Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

Witney: A Golden Opportunity

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th October, 2016

img_1518Tomorrow the voters of Witney in Oxfordshire will be going to the polls in a by-election caused by the resignation of former Prime Minister David Cameron. Normally this would be safe Conservative territory (despite the fact that one previous incumbent defected to Labour), but these aren’t normal times. David Cameron made the disastrous mistake of calling June’s EU Referendum, convinced that he would win, and his successor as PM, Theresa May, seems determined to march down the road to a “hard Brexit” despite all the warnings from economists about the damage that will do to Britain’s GDP. Interestingly, West Oxfordshire (of which Witney is the administrative seat) voted for Remain in the Referendum, but the Tory candidate is a Brexiteer. All this could produce a perfect storm for the Liberal Democrats as the party  that is not afraid to show its European colours. The LibDem candidate, a personable local businesswoman and councillor, Liz Leffman, is well known, having fought the constituency in 2005. Several pro-EU groups have endorsed her and hundreds of LibDem volunteers have been pouring in daily to campaign for her. The Tories deliberately called the by-election quickly, to avoid any opposition head of steam building up, so it is probably not likely that Liz can win, but coming a very strong second would send a very powerful message to 10 Downing Street. And if Liz did pull off an Orpington-style victory then the whole story of Brexit could be changed.

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UKIP’s Death Spiral?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th October, 2016

steven-woolfeThe UKIP MEP, Steven Woolfe, who was favourite to become the party’s new leader, has dramatically quit UKIP, though he intends to stay on as an MEP (why wouldn’t he, given the salary and benefits?). He recently spent several days in hospital after a fracas in the European Parliament with one of his fellow UKIP MEPs and he probably needs to watch his back now. He stuck the knife into his colleagues, metaphorically, with his resignation by declaring that UKIP is in a “death spiral” and that is “ungovernable”. Diane James, UKIP’s version of Lady Jane Grey, recently gave up the leadership after only 18 days, saying she did not have the confidence of the party, even though she got a firm mandate from UKIP members. Meanwhile, Nigel Farage, twice the party’s leader, is in a caretaker role, though he seems to think advising US presidential candidate Donald Trump to be a higher priority. Farage famously is at odds with UKIP’s single Westminster MP, Douglas Carswell. So things are looking pretty dire. However, it would be unwise to write UKIP off (much as the Conservatives, in particular, would like to do). MEPs defecting or setting up their own party have been a feature of UKIP’s history over the past decade or so, but that did not stop them coming top of the poll in the UK in the European elections in 2014. Some people argue that now that the Conservative government unwittingly finds itself in a situation where it is aiming to oversee Brexit then UKIP ceases to have a purpose. But if Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to bring about the “hard Brexit” she indicated at the Tory party conference then UKIP may be able to rally the more hardline Brexiteers. And of course, if Brexit doesn’t happen — a slim possibility, but not impossible — then UKIP would definitely be re-energised — with Nigel Farage once again at the helm?article-2737206-20e2281200000578-660_634x450

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A Closed or Open Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 11th October, 2016

ciaran-devane-and-anSince the British EU Referendum in June there has been a lot of talk about “Hard Brexit” versus “Soft Brexit”, with Prime Minister Theresa May giving the impression that she favours the former, i.e. sacrificing access to the European single market in order to “get back control” of immigration. Remainers like myself not surprisingly think that is utter madness. But last night, at the British Council headquarters off Trafalgar Square, the Council’s CEO, Sir Ciaran Devane, asked an invited audience to think instead of the alternative between a “Closed Brexit” (with a more isolated Britain) or an “Open Brexit”, in which Britain would remain outward-looking and open not just for business but also for cultural interchange. Sir Ciaran was giving the Edmund Burke Lecture, sponsored by the venerable publication Annual Register and ProQuest, and made no secret of his own preference for Britain’s remaining in the EU, but if Brexit is going ahead then it is important that it proceeds in the most positive way possible. The British Council of course does have global reach, being active in around 150 countries and does far more than just promote British culture and values. Through its Young Arab Voices programme, for example, it is giving young people in the Middle East and North Africa skills that will help them express themselves. Other projects have a clearly developmental element of empowerment. Sir Ciaran lamented the fact that once Britain is out of the EU Ministers and officials will no longer be part of the regular meetings with our current 27 partners discussing all sorts of issues that impact on the creative industries. So it will be important to find other ways of exchanging information and views to prevent Britain becoming further isolated.

[photo: Sir Ciaran Devane and event chairman Alastair Niven]

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Brexit: Groping in the Dark

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th September, 2016

img_1421it’s almost two months since the British electorate voted by a slim majority to leave the European Union, but even though the new Prime Minister Theresa May emphatically declared “Brexit means Brexit”, no-one seems any the wiser what Brexit will entail — least of all the three men who have been chosen to deliver it: David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson. Last night, at the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton, a panel that included Jacqueline Minor from the European Commission’s London Representation, Timmy Dooley from Ireland’s Fianna Fáil and Manfred Eisenbach from Germany’s FDP grappled with the possible outcomes. EU leaders have made clear that Britain cannot expect to enjoy access to the European Single Market unless it accepts freedom of movement, and it’s difficult to see how that circle can be squared. Outside of the EU the U.K. may therefore have to apply to join the World Trade Organsiation and abide by WTO rules, but that would mean it having to negotiate bilateral trade deals with most of the rest of the world, as well as with the EU. First, though, it would have to disentangle itself from EU membership. It took Greenland (technically part of Denmark) three years to withdraw and they only had to deal with fishing. The UK’s withdrawal would be infinitely more complicated and is likely to take much longer. Only after that could new trade deals be finalised, which could take many years as well as adversely hitting the UK economy. Everyone on last night’s panel agreed that one has to respect the outcome of the EU Referendum; one couldn’t just run it again, in the hope of getting a different outcome. But it would be perfectly feasible to put the new trade deal — whenever it is reached — to the vote, at which point people might realise Britain would be better off staying in the EU. That is indeed the line being premoted by the LibDem leader Tim Farron, who got a standing ovation at a packed rally earlier in the evening.

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No Brexit Deal Can Beat EU Membership

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 6th September, 2016

Simon FraserYesterday afternoon in the House of Commons, the Minister for Brexit, David Davis, failed to define what Brexit means, other than Britain’s leaving the European Union. But maybe that is not surprising. For as the former Head of the Foreign Office, Sir Simon Fraser, told a packed gathering of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) UK Section that lunchtime, it would be foolish to speculate in detail what the outcome will be. As the then Prime Minister David Cameron warned in the run-up to June’s EU Referendum, Brexit is a leap in the dark. But Sir Simon was in no doubt that no Brexit deal can be as good as the situation Britain enjoys by being a member of the European Union. That is not just for economic reasons, he argued; Britain’s influence in the world is enhanced by being part of the EU.

Simon said that the new rules of the game for the British government are as follows: (1) the result of the referendum has to be accepted at face value, (2) it has to try to make Brexit work, (3) there needs to be a plan for what Brexit is, how it will happen, and when. But, he warned, “we are on a long journey to an unknown destination.” Although Theresa May appointed the triumvirate of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox to oversee Brexit, Simon believes the Prime Minister would be unwise to cede the power of negotiation to anyone else. There will be a Cabinet Committee, chaired by Mrs May. The Ministry for Brexit should rather become a sort of Secretariat for coordination. As he saw it, there will be two clear stages in the negotiations between the UK and the other 27 member states: (1) around Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, on how to unravel the UK from EU treaties, (2) around article 218, establishing a new relationship between Britain and the EU. In the meantime, the priority should be not deciding when Article 50 will be triggered but rather on formulating a proper strategy.

The government has begun consultations with business (many of whose leaders are alarmed by the prospect of Brexit, not least in the City), but Simon said it should reach out to other interest groups too. Meanwhile, the UK will probably seek to have a sui generis relationship with the EU, as none of the models being talked about (e.g. Norway, Switzerland) fits, though Britain can learn from studying them. “Brexiteers think Brexit is all about Britain,” Simon warned, “but in many ways the EU dimension is more complex. 27 states have to agree a negotiating position. And the European Parliament has to ratify the package they come up with.” The European Commission’s Brexit task force, under Michel Barnier, is only being set up on 1 October.

Unfortunately, “the UK ran out of negotiating goodwill on freedom of movement,” Simon said. “There is no single EU member that is sympathetic to what the UK is doing. For the past 20 years, political leadership in this country has been sub-standard, so will need to have a strong civil service involved — and more civil servants will be needed to cope with the massively complex issues around new trade deals. But I do not think there is any conceivable deal that would be better economically that what we have as a member of the EU.”

In that case, I would argue, when the details of the deal are available (2019 at the earliest?) should not Parliament — or indeed the British electorate — have the opportunity to say whether they still want Brexit to go ahead?

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The March for Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 3rd September, 2016

March for Europe LibDems 1Many thousands of Britons in cities across the country today took part in a March for Europe, demonstrating our belief (despite the outcome of June’s referendum) that the UK is better off in the EU. Liberal Democrats were well represented. Theresa May’s trio of Brexit Ministers — Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox — have yet to make any credible proposal for what Brexit would look like. Some in the government hope Britain could somehow still be part of the European Single Market while others want to be completely outside that. To me, both positions are unrealistic. Why would the other 27 EU member states give us free access to the single market without our contributing to the EU budget and accepting free movement of labour? It just doesn’t make sense. Similarly, the go-it-aloners have failed to understand the implications of going into a situation where we would be operating under WTO rules. Theresa May is under great pressure from Ian Duncan Smith and other hardliners among the Brexiteers to invoke Article 50 as soon as possible, but she is wisely not doing so. The special summit at Chequers the other day failed to come up with any coherent Brexit strategy and there is little likelihood one will be fashioned soon. So probably we will drift on in the curious limbo of remaining in the EU, but with a foot out of the door, for several years. An astonishing number of people who voted for Leave seem to believe we have actually already left, but we haven’t and we won’t do so for ages, maybe never at all. In the meantime, every time I post something pro-EU on twitter, such as about today’s March for Europe, Brexit trolls send me tweets, many of them offensive, accusing me of not respecting democracy. On the contrary, it is the democratic right of the millions of us who voted to stay in the EU to keep on expressing our opinion. To stifle us would be dictatorship, not democracy.

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A Missed Chance to Reform The EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 20th July, 2016

The United Kingdom was scheduled to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on 1 July 2017, giving the Brits a wonderful opportunity to help steer an EU reform agenda with the support of several of its continental partners. But Prime Minister Theresa May has told her EU counterparts that Britain will not in fact assume the presidency. The reason is clear: she has declared that “Brexit is Brexit”, and even if the UK technically will remain a member of the Union until the end of 2018 or even beyond, it has already started to walk out of the door. With each day that passes, now, the government in London will have less and less influence in Brussels. British Ministers will not be listened to with the attention they previously got, British MEPs cannot expect to be appointed to key positions in the European Parliament and the other 27 states will inevitably focus inwards on how to move the EU forward without the obstreperous Brits. This all adds up to a tragic missed chance to help make the EU work better for all its members. The majority of EU states are now likely to integrate further, with Britain firmly on the outside. Perhaps the best Britain can now hope for is some sort of associate membership, or at least to be part of the EEA (European Economic Area), but that would of course mean accepting free movement of people, which is what many Brexiteers said they wanted to end. The sad truth is that the government still has no clear plan for what Brexit will mean, but is blindly heading in that direction. For me this is the greatest national tragedy since the end of the Second World War.

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Equal Ever After

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th March, 2016

imageOne of the greatest achievements of the 2010-2015 Coalition government in the UK was the legalisation of same-sex marriage, thus underlining the fact that despite the country’s periodic embrace of conservatism, Britain today is an essentially liberal country. A large part of the credit for the safe passage of the Bill that enabled equal marriage (as many of its supporters prefer to call it) must go to Lynne Featherstone, former Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a junior Minister at the Home Office under Theresa May for the first period of the Coalition. Lynne pushed it as her pet project, but of course with the full support of Prime Minister David Cameron and the LibDem leader, Nick Clegg. A rainbow coalition of NGOs and MPs of different parties rallied to the cause, while ranged against them were predominantly Tory politicians who wished to defend ‘traditional marriage’ between a man and a woman, as well as major religious communities (though not, I am pleased to say, the Quakers, Unitarians or Liberal and Reform Jews. The story of how the Bill became law makes gripping reading, in the book about it, Equal Ever After (Biteback, £14.99) that Lynne has taken the opportunity of writing following her defeat, along with most of the other LibDem MPs in last May’s general election. It’s a very personal story, passionately recounted, but also drawing on the speeches of parliamentarians on both sides of the argument, in both the House of Commons and in the House of Lords, plus extracts from anonymised correspondence (some of it vituperative) that Lynne received over the issue. For many people who did not follow the cause of equal marriage closely, perhaps the two biggest shocks will be the fact that for a long time the Labour-leaning Stonewall LGBT+ Rights group actually opposed equal marriage, and Mr Cameron refused to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples, threatening to scupper the whole deal unless this part of the package was dropped. As someone who is forthright in her views, Lynne pulls no punches in her criticism where she feels criticism is due. Fortunately, she is now in the House of Lords, so as long as that anachronistic institution exists, she can use it as a platform to promote causes still dear to her heart, including LGBT rights in Africa and elsewhere, and curbing violence against women.

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Theresa May Is So Wrong on EU Free Movement

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th August, 2015

Theresa May 1The British Home Secretary, Theresa May, set out in an article in today’s Sunday Times changes she would like to see made to the principle of freedom of movement within the European Union. This is one of the central planks of the European single market, which was largely put in place by the Conservative peer and European Commissioner Lord Cockfield and endorsed by Margaret Thatcher. Lord Cockfield, at least, must be spinning in his grave at Ms May’s outrageous demand that freedom of movement should be restricted to people who already have jobs, unlike the situation now, in which EU citizens can seek work in other EU member states, settle or retire there, study or simply make their lives more interesting by experiencing different European cultures, rather than spending their entire existence (apart from holidays) in an increasingly insular Tory Britain. One can only assume Ms May has set out her stall against free movement as part of a bid to outflank Boris Johnson in the next Conservative Party leadership contest, but if that is true then it is shamelessly self-centered and against the true interests of Britain.

EU free movementOne of the reasons that the UK has emerged more strongly from the post-2008 recession was because of the talented EU migrants who came here to work or set up businesses. The revolting Daily Express and at times the Daily Mail would have us believe that all EU migrants are benefit scroungers, which is a gross misrepresentation of the reality. The CBI, farmers and other groups of UK employers acknowledge the contribution EU migrants have made and I trust they will stand up and be counted against Ms May’s mean call. If David Cameron were to heed it and try to push for such a radical change to free movement with our EU partners it is certain that they would reject it, as the whole European project would start to unravel if it went through. Of course, that is what a disturbingly large number of Conservative MPs actually want to happen, not to mention UKIP. But the issue, if handled as badly as Ms May has done, could make it more likely that Britain would leave the EU, even though a “Brexit” would have serious consequences for our national economy. However, there is a more optimistic scenario following this new development which is that all those people who have benefited from the freedom of movement — the 2million+ Brits on the continent and the other EU citizens resident here — as well as young people who fancy studying or working abroad and older people who want to have the option to retire somewhere warmer will all gang up together to shout down this attempt to undermine their rights. And, one hopes, vote out this awful Tory government at the next election.

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May Mistaken on International Students

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st December, 2014

imageTheresa May has the unenviable task of trying to make irreconcilables add up when it comes to implementing the Conservatives’ rash promise to reduce net immigration to the UK to “tens of thousands”. But her latest idea of making international students leave the country after they graduate is wrong on do many levels. International students make a huge contribution to the UK economy, both with their fees and living costs, and those who then use their enhanced skills to stay on and work give added value. As far as I can see, May’s plan to force them to leave and then apply for a new visa back home is yet another short-sighted Tory attempt to appeal to UKIP voters. The problem is that it risks killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Britain has become a less welcoming place to foreign talent, including students, with the Conservatives in power, despite the strong efforts by LibDems such as Vince Cable to state the opposite case. Education is a global market and if international students decide the UK is now a less attractive option, they will go elsewhere and we in Britain will be all the poorer for it.

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