Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

Boris and the “Burka Ban”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 8th August, 2018

NiqabThe former Foreign Secretary and Tory bad-boy, Boris Johnson, has well and truly put the cat among the pigeons with his Daily Telegraph column in which he likened Muslim women who wear the “burka” to letter boxes and bank robbers. I am sure he well knows that what he is talking about is the niqab (face veil) rather than the burka, but he is happy to chime with the populist riff in which “burka ban” has a satisfyingly alliterative resonance. This is more than a storm in a tea-cup, as several important issues are at stake. First, we live in a liberal, multicultural democracy in Britain, in which everyone should be free to wear whatever he or she wishes. Many white British may find the niqab unattractive or disturbing, but similarly many Muslims find topless bathers at least as offensive. As for the burka, while I saw lots of these in Afghanistan, and know that they have appeared in parts of north-west Pakistan, I have never seen one in England, though some of the many hundreds of people who have responded to a tweet of mine earlier today about the burka affair have assured me that  they have seen some in Ilford and Leicester. Anyway, the point is that it is not for us to tell people what they should wear, otherwise we become like some of the authoritarian societies which we rightly criticise.

burkaBut of course, there is a more important political point, namely that Boris Johnson has refused to apologise for his offensive remarks, despite being urged to by the Chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, and, more weakly, by the Prime Minister. By refusing to agree, Boris Johnson is essentially showing two fingers to Theresa May, knowing she is too weak to sack him (he resigned as Foreign Secretary, remember; he was not sacked, though he should have been). I agree with Lord Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, that Boris Johnson should have the Conservative whip withdrawn if he stubbornly refuses to back down. Islamophobia is a problem within the Conservative Party, and whereas I do not believe Boris Johnson is personally Islamophobic (indeed, part of his pedigree is Turkish), I do believe that he is shamelessly pandering to the more disgusting of right-wing prejudices. He appears to be modelling himself on Donald Trump, saying the most outrageous things, knowing that he will carry a certain amount of the population with him. But Britain does not need such populism, nor should be tolerate it. We said “No!” in the 1930s, and we should say “No!” now.

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A Summer of Discontent

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 18th July, 2018

The Summer of Our DiscontentWere the likely effects of Brexit not so serious, the shambolic way the Government is handling matters would be laughable. At a weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers earlier this month, Theresa May put forward her version of a Soft Brexit plan. All the Cabinet supported it at the time, but within days, David Davis and Boris Johnson had both resigned and the latter was extremely rude about the proposed deal, which he said would make Britain a colony of the EU. I’d been saying for months that Mrs May should sack Boris before he had the chance to resign, but in the event, both have been weakened by the way things have happened. In the meantime, several other (junior) Ministers have resigned, as well as other Conservative party luminaries, most of whom one had never heard of. But the debates about related bills in the House of Commons this week have taken the whole Brexit saga down to a new low. Mrs May caved in to the demands of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his euphemistically-named European Research Group and made her Soft Brexit a little harder. A dozen Tory rebels nobly voted to keep the UK within EU medicines regime, but on other issues the Government saw off amendments, with the help of the Labour Brexiteer Gang of Four, Kate Hoey. Frank Field, John  Mann and Grahame Stringer. The Government hoped to prorogue Parliament tomorrow, five days early, to limit inconvenient debate, but dropped that idea when it became clear that the suggestion was dead in the water. The problem is, Mrs May’s Soft Brexit is dead in the water, too; a country can’t effectively be within the Single Market for some things and outside it for others. The EU, rightly, will not compromise on the four freedoms, so Mrs May is just wasting time pursuing pipe dreams. In the meantime, Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn is failing pathetically to stand up to this government nonsense — mainly because he has always been hostile to the EU. And even though a majority of Labour MPs were Remainers (and most probably still are), they are frightened to stick their heads too far above the parapet, with noble exceptions such as Chuka Umunna, David Lammy and Ben Bradshaw. Doubtless the Prime Minister will be hoping that things go quiet over the recess, but I woudn’t count on that. With both the Brexiteers and the anti-Brexiteers angry about the current mess, it is likely to be a long, hot summer of discontent.

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Dump Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 13th July, 2018

808A8666-5BFB-4B28-AAB1-CB96F9ABF5DFit was heartening to see many tens of thousands of people turn up this hot Friday afternoon to march against the views and practices of US President Donald Trump. There was a carnival atmosphere right from the moment that a giant Baby Trump in a nappy was inflated this morning and floated over Parliament Square, but at 2pm big crowds converged on Portland Place near the BBC’s headquarters before marching down Regent Street and on to Trafalgar Square. There was a host of nationalities represented and lots of flags — the EU’s and Palestine’s particularly visible — but it was the home-made signs that attracted the attention of the TV cameras, from the predictably scatalogical (“F**k Trump”) to the deliciously English (“I’m really rather cross”). A brass band enhanced the mood. I didn’t spot all that many politicians (Ed Miliband and Jo Swinson being notable exceptions) but there was every age and social group present, as well as trade unions and single issue groups holding up colourful banners, all united in their opposition to Mr Trump’s current visit to the UK. As I write this, he is sitting down to tea with the Queen at Windsor Castle, and one can only hope that he will be more diplomatic with her than he has been with Prime Minister, Theresa May. In an exclusive interview with the Sun newspaper, published this morning, the Donald rubbished Mrs May’s Soft Brexit plan and said he thought that former Foreign Secretary and government bad-boy Boris Johnson would make a great PM. The President’s busy schedule kept him well away from the big London demonstration, but he will doubtless hear about it and see pictures on his twitter feed. It was massive, and made abundantly clear that for many Brits and others living here, he is not a welcome guest.

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Bye-bye BoJo

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th July, 2018

Boris Johnson and John McKendrickYesterday there was a collective sigh of relief within the Westminster village when Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson finally resigned. His sudden departure from one of the four great offices of state had been looming for months; the only question was: would Prime Minister Theresa May sack him or would he quit? It was probably quite shrewd of Mrs May to leave the initiative up to him, therefore making herself theoretically blameless, though the drama of his leaving was anyway upstaged by Brexit Secretary David Davis jumping ship first. As ever not a gentleman, BoJo sent the PM a particularly unpleasant letter of resignation, effectively calling her compromise deal on Britain’s strategy for the Brexit negotiations (which he had in principle endorsed at the weekend Cabinet gathering at Chequers) a betrayal of Leave voters, as well as claiming Britain will become a “colony” of the EU as a result. However, the general feeling around Westminster is that Johnson has weakened, not strengthened, his own political position (the only thing that ever really concerned him) and that he is therefore further away from his goal of becoming Prime Minister. Several of his erstwhile colleagues in government have been quite uncomplimentary about him, but the prize for unfond farewells must go to the Attorney General of Anguilla, John McKendrick QC, who tweeted the photo shown here with the caption: “Meeting the worst Foreign Secretary we’ve ever had amongst the destruction of Hurricane Irma in Anguilla. Disinterested and out of his depth he cared nothing for our situation. Good riddance.” Touché!

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When Will Labour Face Truth on Brexit?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 24th May, 2018

Keir StarmerFor many continental Europeans one of the most puzzling things about Britain’s stumbling towards the Brexit door has been the way that the opposition Labour Party has been effectively cheering the government on the way. Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 to be invoked almost as soon as the EU Referendum result waas announced and he has continued to pursue what he calls a Jobs First Brexit, making it work for the many not the few, whereas all the indicators are that all normal households are going to be worse off. In fact, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, has said that households are already £900 worse off than forecast and Brexit hasn’t happened yet. There will be a divorce bill of £39billion to pay before trade talks with the EU can start and if the government opts for the “Max Fac” new technology approach to dealing with customs procedures, as favoured by right-wing Tory MPs, that is going to cost British businesses £20billion a year, so the head of the HMRC tells us. So why is Labour still going along with Brexit, instead of denouncing it for the gross act of self-harm that it is?

Baroness HayterI put that question today to the Shadow Brexit Spokesperson n the House of Lords, Baroness Hayter — a highly intelligent and articulate woman — who admitted that it is all a nightmare. But both she and her House of Commons counterpart are Keir Starmer are holding to the line that the British people voted for Brexit, and therefore Labour’s task is to make it less painful. She dismissed the notion of a People’s Vote on the final deal (which in principle is meant to be ready by October, though that seems incresihngly unlikely), saying there was no appetite for it. People just want the government to get on with Brexit (which is, of course, also Prime Minister Theresa May’s mantra). But surely it is the duty of the Opposition to oppose, especially when the Labour Party is meant to defend the interests of the poorest and weakest in society? Perhaos onyl a seismic by-election shock in Lewisham East (unlikely, given the campaign has deliberately been kept to just one month) would wake Labour from its complacency. But meanwhile, the party leadership trots behind the Conservative government as it sleepwalks through the Brexit door towards the unknown.

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House of Lords Lobby Fodder

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th May, 2018

Eric PicklesAs widely expected, the Government has announced the appointment of 10 new Conservative peers (subject to approval), as well as one for the DUP. This is despite the fact that the Conservative group in the upper chamber is already larger than any other, and the move is clearly designed to try to avoid more Brexit-related defeats, of which there have been quite a rash recently. If Mrs May hoped that by announcing the appointments on the eve of the Royal Wedding they might pass unseen she must be sorely disappointed by the storm of protest on twitter. Not so much condemnation from some people in the Labour Party, though, as Jeremy Corbyn has been given the sweetener of three peers for his own team. But the media focus is inevitably on the 10 Tories. Though some like Catherine Meyer may on account of their special expertise or experience have a decent claim to the privilege — and it is a privilege, albeit an anchronistic one — most of the others are former government retreads, incuding Sir Eric Pickles and Peter Lilley. Dubtless all ten have been instructed to support the Government loyally on Brexit (and perhaps more). But I can’t help wondering whether some of the current members of the Lords will feel a little peeved about having this lobby fodder casually thrown in, which might mean some more of them may be in a mood to “rebel”. The Upper House has done some sterling work scrutinising and amendings parts of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it is a sad reflection of the state of politics in Britain today that having failed to win the argument in debates in the Lords, Mrs May is indulging in behaviour more characteristic of a century ago.

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Have We Reached Peak London?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th May, 2018

City of LOndonLondon likes to present itself — with some justification — as the world’s premier global city. But it may be falling off its pedestal. Whereas until 2016 people flocked to London to find jobs in everything from banking to being a barista, these days the movement is more towards the exit door, as applications for NHS jobs from EU27 nationals plummet and European academics here search for pastures new. There is no doubt that Brexit (and the associated, barely concealed xenophobia manifest among certain sections of the British population). is the main reason for London losing some of its shine. Yes, Far Eastern investors are still buying property in London, but that’s mainly because the sharp fall in the value of the pound sterling has made even high-end property a good deal for them. Of course, cities go up and down. London was a comparative dump in the 1970s, with a shrinking population, whereas Paris was where it was at. But Paris subsequently lost it.

Steve Norris small At a fascinating seminar on Making London Succeed for Everyone post-Brexit, hosted by the international law firm Eversheds Sutherland in the City this evening, Steve Norris — former Conservative MP and onetime London mayoral hopeful — declared that he thought we are maybe are at Peak London; actually, I think that we are already on the way down from that peak — and given the shambolic way that Theresa May’s government is mismanaging Brexit, that descent could accelerate. Paris, Frankfurt and Dublin are salivating at the exodus of financial services and other economic actors from London, while meanwhile cities like Berlin and Lisbon are asserting themselves as cutting edge cultural and high-tech centres, as Cool Britannia’s image fades. Steve Norris was probably right when he said that Cool Britannia was actually Cool London, but how much longer will that be the case? Research suggests that the high Leave vote in many of the English provinces reflected a Sod London feeling (as well as Sod David Cameron), but being an overwhelmingly Remain city may not save London’s skin. Obviously, from my perspective I hope Brexit doesn’t happen and that the plug is pulled before further damage is done. But I cannot be wildly optimistic. Britain risks becoming a not-particularly-important offshore island and London will struggle not to be pulled down with it.

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Amber to Red for the Tories

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th April, 2018

5F9ED72A-789F-44CA-92C7-2238321154A8British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd has fallen on her sword; her position had indeed become untenable over the weekend with revelations about how much she encouraged the “hostile environment” to “illegal” immigrants and approved of the policy of deportation before appeal, despite having tried to distance herself publicly from it all. The inhuman treatment of the so-called Windrush generation, who had their right to remain in the UK questioned and in some cases refused, was a particularly egregious example of this. Perhaps the final blow to her reputation came with the revelation that the Home Office had refused visas to 100 Indian doctors recruited by the National Health Service (NHS). Under Rudd’s watch, the Home Office has indeed become unfit for purpose. But one could argue that it became so under her predecessor, none other than the now Prime Minister, Theresa May. I can’t help feeling that Mrs May has sacrificed Amber Rudd in the hope of saving her own skin, because frankly it is time for her to acknowledge that old political adage “the buck stops here”. Theresa May was catapulted into the top job when David Cameron resigned after the disastrous outcome of the EU Referendum (which he called largely to try to silence Eurosceptic headbangers on the right of the Conservative Party). But far from proving to be a safe pair of hands, Mrs May has shown herself ready to give ideology precedence over common sense. This shows itself in two, related aspects: immigration and Brexit. The government persists in trying to reach its unrealistic target of getting net immigration down to below 100,000 a year, despite the fact that this is harming not just the NHS but other sectors of the economy too. And despite being a Remainer in the EU Referendum campaign, Mrs May has been pressing ahead with Brexit — again to appease the Tory right — in a most damaging way. The incompetence of the three Brexit Ministers — David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson — would be comic were this all not so serious. Britain’s international reputation has been trashed, not only among our 27 current EU partners but around the world. Moreover, from being the best performing economy among the OECD nations, the UK has crashed to the bottom. Growth was just 0.1% in the last quarter, with the real prospect of recession looming. And we haven’t even left the EU yet! Theresa May is lucky in that she lacks a credible Opposition in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, but that should not let her off the hook. The amber light of  Rudd’s resignation should turn to a red light for the PM herself.

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UK Should Not Be a Hostile Environment

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd April, 2018

Home Office billboardsIt’s hard to be optimistic about the state of Britain these days, not just because the country’s economic growth rate has sunk from the top of the OECD countries to the bottom as Brexit looms but also because of the tensions now evident in society. The EU Referendum result left the UK deeply divided, and those divisions have got worse, not better, as the months have gone by. Moreover, there has been a surge in xenophobic and racist incidents as an unpleasant minority within the British public has felt emboldened by the Brexit vote to tell foreigners to “go home” or to stop speaking languages other than English. Such actions should be recognised as hate crimes and dealt with accordingly.

May RuddBut what I find even more disturbing is the way that the Conservative government has encouraged such attitudes — cheered on by the more obnoxious elements of the mainstream Press. The latest shocking revelations about the way some members of the so-called Windrush Generation and their children (immigrants who were invited to come to Britain after the Second World War, to help rebuild the country and run essential services) have had their right to remain questioned by the Home Office, leading to some losing their jobs or their homes and being denied free medical care, while others have been put in detention centres or been deported, after living here for half a century. It is now clear that much of the blame for this rests on the shoulders of Theresa May, currently Prime Minister but previously Home Secretary. It was under her watch that the infamous vans went round telling “illegal” immigrants to go home, before they were withdrawn after a public outcry. And it is both Mrs May and the current Home Secretary Amber Rudd who have pursued a policy of promoting a “hostile environment” to people who allegedly should not be here.

Even some Labour Home Secretaries, such as the jovial Alan Johnson, used that terrible phrase sometimes. And it is hardly surprising that it has been embraced by those who dislike the multicultural reality of much of Britain today. But it is not only people of colour who are feeling the impact. Even EU citizens have been the brunt of attacks and nasty comments. No wonder some have left and that many others (some married to UK partners) are worried about their future. Mrs May and her ghastly government have failed to tackle this problem head on. Indeed, both by their words and their actions, they have encouraged it. That is why on 3 May those who live in an area holding elections use their vote to send a clear message to 10 Downing Street: this is not the Britain we believe in.

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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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