shy away from championing it.

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Why Europe Matters!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th June, 2013

Tower Hamlets logoEU free movementThe fightback starts here. Yesterday I blogged about the benefits of the ECHR and the insane campaign by certain right-wing Tories to get Britain to remove itself from the Convention (thereby putting itself in the sole company of Belarus). But this evening I was speaking about why Europe — i.e. the EU — matters, at a pizza and politics organised by my own local Liberal Democrat party, Tower Hamlets. I reminded members that the EU (in its various incarnations), together with NATO, had preserved peace on our continent for nearly 70 years — unprecedented in modern times. The way that formerly Communist countries have been integrated into the Union — rejoining the European family — has been particularly striking. On 1 July, Croatia will be the next. I also maintained that we should champion the free movement of people within the European Single Market, which has helped Brits working on the Continent just as it has helped other EU nationals who have come here. The three areas we shall focus on over the next 11 months will be jobs, the environment and crime, and on all of these the Liberal Democrats have powerful messages to convey, stressing both the local and European dimension (there will be all-out London borough elections on 22 May 2014, alongside the European elections). Moreover, these are areas in which the LibDems have distinct policies from our current national Coalition partners, the Conservatives. The Tories characterise membership of the EU as an impediment, rather than an opportunity; the right wing’s idea that the UK could somehow go it alone and try to arrange bilateral trade deals with major economic powers like the US, China and India is pure cloud cuckoo land. At long last, Prime Minister David Cameron has said as much, but sotto voce, and almost drowned out by the shrieks of UKIP and his own Europhobic headbangers, cheered on by the tabloid Press. Every day the British Press (with noble exceptions such as the Guardian, Independent and Financial Times) spews out lies and distortions about the EU (too often politely dismissed by Euro-realists as “myths”).  I was interested that the Bengali members of Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats (who made up about half of tonight’s gathering) expressed worries about immigration from Eastern Europe and the notion that these newcomers are taking local people’s jobs. That is of course the narrative of UKIP, which has gained some traction, and we need to stress how (a) immigrants contribute more to the UK economy than they receive in benefits, and (b) young Brits (of whatever ethnic origin) really need to be getting appropriate qualifications to fill the jobs that are available and not turn their noses up at tasks which they feel are somehow beneath them. 

Link: http://www.tower-hamlets-libdems.org.uk

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