Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Theresa May’

Armistice 2018 Commemoration

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th November, 2018

3FD0BB67-E403-4016-BDB7-B1A8C5D35606I found pictures of the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris today deeply moving. President Emmanuel Macron spoke with dignity against nationalism and war. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, stood next to him, underlining how these two great European powers, which had fought each other three times during a period of just 75 years, are now allies and the mainstay of the European Union — a body which now unites not just most of the countries of Western Europe but also the formerly Communist states of central and Eastern Europe. It was good that both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump were present, too (even if Trump blotted his copybook by pulling out of an earlier, related engagement because rain was forecast). Despite some recent tensions in the West’s relations with Russia, the Cold War, which kept us teetering on the verge of nuclear Armageddon, is long over. Scores of nations were represented at senior level in Paris, but shamefully Theresa May was not there. Apparently she thought it more important to be at the Cenitaph in London rather than participate in this unique, truly global event. Reportedly she sent David Lidington MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) instead, though naturally he did not get to stand with the top leaders, thus relegating the UK to second rank. At a time when Britain’s reputation is at rock bottom among our EU partners as Brexit loooms and many Conservative and Labour politicians fall over themselves to be rude to the EU and the 27 other member states, while banging the drum of British exceptionalism, this was a serious miscalculation. Theresa May is trashing the UK’s standing in Europe and the wider world, while Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn just stands on the sideline, nodding.

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700,000 March for a People’s Vote

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st October, 2018

March for the FutureCentral London was brought to a standstill yesterday when an estimated 700,000 people marched from Park Lane to Parliament Square calling for a “Final Say” on any proposed deal between Britain and the EU — with an option to remain in membership. So many people turned up, from all round the country — far more than even the organisers expected — that there wasn’t room for everyone to fit into Whitehall and Parliament Square. The weather was glorious and the atmosphere festive, despite occasional small groups of Brexiteers heckling from the sidelines. A number of MPs from all parties took part, though one conspicuous absentee was Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who reportedly ordered his front-bench team not to go. As Mr Corbyn has been a serial protester for decades and this was the biggest demonstration since the anti-Iraq War march 15 years ago the message could not be clearer: the Labour leadership is not listening to the overwhelming majority of the party’s membership who want Britain to remain in the EU.

March for the Future 1Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, is sticking to her line that there won’t be another public vote on Brexit, but as time goes by and she has failed to come up up with a deal, it is quite possible that she won’t be Prime Minister next year. The scheduled date for the UK’s departure from the bloc is 29 March 2019, but there are growing calls for the so-called Article 50 period to be extended or for some other fudge to be agreed that will essentially allow Britain to remain part of the EU’s single market and customs union for a while until a solution to such thorny issues as the land border on the island of Ireland are sorted out. It may well be that some problems just can’t be sorted out and that the numbers of people opposing Brexit will swell further as they realise that they were sold a pup during the 2016 EU Referendum by the false promises of the Leave campaign. Yesterday’s demo was so large that even the BBC had to take notice and some of the foreign TV coverage was spectacular. It’s good that our EU partners and the wider world knows that even if the Conservative government has lost its marbles over Brexit — cheered on by the even more extreme DUP from Northern Ireland — millions of Britons know Brexit is a terrible mistake — and that includes many who voted Leave two years ago.

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Why Theresa Is Cross at Boris

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd October, 2018

May Johnson 1Boris Johnson reportedly attracted over 1,000 people to his fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference today. He remains the Tory activists’ darling. But the Prime Minister is not amused. In fact she told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg that what she had heard about her former Foreign Secretary’s speech had made her “cross” —  which is strong language from a woman who confessed a while back that the naughtiest thing she had ever done in her life was to run through a field of wheat as a child. Typically, Boris did a photo shoot yesterday in a pair of his ghastly Hawaiian shorts running across a field in a move clearly aimed to poke fun at Mrs May and to draw attention away from other politicians present at Birmingham. His “Chuck Chequers” performance today had Boris groupies queuing round the block, while the main conference chamber has often been three-quarters empty. The real reason for Theresa May’s anger (other than his gross disloyalty and the fact that he has been singularly rude about her Chequers Brexit plan) was sparked because, she said, “he wanted to tear up our guarantee to the people of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is part of the UK.” As for Chequers, Boris reportedly said in a typical Johnson flourish that the PM risked being prosecuted under a 14th century law saying that “no foreign court or government shall have jurisdiction in this country” — describing Chequers as an “outrage”.

Boris Johnson runningHowever, many of Mrs May’s Cabinet colleagues share her distaste for Boris’s antics at a time when the government is trying to rally support behind Brexit negotiations. Those negotiations are looking increasingly fraught, however, with little likelihood of a breakthrough unless the UK government compromises on Chequers quite significantly. But that would provoke a backlash from MPs belonging to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group, as well, probably, as from the DUP, on whose support Mrs May depends for her parliamentary majority. That means whatever deal is put to Parliament has a strong probability of being voted down. Mrs May’s future as leader would then be very much in doubt, though that may not lead to Boris taking over. As I pointed out in an interview with HispanTV this morning, under the Conservative Party rules, in a leadership MPs choose which two candidates to put before the wider membership for selection, and Boris has made many enemies among his colleagues in the House. “Charlatan” and “egotist” are two of the politer words being used about him, but should there be a contest some time over the next few months we can probably be assured of some far more colourful language as Tory MPs plot how to Stop Boris.

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Europe: The Tories Have Lost the Plot

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st October, 2018

Jeremy Hunt 1Yesterday, at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt compared the European Union to the “prison” of the Soviet Union and accused the EU of trying to prevent member states from leaving. That is the sort of intemperate language we came to expect from his predecessor, Boris Johnson, so it appears Hunt has taken over Johnson’s agenda as well as his role — an agenda that may well include a pitch for the Tory leadership when Conservative MPs feel it is time to ditch Theresa May. Mild-mannered Sir John Major is the only former Conservative Prime Minister left alive (apart from David Cameron, who initiated this Brexit mess) and he has made quite clear that he thinks Brexit is a terrible mistake. What a pity that Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher are not still around as well, as from their different perspectives they too would have put their boot into this pathetic government that has swallowed UKIP’s rhetoric hook, line and sinker.

May Juncker 1 Instead of negotiating with our 27 EU partners Mrs May and her colleagues have been increasingly insulting and threatening them. How not to win friends and influence people. If Britain crashes out of the EU on 29 March 2019 without a deal it will be entirely this government’s fault and we shouldn’t be surprised if the remaining EU members sigh “good riddance”! Britain under the Tories is becoming a nasty, xenophobic nation with a domestic “hostile environment” and an arrogant foreign policy akin to that of Donald Trump. But the UK is no USA, however much Tories wallow in the nostalgia of an Empire long since gone. It is no longer a top rank player on the world stage. Britain is now a middle-ranking country gradually slipping down the world economic league, and instead of using our membership of the EU to protect and grow our prosperity, the government is kicking our European partners in the privates, including and particularly the Republic of Ireland. One result could well be the break-up of the United Kingdom as the Scots, Northern Irish (and one day, maybe the Welsh) decide they do not want to be hitched up to the English nationalists. Listening to some of the people attending the Conservative Party conference, especially the youth wing of the Jacob Rees-Mogg fan club, it is obvious they do not really care about the social fabric of this country and are happy to make prep-school jokes about Johnny Foreigner. This used to be a party that prided itself on being competent, but on Europe — as on so much else — it has totally lost the plot. Interestingly, in London, Tory party membership has fallen below that of the resurgent Liberal Democrats’. But as the Tories sink beneath the waves somewhere in the mid-Atlantic they risk pulling the country down with them.

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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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What Hope for Palestine?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 28th September, 2018

Netanyahu TrumpOn the fringes of the UN General Assembly in New York, Donald Trump met Binyamin Netanyahu for a friendly chat. The relationship between the United States and Israel remains as close as it has ever been. President Trump did say in his trademark casual way that he thought he liked the idea of a two-state solution to the Middle East impasse. But his actions so far have done everything to undermine that goal. First there was the decision to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in defiance of the almost universal convention that until the final status of Jerusalem has been agreed, the Holy City should not be acknowledged as Israel’s capital. The PLO Office in Washington was ordered closed and bilateral relations between the US and Palestine downgraded. Then came the swingeing cuts to US funding for UNWRA, the agency that supports Palestinian refugees as well as the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, leaving millions of people — many already on the breadline — destitute. No wonder that the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has declared that the Americans are no longer a credible mediator.

Israe; Palestine separation wallThe Netanyahu government, meanwhile, was quick to announce that any future Palestinian state will be a “state-minus”. It won’t be allowed to be in charge of its own defence and security, as Tel Aviv intends to keep control of things militarily right up to the Jordanian border. So in other words, the Occupation would continue in all but name. Moreover, the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in contravention to international law, means that there is no viable Palestinian state left any more. The best that can be hoped for is a few little bantustans within an apartheid system. Anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” in the Israel/Palestine context today needs to study the Nation State law recently passed in the Israeli Knesset. Non-Jews were de facto discriminated against within Israel before the passing of the law, but now that discrimination is officially sanctioned. As the USA under Trump is not going to do anything significant to stop the ongoing deterioration of the situation for Palestinians, it is time for the European Union to step up to the plate and become the Middle East mediator, with economic as well as political pressure on Israel to change its ways. Given Britain’s historical responsibility for mandate-era Palestine, the UK ought to be in the forefront of such action, though that is unlikely so long as Theresa May’s Conservatives are in power. However, one ray of sunshine in the otherwise cloudy landscape is that the Labour Party this week called for the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine following a similar move by the Liberal Democrats last year.

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Does Anyone Know Labour’s Brexit Plan?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th September, 2018

Keir Starmer 1Sir Keith Starmer caused great delight among Remainers at the Labour Party conference in Liverpool yesterday when he went off-script and said that not only was a public vote (he avoided the campaigning People’s Vote) on Brexit “on the table” but that this would include an option to Remain. After a moment’s stunned silence, hundreds of delegates were on their feet applauding, while veteran Eurosceptic Dennis Skinner sat scowling on the front row. He will not have been alone in his dismay, as some trade union leaders have been arguing that there should be a referendum, but only between Mrs May’s deal with the EU (whatever that turns out to be) or No Deal — a line also adopted by Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. On Newsnight last night, Emily Maitlis tried valiantly to get a straight answer out of Diane Abbott about what Labour’s position on Brexit now is, but as so often with the Shadow Home Secretary, it was like trying to pin down blancmange. Basically Ms Abbott argued that we would have to wait and see what Mrs May came up with. But as nothing Mrs May can come up with is going to satisfy the Six Tests by which Labour said it would judge the Brexit deal, this is just kicking the can down the road. Surely the Opposition, just six months out from EU Departure Day, ought to have a coherent policy on Brexit by now? Instead their default position remains “We want a general election!” However, Theresa May has said there is not going to be a snap general election. So get off the fence on Brexit before it is too late, Labour. Are you now in favour of a People’s Vote (Like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens) and if so, will Remain be an option, as Keir Starmer stated, or is all this still an exercise in smoke and mirrors?

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When the World Laughs at Trump

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 25th September, 2018

Donald Trump VsignThere was an extraordinary scene at the UN General Assembly in New York when US President Donald Trump declared from the rostrum that his administration had probably achieved more than any other US administration in history: everyone laughed. Even Fox News carried the embarrassing moment live. And when the President said, “Well, I wasn’t expecting that reaction!”, they laughed even harder. It really does seem that Mr Trump thinks he is the best leader since Abraham Lincoln, or maybe George Washington. There is no limit to his vanity and self-delusion. But at least he has now felt the pin-prick of polite public scorn. From the whole world. Is he so surrounded by sycophants at the White House that he is unaware what people think? Of course, the smiles on the faces of many of the delegates at the UNGA were bitter ones, as there are so many ways that Trump has harmed the planet in the two years he has been in power, from rowing back on measures designed to limit climate change to trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear deal. Because he is who he is, even British Prime Minister Theresa May — who clearly did not relish having her hand grabbed by him when she visited Washington — feels she has to suck up to him, reluctantly admitting to a reporter the other day, after repeated questioning, that she does “trust” Donald Trump. Mind you, poor Mrs May is not in a much better position, as much of the world is laughing at her and Brexit Britain too. This is not a healthy state of affairs for the so-called Western World. Of course, Donald Trump may be voted out in 2020, assuming he is not impeached first, whereas Mrs May could in principle be in Downing Street until 2022, though that is looking increasingly unlikely. What a lamentable state of affairs!

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Theresa May’s Temper Tantrum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 22nd September, 2018

Theresa May Downing StreetTheresa May returned from the Salzburg EU Council in angry bird mode. In a fiery statement at 10 Downing Street she accused our 27 EU partners of a lack of respect and demanded that they come up with a workable alternative to her rejected Chequers Plan for Brexit. She was obviously riled by EU Council President Donald Tusk’s admittedly cheeky Instagram posting of a photo of the two of them with a cake-stand loaded with pastries, captioned “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries.” This was a reference to the charge that Britain is trying to cherry-pick some of the greatest benefits of EU membership as it formally leaves the Union. Most notably, the Chequers Plan proposes effectively remaining in the European single market for goods and food, but not for services. The British government has been told repeatedly that this is a non-starter, as the EU is determined that the single market must not be undermined; it is indivisible. The 27 remaining members are united on that and French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, was deeply irritated that Mrs May chirpily repeated her Chequers proposals at Salzburg all the same.

Tusk May cakeTo make matters worse, back in Downing Street the Prime Minister asserted that the EU had not explained why the Chequers Plan won’t work, which, to put it bluntly, is a lie. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, had set out very clearly the fundamental objections some time ago to his clueless British counterpart, Dominic Raab. The EU also believes that the British still have not come up with a workable solution to the Irish border issue — and it is for Britain to do so, Brussels argues, as it is Britain that is leaving the EU, not the other way round. But it was clear from Theresa May’s combative statement yesterday that facts are no longer at the centre of her political rhetoric. She has adopted the Trumpian disdain for truth that characterises her Brexiteer Tory MP colleagues. And it was to them, not to Brussels, that her remarks yesterday were really aimed. She is fighting to save her political skin. Chequers is dead as a dodo, but she is on the endangered list too, now. And meanwhile the clock ticks towards 29 March 2019, the scheduled date for Britain’s departure from the EU, which seriously threatens to be a disastrous crashing out with no deal unless common sense — and ideally a People’s Vote — prevails.

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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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