Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Nigel Farage’

Downgrading DFID Is Daft

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th June, 2020

UK AidBoris Johnson’s Conservative government has announced its intention to subsume the Department for International Development (DFID) within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This is a seriously bad idea, not least at a time when much of the developing world is struggling with the Coronavirus pandemic. Even former Prime Minister David Cameron has criticised the plan. It was under the Cameron-led Coalition government of 2010-2015 that the United Kingdom achieved the UN target of devoting 0.7% of its GNP to international development; indeed, that percentage was then enshrined in law. But with an 80-seat majority in the House of Commons, Boris Johnson may feel that he can overturn that as well if he wishes. If he did, that would be once again singing to former UKIP Leader Nigel Farage’s songsheet. There are indeed a number of Brexiteer Tory MPs who feel, like Farage, that overseas aid is a waste of UK taxpayers’ money and that the funds should be spent at home, while others argue that if aid is to be given it should be linked to the promotion of British goods and services — in effect recycling the money back into the British economy. But one of the main discussion points in the late 1970s, when I was Secretary to the Brussels-based NGO Liaison Committee to the European Communities, was the need to move away from such “tied aid”, instead addressing the real priorities of poorer countries. To reverse that process would be a retrograde step. But so too is bringing DFID back in-house at the FCO, where inevitably it will be seen as an arm of British foreign policy. DFID has won a lot of respect for its work, often targeted at the poorest communities. But downgrading DFID from Ministry status would be taking us back several decades. This is hardly likely to win us many friends in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, where views of British colonial legacy is often ambivalent, to say the least. That is not exactly a smart thing to do at a time when post-Brexit Britain is looking to improve its reputation outside Europe. In fact, in a word, it’s daft.

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We Haven’t Left Europe!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th May, 2020

Council of Europe accessionIn common with many Remainers I am still in a state of shock following the EU Referendum of June 2016, though Brexit pain has been slightly assuaged by the fact that although formally Britain left the EU on 31 January we are in a transition period scheduled to last until the end of the year, during which many of the advantages, as well as the rules and regulations, of the EU are still in place. I have, of course, supported calls for an extension of that transition period, ideally for two years, not because I am trying to hold onto the EU by my fingertips but because the double whammy of COVID-19 and Brexit might be more than this country can handle. But on one thing I agree with the Brexiteers, namely that although we have left the EU we haven’t left Europe. Geographically that is obvious, however much the Trump-loving coterie of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Co. might wish to drag us into the mid-Atlantic. However, for me a far more important reason why we haven’t left Europe is that we are still a member of the Council of Europe, which has been celebrating its Europe Day today.

European flagIndeed, Britain was a founder member of the Council of Europe and British lawyers were instrumental in framing many of its statutes and purposes. Founded in 1949 — like a phoenix rising from the ashes from the Second World War — its stated aim is to uphold human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. All European states except Belarus and Kosovo are members — that’s 20 more members than the current EU. Based in Strasbourg, symbolically near the Franco-German border in Alsace, the Council of Europe shaped the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), including the abolition of the death penalty. It has a parliamentary assembly, whose members are appointed by national parliaments (MPs and Peers in Britain’s case). My old friend, the late Russell Johnston, was its President for several years, executing the office with panache. Though older and bigger than the EU, the Council of Europe has nonetheless been the Cinderella of European institutions, which is maybe something Britain should now try to remedy. So, yes, let us celebrate the Council of Europe’s Europe Day — and also the EU’s Europe Day four days later on 9 May. They may not share the same date, but the two institutions share the same European flag and indeed the same anthem, based on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. So let us Europhiles indeed be joyful and celebrate Europe Day twice this year and reassure ourselves that we haven’t completely left, nor should we ever!

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Brexit Blues

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 1st February, 2020

Brexit DaySo it has finally happened. At 2300 GMT last night Britain formally left the European Union. There will now be an 11-month transition period during which we still follow EU rules and regulations before properly striking out on our own, though I would not be surprised if that transition period were extended, despite what Boris Johnson says. I just can’t see how a functioning trade agreement with the EU can be worked out in such a short period of time. Meanwhile, like millions of other people in this country, I feel a great deal of sadness, tinged with anger. The anger is over losing my EU citizenship and associated benefits, including freedom of movement and the EHIC card. And the sadness is at Britain’s stupidity of discarding its place in the world’s biggest trading block in the pursuit of a spurious “independence”, fuelled by an unpleasant degree of nationalism and xenophobia. A crowd of Brexiteers gathered in Parliament Square to mark the Brexit hour, addressed by a grinning Nigel Farage. From various vox pops taken among them by the BBC it was clear that most of them had no clue what the EU actually is or does and how the UK has benefited from membership. For nearly half a century, successive UK governments failed to explain the reality, while a whole raft of newspapers spewed out Eurosceptic bile and lies. Boris Johnson was himself one of the culprits in that torrent of media disinformation and now he has the challenge of proving that unicorns really exist. Meanwhile I would quite understand if Scotland and Northern Ireland manoeuvre themselves towards independence/union with the Republic of Ireland. God help the rump England and Wales after that. But I suspect the UK may consider rejoining the EU before that happens. I just hope I am still around to witness that.

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When Things Fall Apart

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 8th September, 2019

Boris Johnson Emperor's New ClothesBoris Johnson has been Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for less than two months, but already the wheels are coming off his government’s carriage. He swept many Cabinet Ministers from their posts, replacing most of them with Brexiteer hardliners, and when some of those ousted had the temerity to vocalise their objection to a threatened “No Deal” Brexit on 31 October, he ordered the Conservative whip withdrawn from them. Actually, reports suggest that it is chief adviser Dominic Cummings — unelected and unaccountable — who has been calling the shots in 10 Downing Street since Boris Johnson moved in. Cummings master-minded the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and has become Johnson’s eminence grise. The purged include two former Chancellors (Finance Ministers) and the grandson of wartime premier Winston Churchill. He, Nicholas Soames, along with several others, has said he will not stand at the next general election, but others have indicated that they will stay on and fight, as Independents or One Nation Conservatives or whatever. Meanwhile, several MPs — from both the Conservatives and Labour — have defected to the centre-left Liberal Democrats, attracted by the party’s unequivocal anti-Brexit stance.

BRITAIN-EU-POLITICS-BREXIT Pro-EU demonstrations have taken place up and down the country on an almost daily basis, though yesterday in London about 200 pro-Brexit protesters were also out in Whitehall, clashing with police and chanting that they love Boris Johnson. This does not bode well for public security in the near future. I have long believed that civil disobedience (from left and right) is a real possibility if the current malaise continues. Interestingly, the pound sterling has risen as Boris Johnson’s woes have increased, but he himself looks rattled; he is known by his intimates to have a short fuse to his temper. Denied the chance of calling a snap general election, thanks to a combination of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which the Liberal Democrats insisted on in the 2010-2015 Coalition government and the solidarity of the opposition parties (and some Tory rebels) in not agreeing to an election before No Deal is legally off the table, Johnson is now in office but not in power. Amber Rudd is the latest Minister to resign not only from her job but also the Conservative whip. In desperation Boris Johnson may look for a lifeline to Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, asking for an electoral pact, but the Brexit Party currently has no MPs (despite its significant number of MEPs) and such a pact would likely drive more Conservatives away from their party. Things have fallen apart so much and so quickly that Boris Johnson is increasingly looking like an Emperor with no clothes [see brilliant cartoon above by the inimitable Peter Brookes]. No wonder rumours swirl that he could be forced to resign. But the Brexit millstone will not go away, whoever is Prime Minister, probably until the matter is put to the British electorate once more for a final decision one way or the other.

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EP2019: London Votes Remain!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 27th May, 2019

EP2019 declarationThough Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party won most seats in this week’s European elections, just as its predecessor UKIP did in 2014, the striking difference from five years ago was the huge surge in support for the Liberal Democrats and to a lesser extent the Greens. It’s not hard to explain why (though the Government will doubtless try to spin otherwise). Both the LibDems and the Greens had an unequivocally anti-Brexit message, as indeed did the SNP, which did especially well in Scotland. In contrast, the Conservatives, who have been endeavouring unsuccessfully to push Theresa May’s Brexit deal through Parliament crashed to their worst result since the 1830s. And Labour — whose leadership continues to sit on the fence over Brexit, trying to please both Brexiteers and Remainers, therefore satisfying neither — also had a very poor result. In London, Labour fell from four MEPs to just two, though interestingly both successful candidates were forthright Remainers and Seb Dance used his short victory speech to berate the leadership for not clearly backing staying in the EU and holding a new referendum. The LibDems topped the poll in London, with 27% of the vote, reaping three MEPs, all newcomers to the field: Irina von Wiese, Dinesh Dhamija and Luisa Porritt. As Number 4 on the list I was sad not to join them, but I have been in this situation before! What is more important is that with the exception of the two Brexit Party MEPs (who came third in the popular vote in the capital), London is now represented by a rainbow coalition of Remainers who will be fighting hard to Stop Brexit — the pithy slogan that served the LibDems so well!

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The Putney and Wandsworth Euro-Hustings

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 15th May, 2019

Wandsworth hustingsThough this month’s European elections were organised in great haste in the UK (and through gritted teeth by the Conservative government), an admirable number of public hustings has been taking place round London, including one last night at St. Anne’s Church in Wandsworth, in which I took part. It was set up by the Putney and Wandsworth Societies and attracted about 100 members of the public, which was encouraging given the short notice. In fact there is far more interest in this set of European elections than ever before (and I can say that having stood in all but one of them!), to an extent becoming a sort of new referendum on whether Brits want to stay in the EU of not. Recent opinion polls confirm what I have been finding on the doorstep, namely that the electorate is polarising towards either Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party or to the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats (and to a lesser extent the Greens).

There was no Brexit candidate at last night’s hustings, bizarrely, though they were invited; maybe they knew they would get a frosty reception in such a pro-Remain part of the capital. However, UKIP was represented by Freddy Vachha, one of the more politely eccentric members of his party; he caused the biggest laugh of the evening by describing the Conservatives as neo-Marxist! The Conservatives had Scott Pattenden from Bromley, who had to counter some quite pointed questioning about Theresa May, David Cameron and the Brexit mess. The Greens were represented by Gulnar Hasnain, who adopted the line that the Greens are the largest pro-EU UK party in the outgoing European Parliament (true for 2014-2019, though that is unlikely to be the case after 23 May). ChangeUK’s candidate was Hasseeb Ur-Rehman, who essentially read a quite detailed policy paper in his allotted four minutes. Labour, naughtily sent not a Euro-candidate but the PPC for Putney, Fleur Anderson, which earned a rebuke from a Labour Party member in the audience. Fleur maintained that Labour is a Remain Party because the two leading MEP candidates are, but the audience wasn’t going to let that pass without adverse comment about Jeremy Corbyn and Lexit. I had a fairly easy ride as a LibDem, though inevitably came under fire from the small number of UKIP or Brexit Party supporters in the church, demanding to know why I was neither Liberal nor a Democrat by calling for a People’s Vote when there had already been a referendum in 2016. It was clear from the majority voices in the room, however, that a People’s Vote was a popular option for this audience, with a heavy preponderance of Remain.

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The UK Local Elections Verdict

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 4th May, 2019

F5FF8AE5-5C6A-4797-B8A2-8AE9528248B4Now that the dust has settled on this week’s local elections In England — the biggest set of such elections since 2015, though not including London and various other cities and counties — the spin doctors of both the Conservative and Labour parties are in overdrive, bizarrely both pitching the same message that the massive gains by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats and substantial wins for the equally anti-Brexit Greens are somehow a sign that the public just wants the government to “get on” with Brexit — an aim shared by the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact that Labour has registered a net loss of nearly 100 seats at a time when the worst government in living memory is staggering from one crisis and embarrassment to the next. Some noble Conservative and Labour MPs have bravely defied their masters and declared that this is tosh — some in far more rigorous terms than that. Others have parroted the official line.

30B377CD-DEBD-4E9C-856D-7A48E234FC92Nonetheless, as I tweeted earlier, this is an Orwellian misrepresentation of facts more reminiscent of the former Soviet Union than of a mature parliamentary democracy.  Such is the sorry state of political discourse in Britain since the 2016 EU Referendum. In that Referendum, tainted by some very dodgy campaigning and funding, Leave beat Remain by about 52:48. But the latest opinion poll out suggests that were such a referendum to be held today, Remain would get 61%. In the meantime the country is bitterly divided and Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party will ensure that the political temperature is kept at boiling point. However, European elections loom on 23 May, and although Mr Farage will probably mop up previous UKIP voters and numerous right-wing Tories, both the Conservatives and Labour are likely to lose seats to pro-Remain parties. Will Mrs May and Mr Corbyn listen then? We must make them listen!

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Facepalm Sunday

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 14th April, 2019

E310484E-4010-467E-A40B-E1A3E3527BFBI’ve never been into the whole Easter thing, but having lived in Belgium for eight years and subsequently spent a lot of time in Brazil — both countries deeply steeped in Catholicism, despite a significant Protestant and alternative presence — I could hardly ignore the pomp, ceremony and religious fervour of Holy Week, beginning today with Palm Sunday. Of course, to get the real, majestic experience one needs to be in Spain or Italy, but anyway, you get my gist.

This year, however, it is not Palm Sunday that is impressing on my conscience but Facepalm Sunday, as British politics descends into previously unplumbed depths, at least in modern memory, leaving me aghast at the incompetence and divisiveness of it all.  MPs have gone off on their Easter hols, though the most conscientious of them will of course use the time away from Westminster to work hard in their constituencies. Much good may it do them, poor things, as their reputation has sunk below that of my fellow journalists. Please pray for us all.

1D4B2A3B-2C5E-4EE3-BADB-0625A4DB8CFFBut what is striking, and shocking, is that the Brexit process has turned into a total dog’s breakfast, leaving many people on whichever side of the Remain:Leave divide they may be, frustrated and angry. Total nincompoops have become TV stars, freely spouting their lies (not least on the BBC), while Brexiteer figures such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson have risen from the political dead. The European elections, now almost inevitably to be held on 23 May, will take place in an unprecedented climate of political chaos, with opinion polls suggesting that the Conservatives are rapidly disappearing down the plug hole. I shall not weep. Theresa May battles on, yet on the global stage she, and Britain, have become figures of ridicule and, worse, pity.

I have argued before that Britain should take the European elections seriously, to indicate that we have not lost our collective marbles and that in principle we would like a People’s Vote to settle once and for all our European destiny. May we use Palm Sunday to reflect on what lies before us — and to remind ourselves that Holy Week  doesn’t end well — until the promise of a new beginning.

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Springtime for Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 8th April, 2019

1D80CB15-BC26-4FA2-851F-A5D6A15752D8During the eight years I was based in Brussels covering the European institutions and European external policy, I had a nice little sideline as a film critic for the weekly English-language glossy magazine, The Bulletin. That meant two films on a Monday morning and two films on a Tuesday morning in distributors’ screening rooms. To catch up with some useful film history, I was also a regular attender at the city’s Musee du Cinema. And it was there that I first saw Mel Brooks’s 1967 movie The Producers; it became one of my all time favourites. In the film, the hero (Zero Mostel) is offered a way out of his financial problems if he can stage a sure-fire flop. This he thinks he has found with Springtime for Hitler, a musical written by a clearly mad neo-Nazi composer with a passion for pigeons. Alas, the musical is so camply outrageous that it is a huge success.

915B53E3-44E5-4CD4-A517-69589C014E53I was put in mind of this at the weekend when I was watching Theresa May’s fireside chat video, explaining to the public and Parliament why Brexit had to happen, otherwise it won’t happen (an easy choice for a Remainer like me). Then there was the sight the other day of the bedraggled remains of Nigel Farage’s March for Brexit. And suddenly I had the idea of a Faragista musical, Springtime for Brexit. It would be staged at the London Palladium, but in contrast to what happened in The Producers, Springtime for Brexit would be a gigantic flop. The dejected cast would go for an after-party at the nearest Wetherspoons, only to find that it had shut down. Oh, what strange day-dreams one has!

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Led by Donkeys

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th April, 2019

4F932FA3-85C2-4BB6-8C1B-7887E9A6149DOne of the most pleasing aspects of the otherwise deeply depressing Brexit situation has been the billboard campaign by the pressure group Led by Donkeys. As with many genius ideas, the basic premise is simple: to put up giant posters of tweets by Brexiteers and members of the current Conservative Government which they would rather now forget. For example, there is Theresa May saying she believes that Britain would be better off staying in the EU. And Jacob Rees-Mogg arguing that any EU Referendum should be in two stages. These embarrassing quotes have appeared on giant billboards up and down the country, and when Nigel Farage ordered a Brexit march on London (very poorly attended, with Farage himself only putting in occasional appearances), the group behind the anti-Brexit campaign, Led by Donkeys, imaginatively trolled the marchers by having a giant electronic billboard featuring tweets which kept joining up with them.

C46A7617-A39D-4E59-8E5D-C1F9DBA7A298Even more striking was the SOS message with an EU flag in the background, projected onto the white cliffs of the English South Coast. The name, Led by Donkeys, is itself brilliant, doubling as a slogan. Moreover, it’s a slogan that resonates, as many British people, weary of the protracted Brexit chaos and would agree that we are led by donkeys — except for Prime Minister Theresa May, of course, because she is just stubborn as a mule.

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