Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘People’s Vote’

The Brexit Wrecking Ball

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 17th February, 2019

B14E3D6B-1E23-4C31-B818-F231C26D827FThe UK airline Flybmi is going into administration, citing Brexit uncertainty as the reason; there is no guarantee they will be able to fly between European destinations if Britain leaves the EU on 29 March as scheduled. The company is just one of many that are closing or else shifting their operations to another member state of the European Union. According to experts’ figures released this week, Brexit is costing the UK £800million a week, and we haven’t even left yet. Note that this is nearly twice what Brexiteers claimed we would save through Brexit, the windfall supposedly being passed to the NHS. It seems inconceivable that the Conservative Party, as the traditional party of Business, should allow this economic vandalism to take place. But the sad truth is that the Tory party has been taken over by right-wing, xenophobic Brexiteer extremists and Prime Minister Theresa May is more interested in saving her own political skin than saving the country.

BFA67A8C-098E-4D73-828E-ADFA9A4762FABrexit is now showing its true colours: it is a wrecking ball that is smashing many of the economic gains of recent years, as well as dividing society. Just how bad those divisions are has been shown by the violent confrontations outside Parliament — yellow-vested Brexiteers assaulting police yesterday — and the fact that several female Remainer MPs have been advised to move home or else avoid travelling alone in order to stay safe. Meanwhile, Parliament has shown itself incapable of uniting behind one forward course of action and the Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has proved to be miserably inadequate and indecisive, thus failing to provide a true Opposition. No wonder a number of both Labour and Conservative MPs are thinking of resigning their party whip, with the Conservatives in thrall to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Reform Group and Labour to what Mike Gapes MP has called a Stalinist cult.

1EC0B2E1-3999-4261-A6E2-50B828249EFAOpinion polls have recently consistently shown that were there to be a referendum on whether to accept Mrs May’s “deal” or to stay in the EU, a majority would vote to remain. The People’s Vote campaign, backed by the Liberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens, is still keeping up the pressure and has called for a mass demonstration in London on 23 March, less than a week before D for Departure Day. One hopes that something significant may have happened before then — ideally extending Article 50 to allow for a People’s Vote. But it is important that people turn out in huge numbers on the March. Moreover, the organisers must ensure that EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU are properly represented, as they have more to lose personally than most of us.

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Brexit Does My Head In

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th January, 2019

depressed-manAccording to a new opinion poll from Channel 5 News and YouGov, one in ten people in Britain say that Brexit has had a large impact on their mental health. I know that is true in my case. Along with many Brits who believe that the country is better off inside the European Union I feel depressed and frustrated that the Conservative government is ploughing on with a course of action that is bound to harm the UK economy. In her desperate attempts to hold her party together, Prime Minister Theresa May is even continuing to flirt with the possibility of a disastrous No Deal Brexit, by which Britain would crash out of the EU on 29 March, with huge risks to the delivery of food and medicines and the supply chain of farming and industry. The Official Opposition is not much better either, as under Jeremy Corbyn Labour has failed to listen to the majority of its members who want an Exit from Brexit, probably through a referendum, dubbed the People’s Vote. Last night, Parliament debated the government’s disgraceful Immigration Bill, which will downgrade the status of EU citizens in this country if it is passed. Until almost the last minute the Labour leadership was saying that their MPs should abstain in the vote on this reading, until a howl of protest led to a partial U-turn, with a decision to oppose, but only on a one-line whip, which meant that not enough Labour MPs were in the chamber to vote it down (though some brave Tory rebels voted against). But if Brits like me have some sleepless nights over Brexit imagine how much worse it must be for EU citizens, many of whom have lived in this country for years and are now being required to apply for settled status so they have the right to stay in their own homes. Moreover, many EU citizens — and other foreigners — have been the butt of unpleasant xenophobic/racist abuse from a small minority of nationalistic bigots who have been empowered by the 2016 EU Referendum to vent their prejudices. Even speaking a language other than English in public is enough for some of these zealots to sound off. No wonder some people are turning to their doctors for prescriptions for anti-depressants. But given that physical exercise is known to alleviate depression, getting out and about campaigning for a People’s Vote is perhaps one route those of us who are feeling down about Brexit can follow.

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Brexit Briefing

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th January, 2019

sarah ludford and william wallaceLast night I was at the Liberal Democrats’ national headquarters for a briefing on Brexit organised by Southwark LibDems and addressed by three of the key party spokespeople in the House of Lords, Dick Newby, William Wallace and Sarah Ludford. Though only the House of Commons has the necessary clout to stop Brexit or significantly alter Theresa May’s “deal”, the Lords have been keeping the whole sorry Brexit saga under intense scrutiny and have been able to draw on the expertise of members with considerable knowledge on the subject, from the architect of Article50, John Kerr, to the former European Commissioner, Chris Patten. Sarah said there had been a noticeable shift in the attitude of many Conservative peers as the full complexity of disentangling the UK from 45 years of economic integration with Europe has become clearer.

dick newbyThe LibDem Lords team work closely with the Party’s MPs, especially Tom Brake, who is the national Brexit spokesperson. Next Tuesday is going to be a very important moment as the Commons will vote on amendments and motions including one from Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles which would, if passed, recommend extending Article 50 till the end of the year. That would in principle give time for any new approach to the Brexit impasse — for example, backing for a Norway-style deal (in which the UK would remain in the single market but have no say in formulating EU rules) or organising a fresh referendum, with an option to Remain. The three peers felt that at the moment there is probably not a clear majority in the House of Commons for what has been dubbed a People’s Vote, but more MPs and even Cabinet Ministers are warming to the idea. If Article 50 were to be extended beyond 2 July — the opening of the new European Parliament — then of course Britain would probably have to organise European elections in May, which would be both a challenge and an opportunity. Dick Newby told me that he thought no real contingency plans for that are in place within government institutions, but watch this space.

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Brexit Is Breaking Britain’s Politics

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th January, 2019

anna soubry demonstratorsI’m often on College Green, Westminster, filming TV interviews for Middle Eastern channels, but whereas the atmosphere there used to be rather jolly, things have recently taken a more sinister turn. One had become used to anti-Brexit campaigner Steve Bray photo-bombing shots and couldn’t help but smile when he turned up with an immense pole so that he could hold up his placards even when the BBC installed high gantries in an effort to thwart him. But what has been happening in recent days is of an entirely different nature and that is the aggressive behaviour of far-right Brexiteers — often wearing yellow high-vis jackets — heckling and threatening both politicians and journalists. Anna Soubry, the brave Conservative former Minister who has been calling for a People’s Vote on the Brexit “deal”, was called a Nazi by hecklers and closely followed by them after a TV interview in a most intimidating way. While police were around, they were low-key in their response, apparently unsure how to balance the traditional British attitude to free speech with the right of citizens to be protected against serious abuse, including death threats. Fifty MPs have reportedly urged the Metropolitan Police to be more protective and many of us have in the back of of our minds the dreadful murder of MP Jo Cox in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum. The current Brexit Minister, Steve Barclay, has argued that the bad behaviour by the far right is a reason why we should not have a People’s Vote, as public division would become even more strident if we did. But that is a profoundly undemocratic position to take, in my view. One should not give in to intimidation. Meanwhile, things are likely to get worse over the next few days, with a parliamentary vote on Mrs May’s deal scheduled for next Tuesday. If it is defeated — as is highly likely — then the country will enter into uncharted political territory; even the Prime Minister does not seem to have much clue what would happen next. All the more reason, therefore, to curb the activities of extremists who are threatening the peaceful conduct of political debate in this country. They claim they are defending British values (though their Britain is a white, racist construct), whereas in fact they are in danger of destroying them. Brexit is breaking Britain’s politics as well as trashing the country’s international reputation. The voices of reason, backed by the Law, must prevail.

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Corbyn Slides off the Brexit Fence

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd December, 2018

D36324D0-9152-474E-A3BC-BAB6AFD2BF61For months senior Labour politicians have been telling us that “all options remain on the table” regarding the Party’s policy on Brexit. In other words, Labour could possibly back a People’s Vote and campaign for Remain, which opinion polls tell us is what a significant majority of Labour members want. But the Party leadership clearly thinks otherwise. Jeremy Corbyn — probably encouraged by his two left-hand men, Seamus Milne and Len McCluskey — has made clear in an interview with the Guardian that if Labour wins a hypothetical election next year, Brexit would still go ahead. This is a clear betrayal not only of the millions of Remain-supporting electors who voted Labour in the 2017 general election in protest at Theresa May’s Brexit plans but also of the Labour Party’s autumn conference this year, which adopted a nuanced stance leaving various options open. Recently, both Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have been making disgraceful, unsubstantiated comments about EU migrants pushing down wages, while attacking the principle of Freedom of Movement. Of course, no-one should be surprised that Jeremy Corbyn is at heart a Brexiteer, despite campaigning half-heartedly for Remain in 2016. The day after the EU Referendum, he called for Article 50 to be invoked immediately. Ideologically locked into 1970s socialism, he sees the EU as an impediment to his dream of a Utopian Britain, in which he could just dole out state money to support or create industries irrespective of economic viability. But with only three months to go before Britain’s scheduled departure from the EU it is now crunch time. Labour Remainers need to stop rabbiting on about having a general election (which the Conservative and DUP MPs won’t vote for anyway). Instead, the focus should be on getting a People’s Vote, with an option to remain, which would have wide cross-Party support in the House of Commons. If necessary, Labour MPs need to have the courage to sideline Mr Corbyn. The future of Britain is at stake.

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ALDE Congress in Madrid

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 10th November, 2018

DD89ADA8-523D-4525-8A5D-316420AD1B73For the latter half of this week I have been in Madrid for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Congress. Our hosts were Cuidadanos, the still relatively new kid on the block in Spanish politics, yet according to an opinion poll published today, they are level-pegging with the conservative Partido Popular (PP), on 22%. Only a fortnight ago, ALDE had to hold an emergency Council meeting in Brussels, to refuse membership to a Catalan party, PdeCAT, for reasons too complicated to go into here, but surprisingly there was no fallout from that at the Congress. This was mainly because the central focus of the Madrid gathering was the ALDE manifesto* for next May’s European elections, which was duly passed this lunchtime. But there was a plethora of other issues discussed over the three days of the Congress. I successfully moved, on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats, an emergency motion on Saudi Arabia, which I will post on this blog on Monday, when I shall return to London and have access to a desktop computer.

9291698F-7F08-4996-8D94-E3006FA5A636There were fringe sessions on various aspects of campaigning, including social media, and it was good to have one panel that brought together not only MEPs from several EU member states but also senior executives from Facebook, Google and Microsoft. The UK Liberal Democrat Leader, Sir Vince Cable,  came over for the day yesterday, to reinforce the message that Brexit is not a “done deal” and that the LibDems are at the forefront of the campaign for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal, with an option to remain. The resignation of Orpington MP Jo Johnson from his junior ministerial position over this very issue could not have been better timed. For the first time, the LibDems, Fianna Fáil from Ireland and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland worked as a coherent bloc in the Congress, which should be a good model to follow in future. Brexit, of course, hung like a big black cloud over the whole event, but at least we Brits left our continental colleagues in no doubt that we are doing everything we can to encourage the British people to stop it,

*The manifesto can be found on the ALDE website: https://alde.eu

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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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AEJ-UK at 50

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th September, 2018

AEJ Brexit seminarWith Brexit looming on the horizon, there is not much for pro-Europeans to celebrate. However, yesterday afternoon the UK section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ)  held a seminar at Europe House in Westminster to mark 50 years of its existence. The theme was UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit, which most speakers were agreed would need to remain close — both on economics and security matters — even if Brexit does go ahead on 29 March 2019. However, several contributors, such as the former Whitehall mandarin Sir Martin Donnelly and the anti-Brexit campaigner Gina Miller, minced no words about Brexit being a mistake and held out hope that somehow it could be averted. In contrast, the former Labour MP and arch-Brexiteer Gisela Stuart (soon to take up the position of Chair of the FCO’s policy forum, Wilton Park) maintained that the voters had made the right choice in the 2016 EU Referendum and that the result had to be respected.

Given the audience — which included over a dozen journalists from other AEJ sections, from Ireland to Cyprus and Bulgaria — there was quite a lot of discussion about the role of the media in Brexit. Quentin Peel, former Financial Times correspondent in Brussels, admitted hat he had been lucky in working for an employer who wanted to know the details of complex European matters which were also of interest to the paper’s readers, whereas Peter Foster, Europe Editor of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, outlined the difficulty of covering the European story in ways accessible to the general public. The name of the Telegraph’s “star” columnist, Boris Johnson, was unsurprisingly bandied about, as people recalled his fabrication of anti-EU stories early in his career and now his championing of his own Brexit scenario. I was based in Brussels myself for eight years, initially with Reuters news agency, and it was there that I first joined the AEJ (French-speaking Belgian section). The everyday minutiae of news from the European Commission were challenging to convey in an interesting fashion, but the longer I stayed in Brussels and began to understand the purpose of the European project, the more I believed in its aims — which is why the prospect of Brexit does sometimes keep me awake at night and why I will continue to fight for Remain, probably via a People’s Vote or new referendum on whatever terms Theresa May’s government agrees with the other 27 EU member states, always assuming agreement is possible.

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Corbyn Has to Go

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th September, 2018

Jeremy Corbyn smallOn a personal level, I have always got on well with Jeremy Corbyn. We have sometimes shared platforms, at home and abroad, on issues of mutual concern, such as Kurdish rights and Palestine. On such occasions, his integrity and passion for justice shine through. I haven’t seen him so often since he became Leader of the Labour Party; in fact, I believe the last time was a glimpse of him within a huddle of admirers at (Lord) Eric Avebury’s memorial event. But of course I have been following what he has been doing. And not doing. Especially in respect to Brexit. Jeremy always had grave misgivings about the European Union, as a “capitalist club” which supposedly did not have the interests of the workers at heart. But one would have hoped that with the evidence about the economic and social benefits that Britain has enjoyed during the 45 years of its EEC/EU membership, he would have appreciated the fact that it is better to be in than be out. In principle, he backed Remain in the 2016 EU Referendum, but so sotto voce as to be almost inaudible. And despite the cross-party clamour for a People’s Vote on the Conservative government’s EU deal (always assuming it reaches one), he has basically sat on the fence about the whole issue. Indeed, that is putting it kindly, as in fact both his legs are dangling over the side of No New Vote and Leave.

Labour Party Conference 2018Meanwhile, despite the fact that the May government is probably the most incompetent in recent political history, with Brexit clearly going disastrously wrong, the Conservatives have been ahead of Labour in several recent opinion polls. This is not because voters believe Theresa May is doing brilliantly; on the contrary, her approval rating is dire. But Jeremy Corbyn’s is even worse, when people are asked who they would like to see as Prime Minister. Jeremy does of course have a huge fan club, not least the Momentum movement, which helped the Labour Party to surge to an astonishing 600,000+ members — more than all the other political parties put together. But Momentum does not speak for all Labour voters, let alone for the public at large. Moreover, the plain truth is that a very significant proportion of the British electorate do not see Corbyn as a credible leader to steer Britain through the approaching choppy waters. He could, of course, redeem himself at the forthcoming Labour conference in Liverpool by coming out in favour of a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, as many of his MPs and indeed labour Party members want. But if he doesn’t, then I think most people (and certainly informed political commentators) will come away with the view that Labour is not ready for power, unless and until Jeremy Corbyn goes.

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The LibDems’ Anti-Brexit Weekend

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Hampstead LibDems Brexit stallAcross Britain, Liberal Democrats have been out and about campaigning against Brexit this weekend — and the mood everywhere seems to be that people don’t like the way things are going. Theresa May’s Chequers plan is in tatters, yet the arch-Brexiteers among the Tories have failed to come up with an alternative of their own. Labour, meanwhile, is still stuck on the fence, apparently with superglue, but the chorus from Labour members calling for the party to back a People’s Vote when a deal is proposed later this year is now getting so loud that it is hard to imagine that it will not dominate the Labour autumn conference, with prominent moderates such as Chuka Umunna and Ben Bradshaw leading the charge. There is even a growing band of Conservative ex-Ministers now putting their heads above the parapet to call for a referendum too. The Liberal Democrats will go into our own Brighton conference next weekend knowing that apart from a tiny minority, party members are overwhelmingly in favour of an Exit from Brexit, which has indeed become something of Vince Cable’s signature policy. But what I found interesting, helping man a stall on Hampstead High Street this morning, is how passionately many ordinary voters are starting to feel about the matter, including previous Leavers who would now vote Remain. This is quite different from the mood only a couple of months ago, when there was a widespread feeling of “oh, just get on with it!” But as the realities become ever clearer and people understand just how painful disentangling Britain from more than four decades of economic integration with the continent is going to be, there is a new sense of urgency to halt things while it is still possible. Mrs May has of course stated that there will be no second referendum, but she may find if she is not careful that unless she softens her line on that, Parliament will give her such a bloody nose that her rule comes to an abrupt end. Boris Johnson is of course chomping at the bit in the wings, just waiting for Mrs May to be overthrown, but he may instead find himself in the political wilderness if sensible people from all of the parties (except perhaps the DUP) come together to Stop Brexit by campaigning for a People’s Vote with the option to Remain.

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