Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Northern Ireland’

Brexit Is Destroying the UK

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 4th September, 2018

9F5643AB-A044-4E79-BF70-920A16E1D475With only a little over six months to go before Britain is due to leave the EU it is becoming increasingly obvious that Brexit will not only weaken the country severely (both economically and politically) but also may break up the United Kingdom. Recent opinion polls suggest that over half the population of Northern Ireland would be in favour of a United Ireland if Brexit goes ahead, especially if a “hard border” is likely between Northern Ireland the Republic, while in Scotland support for independence in the event of Brexit is similarly rising. So there is a real risk that if the Brexiteers get their way, the country will shrink to just England and Wales, with seriously diminished international clout.

43919D28-617B-4946-AC96-7BB88F4CD9F5But these are not the only reasons to be dismayed at the way things are going. The aftermath of the 2016 EU Referendum has been a devaluation of the body politic in Britain, a coarsening of its discourse and the ascendancy of intolerant nationalism and xenophobia. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, is held hostage by a sizeable group of quite nasty arch-Brexiteers within the Conservative Party who have adopted wholesale the agenda and language of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party).  Boris Johnson did immense damage to Britain’s reputation abroad when he was Foreign Secretary, and he is now reeking havoc domestically, grotesquely subsidised by the Daily Telegraph, which pays him thousands of pounds for each article he writes in his shameless campaign of self promotion.

No wonder our 27 EU partners think we have gone mad. But all is not yet lost. Opinion polls suggest that there is now a majority in favour of remaining in the EU, a trend which will accelerate as more teenagers get on the electoral register. Mrs May insists there will be no new vote on Brexit — and she would probably have to resign if the Government or Parliament decided otherwise — but the clamour for what has been rightly dubbed a People’s Vote on whatever deal is agreed later this year (assuming one can be) is growing. MPs from all parties need to rally round to support this, and Jeremy Corbyn needs to put his traditional distrust of the EU to one side, get off the fence and throw the Labour Party behind the People’s Vote and a campaign to remain in the EU. It’s what most Labour voters want and it is what the United Kingdom needs, before it is too late. And if you haven’t put 20 October in your diary yet, please do so, as we need to get at least a million people onto the streets that day to March for the Future and Stop Brexit!

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An Historic Moment for the Kurds?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th February, 2015

Thousands of Kurds from across Europe gathered in Strasbourg this afternoon for a rally by the city’s stadium. As one of their foreign guests I gave the following short speech in English, simultaneously translated into Kurdish:

image We are gathered here under the Strasbourg sun at what I believe may be an historic moment in the long struggle for Kurdish cultural and political rights in Turkey. Yesterday, a petition with more than 10 million signatures, calling for the release from prison of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was delivered to the Council of Europe in this city. It was a remarkable tribute to the determination of the Kurds and to the growing solidarity from people across Europe.
Tomorrow, 15 February, in Ankara, the HDP and AKP are due to publish the framework of an agreement for a settlement of the Kurdish question and to declare their intention to move towards making Turkey a genuinely democratic republic, with a new constitution. If this does indeed happen it will mark a giant stride forward.
Of course, we cannot take success for granted. There have been so many disappointments as well as hopes regarding Kurdish rights. At times it has seemed that the government in Ankara was taking one step forward and then one step back. But an agreement is possible, with sufficient good faith on all sides.
I know that from the experience of my own country, Britain, where decades of
political strife and violence in Northern Ireland were largely laid to rest by the courageous Good Friday Agreement, which integrated the IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein into the mainstream, with an agreed ceasefire, power-sharing and the release from prison of militants. So it can be done.
Finally, I would like to send two messages to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Firstly, Mr President, please carry forward measures to ensure that Turkey’s Kurds enjoy full cultural and political rights in the future. And secondly, Mr President, please release Abdullah Ocalan so that he can sit at the negotiating table with all the dignity of a free man.

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Democratisation and Political Change in Turkey

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th January, 2012

When the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development (CTSD) invited two leading journalists/writers from Turkey over to London to speak at a meeting in the House of Commons this evening on the state of the democratisation process in their country, they could little have realised how febrile the atmosphere would be. But the 28 December attack on the Kurdish village of Reboske in south eastern Turkey (little covered by Western media) by an unmanned Turkish airforce drone, which reportedly killed 35 people, has been a devastating blow for peace efforts aimed at ending decades of fighting and human rights abuses relating to Turkey’s so-called Kurdish problem. The writer and poet Bejan Matur this evening at the meeting went so far as to describe this as Turkey’s 9/11 moment, which can only help to radicalise Kurds. She herself said she had orginally thought of the Kurdish struggle in terms of language and other cultural rights, but now realised that it has to be about equality — and that despite certain positive steps taken by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2009, Kurds in Turkey are still not viewed or treated as equal by most Turks and usually they can only ‘succeed’ if everyday life and jobs if they agree to accept their ‘Turkishness’. Some of Bejan Matur’s views were echosed by the liberal Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal, best known for his columns in Milliyet, but he stressed that in his view Kurdish rights can now only be furthered if violent action (notably by the mountain-based PKK, which is viewed by the government in Ankara and some Western governments as a terrorist organisation) is terminated definitively. He said that talking to ordinary people in Kurdish-dominated cities like Diyarbakir, he had found they were tired of conflict and sacrifice. But he wasn’t given an entirely easy ride by the largely Kurdish audience at the House of Commons meeting this evening. I suspect Bejan Matur would similarly have had a less comfortable experience in front of a more nationalistic Turkish audience. As so often in conflict situations, many people have become deeply polarised. Bejan famously went up into the mountains to meet the PKK )incoluding a friend) and wrote a book about that experience, which has been selling well. Hasan Cemal also argued that the PKK have to be part of the solution, but he cautioned people with the example of the peace process in Northern Ireland, where it took nearly a decade after the Good Friday Agreement for a deal to be clinched, and even longer to get a full decommissioning of weapons. So although he had been largely optimistic about apeaceful settlement of the issue since 2009, in recrnt weeks he had become pessimistic about any positive outome in the shhort term.

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Conflict Resolution and Turkey’s Kurds

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th February, 2010

Can lessons about conflict resolution be applied in different parts of the world? That’s a question that has perplexed many of us who work in this field, whether as politicians, journalists or civil society actors. İt was the motivation for the conference whıch İ have been attending at the Sumer Park conference centre in Diyarbakır in south-eastern Anatolia this weekend. Yesterday I spoke about the British experience with Northern İreland as well as aspects of multiculturalism and devolution. There were also presentations from Plaıd Cymru, Spanish Basques and South Africa’s ANC, while today Turks and Kurds are sharing their perspectives.

The fact that the conference is happening at all is significant; only 10 years ago it would have beeen unthinkable. Without a doubt, Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdoğan’s ‘democratic opening’ to the Kurds and other minorities has been a bıg step forward, though as so often in Turkey much of the impetus of that move has been undermined by the subsequent banning of the main Kurdish political party, the DTP, and the imprisonment of many of the mayors of the Kurdish region. Fortunately, that dıd not include the Mayor of Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, who has been taking an active part in the proceedings. But the many contradictions in the government’s approach to the Kurdish Question underline how complex any solution will be and why the European Union (to which Turkey aspires) must keep a close eye on developments here.

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Tony Blair Is a Disaster as Middle East Envoy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 9th January, 2009

tony-blair    When Tony Blair was appointed the Madrid Quartet’s Middle East Envoy 18 months ago, there was a certain amount of incredulity in the Muslim world. Here was the man who had swallowed the mendacious US line on Iraq and taken British troops into a war that was opposed by huge swaths of the British public. I, too, was critical of the decision, but once he was in post (operating out of a comfortable suite in the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem), I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what, if anything, he could come up wth.

Well, tonight, in an extensive interview with Gavin Esler on BBC2’s ‘Newsnight’, Blair confirmed my worst suspicions. Commenting on the current Gazan situation, the former Prime Minister made not one word of criticism, let alone condemnation, of  the bloody Israeli assault on Gaza. He parroted the line out of Tel Aviv that all the blame should be placed on Hamas’s shoulders, and argued that only Hamas can extricate the people of Gaza from the current situation, essentially by capitulating. Despite being one of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, in which negotiation with the IRA/Sinn Fein was a key element, he rejected even the idea that Western countries should talk to Hamas.

I have no truck for the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and other radical Islamic groups based in Gaza. I have consistently denounced them and continue to do so. However, to peddle the Israeli myth that the root of the current crisis is the Hama rockets, as Tony Blair is doing, is an obscene distortion of reality. What about the Israeli blockade, which has been turning the Gaza Strip into what the Vatican has now referred to as a giant concentration camp? And what about the 40 years of illegal occupation of the West Bank and its ongoing settlement by Israelis, in total violation of international law?

The extremely effective Israeli PR machine is yet again trying to portray Israelis as the victims. But this just will not wash. Listen to the UN officials, one after another, being driven in their anguish to state openly that Israeli actions in Gaza — including the bombing of schools and the slaughter of civilians — may now prove to be war crimes.

Tony Blair must know this. He is not stupid or ill-informed. But he is the wrong man for the job as Middle East peace envoy. One of the first things Barack Obama should do when he takes office as US President in a fortnight’s time is to move to get him replaced.

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Patrick Mercer’s Waterloo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th June, 2008

The Association of European Journalists (AEJ), being an intrinsically pro-European assemblage of hacks, does not normally celebrate Waterloo Day, but it was fitting that our guest for lunch at the European Parliament’s offices in Westminster today made reference to this military anniversary. Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP for Newark and Retford, served for 25 years in the army, before going into journalism (with the ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4) and then into Parliament. It is always refreshing to be in dialogue with an MP who has a genuine ‘hinterland’, rather than someone who goes straight from university to being a political researcher and then an eager-beever backbencher, hungry for a taste of power.

Patrick’s theme was terrorism, or more precisely, counter-terrorism, about which he knows a great deal. For four weeks last year he was actually enticed into Gordon Brown’s ‘big tent’, as an advisor on security issues, based on his experience in Northern ireland and elsewhere. This earned him some frowns from certain Tory colleagues, but he is not someone to be fussed about a detail like that. He is not, he insists, running David Davis’s maverick campaign in Haltemprice and Howden, contrary to a report in the ‘Independent’, but he not ony supports Davis’s objection to the prospect of 42 days detention without trial — he even thinks 28 days is too much (mainly because such measures play straight into the propaganda hands of extremist groups, as well as further alienating Britain’s Muslim community).

Patrick is also an unashamed Atlanticist, which is where I part company with him. ‘The only allies we must depend on and can depend on are the Americans,’ he declared at lunch today. He deftly side-stepped a question I asked about whether it would not be in Britain’s security interests if there were a more integrated European common foreign and security policy (CFSP). I believe so. And whereas it is important that Europe maintains close relations with the United States, I believe we will have a more equal and productive partnership with Washington if Europe is seen to be more united.


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From Hillsborough Castle to Stormont

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 17th May, 2008

One of the collateral benefits of Liberal International Congresses and Executives is the opportunity they provide to get to know new places round the world. Like most mainland Brits, I had never visited Northern Ireland, until I arrived in Belfast on Thursday morning. Being in Northern Ireland has certainly influenced the tone of some of the Congress debates, not least because the Congress hosts, David Ford of the Alliance Party, and his predecessor, (Lord) John Alderdice, have been so central to the process of negotation and reconciliation in the six counties.

The Congress is taking place in the Hotel Europa, which boasts the unusual distinction of being the most bombed hotel in the world (70 times), though mercifully such excitement is a thing of the past. On Thursday evening, there was a reception for the LI Executive at Hillsborough Castle, the Queen’s Northern Ireland residence, where the Secretary of State, Shaun Woodward, greeted us. He is, of course, used to living in comfortable surroundings, being the wealthiest of the defectors who left the Conservatives for New Labour. Then last night, we were entertained at Stormont, the Northern Ireland Assembly building built in the 1920s with all the pompous trimmings of a still imperial power. As John Alderdice was Speaker there at a crucial period in Northern Ireland’s development, he made the ideal tour guide.


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