Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

UK Workers: Staying in the EU Is Best

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd January, 2017

workers-rightsTheresa May is doubtless feeling very pleased with herself that she will be the first European political leader to meet US President Donald Trump. Ahead of this encounter officials have let it be known that one thing the two are keen to promote is a greater exchange of US and UK workers. Quite apart from the fact that it is hard to reconcile this with the Conservative government’s pledge to slash immigration, what might appear at first glance as a golden opportunity for Brits to go and work in the US could turn into a poisoned chalice. While Britain is still part of the EU British workers benefit from a whole raft of entitlements and protection, from paid holidays to health and safety at work, job security and comprehensive health care. Provisions in the United States are far weaker and if Donald Trump gets his way, they will become weaker still. Many UK workers voted Leave in last June’s referendum, for a variety of reasons, but I wager that most had no idea that by doing so they would undermine their own hard-won rights and entitlements. So while the US will be alluring for some, for most people remaining in the EU is better.

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My New Year’s Resolution: Stop Brexit!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 31st December, 2016

stop-brexit-smallI don’t make a New Year’s Resolution every year; the last was two years ago, in Surinam, when I vowed to write and publish my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes, which I successfully achieved this summer. But the Resolution I am making this time as I see 2016 out in Brazil is far more ambitious and is not something I can do alone: Stop Brexit! In June, the British electorate (or that part of it included in this particular franchise) voted narrowly in an advisory referendum that it would prefer to leave the European Union, and the Conservative government now presided over by Theresa May is pressing ahead with the Brexit process, despite warnings that this will cause a decade of disruption and billions of pounds worth of economic loss. She still has not made her “plan” public, which rather makes me doubt that she has one. But in principle she is sticking to her timetable of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, after which there would be two years of negotiations with our 27 EU partners. There is a difference of opinion over whether Article 50 could be reversed, once triggered, but clearly the chances of stopping Brexit would be greater if Article 50 is never triggered. So it is crucial that over the next three months the realities of Brexit, rather than the fantasies of much of the EU Referendum campaign, are set out and that the British electorate is then given the chance to answer the question: is that really what you want? That is essentially the position outlined by LibDem leader, Tim Farron, though in a longer time-frame. His Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, has alas sold the pass, by pledging to champion a “people’s Brexit”, whatever that might be. Of course, the LibDems can’t bring about such a Brexit reversal on their own. Everyone who understands that Brexit would damage both Britain and the EU can be part of a campaign, for which the European Movement is one of the cheerleaders. Nigel Farage notably argued that a 52:48 vote in June’s Referendum would be “unfinished business”, and for once I believe he was right. As nation we should have a second chance to set the course for the future. By my reckoning, that’s a fine New Year’s Resolution.

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Theresa May’s Nasty New Year Wish-List

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 30th December, 2016

theresa-may-smallFor Liberals, 2016 has been a grim year. The EU Referendum provided a narrow win for Leave and the dogs of hate and prejudice were thereby released. Over in America, Donald Trump became President-elect, thanks to that country’s arcane electoral system. Several EU member states started to question the principle of free movement following a huge influx of refugees and migrants. But one of the worst things of all has been the performance of Theresa May since she took office as UK Prime Minister following David Cameron’s resignation. Although she was a lukewarm Remainer in the Referendum campaign, she has embraced the agenda of UKIP and the rabid Tory Right Brexiteers in her pursuance of the goal of a “hard” Brexit — in other words, for seeing a situation in which Britain will leave both the European single market and the customs union, even though this will have a devastating effect on the UK economy, especially the financial sector. She has put our EU partners’ backs up by the arrogance of her negotiating strategy, for example demanding that Britain retain a strong influence in Europol, and she has set an unrealistically tight deadline of invoking Article 50 by the end of March, which will not leave sufficient time for the preparation of a nuanced negotiating position (for which the UK does not have sufficient qualified civil servants anyway). Even more disturbing is Mrs May’s apparent determination to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights, despite the fact that British legal experts were instrumental in its formulation and only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the ECHR. Moreover, it’s not only our European allies whom Theresa May is alienating. After the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, made an important speech criticising Israel for its settlements policy in occupied Palestine, Mrs May told him off, like some third-rate headmistress. The depth of her incompetence and stupidity is being revealed on a daily basis, yet still she blunders on, convinced that she knows best. The irony is that is was Mrs May who years ago warned the Conservatives that they were seen as the Nasty Party. Well, if the Prime Minister’s 2017 wish list comes about then it is going to prove itself to be even nastier.

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Clean Brexit: Another Post-Truth Myth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th December, 2016

article-2737206-20e2281200000578-660_634x450A full six months have elapsed since Britain’s EU Referendum, yet the public is still being kept in the dark about what Brexit would mean. Prime Minister Theresa May refuses to divulge her “plan” (even to the Queen, which is surely a violation of convention). But many of us suspect that Mrs May still doesn’t have a clue about what should or should not happen. Alas, the clock is ticking towards her March 2017 deadline for triggering Article 50. Meanwhile, the Brexiteers have realised that the term “Hard Brexit” (whereby the U.K. would abruptly leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union) might sound a little off-putting, so they are trying to rebrand it as “Clean Brexit” — a euphemism that makes it sound sane, even desirable. George Orwell ought to be alive today to write about how language corrupts thought in post-truth Britain. It’s not just all the fanciful statistics that get bandied about, most of them plucked from the sky. The really invidious thing is the way that Nigel Farage and the Brexiteers are distorting language to persuade the public that somehow leaving the EU will be good for us. Never mind the fact that the EU has helped maintain peace in Western Europe for 70 years. Or that the UK economy has sunk from 5th in the world to 7th (or even 8th, according to some calculations) just since June. Or that the vultures in the United States and indeed some other EU member states are salivating at the rich pickings that may be waiting for them if the City of London loses some of its prime position. No, Farage, May and the three ghastly Brexit Ministers will continue to try to con us with soothing words, to make us believe that the future will be brilliant once we have achieved our “freedom” from the “dictatorship” of Brussels. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious. But it is serious, and Brexit will only be stopped if people stand up and shout, “No, that’s not what we wanted, at all!”

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Time for Brexiteers to Fess up

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd October, 2016

theresa-villiersIt’s unusual for banks to make the news over a weekend but social media are abuzz over reports that several major banks are considering leaving London, to relocate somewhere on the continent, to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the full benefits of being part of the European single market. During the EU referendum campaign, many of us on the Remain side warned that this might happen, but the Brexiteers poo-pooed the notion, saying that even if Britain leaves the EU it will continue to be able to trade exactly as before, whether in goods or services. Such an argument flies in the face of the realities of the single market, but alas too many Brexiteers were not prepared to engage with facts, especially if they were presented by people who actually knew what they were talking about. Similarly, also this weekend, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, announced categorically that the open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Eire will not be able to function as it does now once the UK is outside the EU. I argued that point against the then Northern Ireland Minister, Theresa Villiers, at a public meeting in Barnet during the referendum campaign and she got thunderous applause from the audience by declaring that there would be absolutely no change to the open border policy after Brexit. What she said was populist codswallop, maintaining that we can have our cake and eat it.

Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson was a serial offender in that respect, making all sorts of fanciful claims during the campaign about how green the grass will be on the other side of the Brexit fence, in total contradiction to the facts. Unsurprisingly, PM Theresa May got a very frosty reception from her 27 EU colleagues at the recent EU Council, so maybe the penny is beginning to drop with her that Brexit is both economically and politically disastrous for Britain. It has already caused the pound to plummet; just wait to hear the howls of protest when inflation starts to rocket as a result of higher-priced imports.  I very much doubt that Mrs May has the courage to say, as she should, “This is madness. Let’s pull back from the brink before banks leave and the economy contracts.” But until she does, the Brexiteers like Boris Johnson and Theresa Villiers should fess up and tell the British public and the more rabid elements of the national media that they lied, repeatedly, during the referendum campaign and that they are sorry, and that whatever unsatisfactory deal is cobbled together over the next two years or so should be put before the electorate to ask whether they really prefer that to staying in the EU, with all the benefits that that brings.

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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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