Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Philip Hammond’

A Constitutional Outrage

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th August, 2019

Boris Johnson 7Queen Elizabeth this afternoon acceded to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request that Parliament should  be prorogued for about five weeks starting in the first half of September. The Prime Minister argued that this is necessary so that a new session of Parliament can begin following a Queen’s Speech in mid-October, but critics — including many within the governing Conservative Party — believe that the real reason is to limit the time MPs will have to challenge Mr Johnson’s plan for a No Deal exit from the European Union on 31 October (assuming in the meantime he is unable to produce a new Deal with the EU like a rabbit out of a hat). The House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has denounced the government’s move as a “constitutional outrage”, a phrase echoed by Opposition parliamentarians, including the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. I suspect the Queen was none too pleased either, but the terms of the unwritten British constitution are such that the monarch is effectively forced to act on the advice of the Prime Minister. However, the ructions are starting to be felt up and down the country. The Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, is reportedly on the verge of resigning and several senior former Ministers, including the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, have protested loudly. Half a million people signed a petition against the proroguing of Parliament within a matter of hours and thousands descended on Westminster this evening in a spontaneous demonstration against what many are calling “the coup”. Other gatherings are taking places in different parts of the country and social media are fizzing. Boris Johnson may think he has been extremely clever, but this could all lead to his having the shortest term of office of any British Prime Minister, or the break up of the United Kingdom, or both.

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Yes, I am a “Collaborator”!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th August, 2019

Brexit march March 2019In the latest grotesque twist in the Alice in Wonderland alternative reality of Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain, the Prime Minister has denounced as “collaborators” those who wish to prevent a No Deal crash-out of the EU on 31 October. That presumably includes noble souls such as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the 70 MPs and members of the House of Lords who have taken legal steps to try to stop a No Deal Brexit (to be heard in the Courts during the first week of September) as well as the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who has become a knight in shining armour defending British democracy. I suspect the choice of the word “collaborator” is the work of Dominic Cummings, the unelected demon “genius” at the heart of 10 Downing Street’s operations. And of course it comes hard on the heels of the dismissal of the independent judiciary as “traitors”, in the words of headline writers of some of Britain’s more disgusting Press, including the Daily Mail, the Sun and of course the Daily Telegraph, which until recently was paying Boris Johnson a reported quarter of a million pounds a year to spew out his own anti-EU poison. This is all part of a calculated campaign to whip up anger and possible violence among the arch-Brexiteer public (who are not a majority). No wonder some pro-Remain MPs have had to call  on police protection or even move home. As an arch-Remainer myself — who doesn’t want any sort of Brexit, let alone a No Deal Brexit, because of the harm this will do to the country — I believe we must stand up to this vilification and the slew of lies being put out by Number 10 and the Brexit camp. Moreover, I shall embrace warmly the pejoratively-intended term “collaborator” — rather as the Religious Society of Friends in the 17th century embraced the mocking word “Quaker” employed by their detractors. I am proud of being a Collaborator with our 27 fellow EU member states, who have been working together to make Europe and the world a better, safer and more prosperous place. I am proud to be a Collaborator with all those millions of people who have rallied to the anti-Brexit cause and who are increasingly organising themselves in a Remain Alliance. It is is the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees-Moggs of this world who are undermining Britain and its global standing. History will condemn them for it, but we must try to stop them first.

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It’s Jo!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 22nd July, 2019

JF Jo Swinson Ed DaveyThe result of the Liberal Democrats leadership election was announced this afternoon, with Jo Swinson notching up a clear win over Sir Ed Davey. That is no reflection on Ed’s talents and experience, nor indeed on his selection campaign, which was robust, engaging and at times masterful. But clearly many of the 72% of LibDem members who voted in the selection (a pretty impressive turnout) felt that as a relatively young woman who has already proved her mettle as Deputy Leader Jo has the qualities and the image that are needed to take the party forward in these excitingly volatile times. That was certainly my logic in voting for her (the first time I have actually backed a winning candidate in a Liberal/Liberal Democrat leadership contest, from the days of John Pardoe onward!) She will be refreshingly different from either Jeremy Corbyn or Boris Johnson, if, as expected, Johnson cruises to victory in the Conservative leadership contest tomorrow. Moreover, she will be able to slap down Boris’s casual, careless sexism, racism and other unpleasant traits that he tries to pass off as jokes. That sort of apologia might work over toasting crumpets in one’s study at Eton but it won’t wash on the floor of the House of Commons if he becomes Prime Minister. I say “if”, because we can expect more resignations by current government ministers in the wake of Sir Alan Duncan’s today. And some Tory MPs might even cross the floor and join the LibDems, destroying the Government’s wafer-thin majority in a flash. Several Cabinet Ministers, most notably the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, have made clear that they would be ready to pull the rug from under Boris rather than allow him to take Britain over the cliff edge of a No Deal Brexit on 31 October. And that is before the Conservatives lose the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election on 1 August, as now seems almost inevitable. So, Jo Swinson is taking over the LibDems at an extraordinary moment, able to build on the healthy legacy of Sir Vince Cable, to deploy her foreign policy experience (all the more important at a time of crisis in the Persian Gulf) and to rally a cross-party legion of sensible politician and voters, most of whom are not only pro-EU but anti-Boris.

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Britain’s Brexit Quagmire

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd April, 2019

Ken Clarke in parliamentLast night MPs once again failed to find consensus around a serious of options regarding a way forward on Brexit, though Ken Clarke’s proposal for a customs union with the EU was defeated by only three votes. The highest indicative vote was actually in support of a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal, though a larger number of MPs voted against that. There were many abstentions throughout the voting process, not least from government Ministers; had all of them taken part, on a free vote, it would have highlighted just how divided the Cabinet is on Brexit, running the whole range from Hard Brexiteers who just want the UK to crash out of the EU on 12 April with No Deal to Remainers who are moving towards the idea of a People’s Vote, reportedly nudged on by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond. The Cabinet is meeting this morning to try to thrash out a common position, with the Prime Minister still wedded to the idea of bringing her Withdrawal Agreement to the House for a fourth time, though the indications are that it would be defeated yet again, even if the the Speaker allowed it to be voted on once more. Never in modern times has government been bogged down in such a quagmire.

MPs will have the chance to have another go at identifying a way forward tomorrow, but as the LibDem MP Norman Lamb said last night, they need to work with a greater spirit of compromise. However, indicative votes are not legally binding, so Theresa May could chose to ignore the outcome even if one proposition did manage to squeak through. Meanwhile the EU leadership is worried that a No Deal Hard Brexit is increasingly likely, which would be disastrous for both sides. But the only way the EU would agree to a further extension — perhaps to the end of 2020 — would be if the British government comes up with a coherent strategy of what it wants to achieve and how. That could include a general election or a further referendum, and if there is any sort of extension beyond 22 May, there would have to be participation in the European elections. No wonder so many MPs are running round like headless chickens, while others are seething with frustration. Nick Boles, the Conservative MP who was the architect of one of the options rejected by his colleagues last night, which would keep Britain in the Single Market and closely aligned to the customs union, was so infuriated by his fellow Conservatives that he resigned the whip in disgust. Meanwhile, the SNP, the LibDems and other smaller parties and groups still hold out hope that there can be a People’s Vote that might deliver us all from Brexit completely. But that outcome is far from certain as both the government and Parliament flounder about in the mud.

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Mrs May’s Rose-tinted Vision

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2018

Theresa MayThis lunchtime the Prime Minister delivered her long-awaited vision for Brexit Britain. The speech was beautifully crafted (congratulations to whoever actually wrote it), but my analysis of the content is less complimentary. As there have been conflicting statements about Brexit even among Cabinet Ministers — along a spectrum from Chancellor Philip Hammond to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson — it was good to hear what Mrs May, supposedly speaking on behalf of the Government, actually envisages as the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Some basic principles were very clear, namely that the Government respects the result of the 2016 EU Referendum and therefore Britain is leaving the European Union. Similarly, it wishes to guarantee the integrity of the United Kingdom. But other things were not so clear-cut. However, in a nutshell, what Mrs May was calling for was a bespoke deal for Britain that would be quite different from any other trade arrangement the EU has — for example with Norway or Canada — but would seek to achieve the best possible results for both sides, while defending the security and prosperity of the UK. She said Britain would like to stay inside some EU agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency, and would therefore accept a degree of European Court of Justice jurisdiction, though only on a piecemeal basis. The City of London will be dismayed that the Prime Minister accepted that banks and financial institutions based in the UK will not enjoy passporting rights to the EU because it will leave the single market; one can almost hear the stampede out of London for Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin already as a result. Equally, Britain will not be part of the customs union (or even Jeremy Corbyn’s “a customs union”), but the Government would still hope there to be frictionless trade with the EU. This really is having cake and eating it territory and is likely to be met with a giant raspberry from Brussels. Then there is the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Mrs May said the Government does not want to see the return of a hard border with border controls, asking rhetorically whether this is something Brussels would wish to impose. That is disingenuous, as clearly an external border of the EU cannot be completely open to the movement of goods, people and services so some sort of compromise solution will be necessary unless Northern Ireland has some separate customs arrangement from the rest of the UK — which is anathema to the Conservatives’ political bedfellows, the DUP. Despite the fact that the Government’s own studies showed that UK economic growth will be hit whichever Brexit route the country follows, Mrs May still sees the post-Brexit future through rose-tinted spectacles, in a world in which Britain will enjoy new freedoms and enhanced prestige while retaining what it wants from current arrangements. Cherry-picking, in a phrase. What she did not specify, however, is how her vision — which included a number of practical alternatives on trade — would benefit the country. But that’s not surprising, because it can’t.

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Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 29th July, 2017

13-oct-al-riots 12.JPGIt was good to see Sadiq Khan suggesting today that Brexit could be stopped following another public vote — a situation the Liberal Democrats and Greens favour. As Mayor of London, he has the largest political mandate of any politician in Britain and he understands just how devastating Brexit could be for the capital, not just for the City, from which some banks and financial services institutions have already started withdrawing staff, but for the whole of London’s economy, in which EU migrant workers play such an important role. Moreover, Sadiq Khan perhaps has the clout to shift the Labour Party away from the Corbynite position of Hard Brexit towards Soft Brexit and then to No Brexit. Meanwhile the Conservatives are tearing themselves apart once again over Europe. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, at times appears to be the only Cabinet Minister keeping a cool head, but meanwhile the terrible trio of Brexiteers — David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox — are pressing ahead on their course of national suicide, though it is clear to all that they still do not have a clear plan and cannot define what Brexit means, other than using Theresa May’s idiotic phrase, “Brexit means Brexit!” Former Tory MP, Matthew Parris, has an excellent piece in the Times today blaming the Conservatives for landing us on the current mess. And he is not alone among influential commentators arguing that Brexit needn’t, indeed shouldn’t happen. Moreover, from Ireland to Malta, political leaders are increasingly arguing that Brexit may not happen after all,  as the true price of its folly sinks in. The key thing is the extent of the shift in thinking among the British electorate, as it feels the pinch of Brexit-related inflation and other negative developments. The electorate needs to be shown that there is an Exit from Brexit, and that that is the sensible route to take.

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May Go? Might Go? Must Go!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th June, 2017

Theresa May 11According to the Sunday Times, Conservative MPs have told Prime Minister Theresa May she has 10 days to prove herself before they ditch her. Frankly, that is 10 days too long. It’s not just that she ran the worst election campaign in living memory. Or her inability to have human contact with people, including after the terrible Grenfell Tower disaster. The sad truth is that Mrs May is a liability, not just for the Tory Party but for the country, which is far more serious. In the face of all logic she has insisted that Britain’s talks with our 27 EU partners about Brexit should start as planned tomorrow, despite the fact that the government’s position is totally unclear. On the Continent the UK has become a laughing stock, with a pig-headed woman of little political ability in No 10 and a clown for a Foreign Secretary. What makes this situation tragic rather than comic is that our EU partners really want to have a good, ongoing relationship with Britain, ideally within the EU, but if not, then at least within the European Single Market and Customs Union. But Mrs May and the hardline wing of her party are ruling that out, as are, shamefully, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell of the Labour so-called Opposition. Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of Exchequer, is bravely trying to be a voice for reason inside the Cabinet, and there are a large number of MPs within both major parties, as well as of course the Liberal Democrats, SNP and Greens, trying to stop the lemming-like rush over the cliff edge of a Hard Brexit. The task for them now is to unite across party lines to resist the May Brexit national suicide cult. Might May go within the next 10 days? If the Conservatives have backbone they will indeed topple her. But whatever the political method used, May must go — and now!

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More UK Double Standards over Israel

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 2nd March, 2016

Juli EdelsteinThe Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, is due to address MPs and Peers in Parliament today at the invitation of his British counterpart, John Bercow. Nothing strange about that, one might think, except that Mr Edelstein lives in the illegal Israeli settlement of Neve Daniel in the occupied West Bank and declared ahead of his visit that he will “represent the Knesset, the state of Israel and the West Bank with pride” during his visit (my emphasis). Mr Edelstein has no right to represent the West Bank, whose Palestinian inhabitants have lived under oppressive Israeli occupation for the past 49 years. Several elements of that occupation are in clear violation of both the Geneva Convention and the Hague Agreements, not least the way that Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of its own people in the occupied territories. This is in clear violation of International Law and indeed successive British governments have condemned it. Yet it is clear that the current Conservative government in London speaks with a forked tongue, as in principle it is opposed to the occupation yet Mr Edelstein will be welcomed with open arms. No wonder Palestine’s envoy to Britain, Manuel Hassassian, has declared that he is “incredulous that Mr Edelstein is being given a platform in Parliament itself – the self-same Parliament that only a short time ago voted to recognise the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.” During his visit, Mr Edelstein is expected to meet both the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, underlining the cosy relationship that the UK Conservatives have with Israel’s Likud-led government. This includes people like Mr Edelstein who would love to see a “Greater Israel”, which formally incorporates all of the West Bank into the Jewish state. As it is, there is now so much illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied Territories that many informed observers, including myself, fear that things have passed a point of no return, as there is no longer enough contiguous territory left for a viable, independent Palestinian state. It is shameful that the British government is essentially acquiescing to this situation rather than using the diplomatic and economic tools that it has at its disposal to demonstrate that its pubic statements against Israel’s occupation policies are not just empty words. No wonder so much of the Arab and wider Islamic world accuses Britain of double standards in the Middle East. Moreover, they are correct.

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A New Era in UK-Iran Relations

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015

UK Iran 1The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.

UK Iran Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.

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