One of the most depressing things about the whole Brexit business is the way that the UK’s Conservative government is turning its back on Europe. It’s not just Theresa May’s apparent desire to lead the country out of the European Single Market — though the potential hit to the economy from that is enormous — or the rejection, on the basis of the 52% Leave vote in last June’s EU Referendum, of the European project in political terms, even though that is something I continue to believe in passionately. No, the worst thing is many Brexiteers’ pretence that Britain is not part of Europe, as if somehow the English Channel were a thousand miles wide. Not only do such British (though in truth, English) nationalists show an extraordinary lack of knowledge of history but they don’t seem to realise that the bulk of the UK’s population is a hybrid mix of different European origin (prior to the post-War injection of new blood from the Commonwealth). Culturally, we Britons are most definitely European; Bach and Goya and all the thousands of other creative talents, past and present, contributed to a body of culture that is extraordinarily rich and diverse, and shared by Europeans. In Rome this week, walking among the antiquities or viewing the magnificent exhibition of portraits by Giovanni Boldini, I am struck as ever by the sense that this is our heritage, our Europe. The idea that we might in future have to apply for visas to come to the Continent, or that visas will be necessary for EU citizens to visit Britain, if the worst outcome of the Brexit process occurs, is horrible to contemplate. All that explains why I hope that much of the snap UK election that Mrs May has called will be about Europe, and why Europe matters, and why we are Europe and Europe is us. At least the Liberal Democrats get the message.
Posts Tagged ‘UK’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 19th April, 2017
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th April, 2016
A distinctly underwhelming crowd of Vote Leave supporters gathered in Manchester today to hear some of the campaign’s supposedly leading lights, including Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Having kept people guessing for months about which side of the argument he would come down on (typically contradicting himself in the process), Boris finally decided that it was in his own personal interest to campaign for Leave in the UK’s EU Referendum, which will take place on 23 June. For those of us who were familiar with his cavalier attitude to news stories when he was a foreign correspondent based in Brussels, inventing stuff when it allowed him to take a swipe at Europe, this did not come as a great surprise, but the vitriol the Mayor is now pouring out a against those campaigning to Remain in the EU is pungent, even by his standards. Today he accused Prime Minister David Cameron & Co of being the Gerald Ratners of the EU campaign, implying that they know that the EU is crap. That is so far from the truth as to be derisory. Moreover, does Boris not realise how oafish he looks beside Nigel Farage, George Galloway and other poster-boys of the Leave campaign? I believe he has called this whole thing wrongly, which will mean not only will the UK stay in the European Union but also his chances of ever becoming Conservative Prime Minister diminish daily.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th February, 2016
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is in Brussels today for the most important European Council meeting of his time in office. He has to persuade the other 27 EU Heads of Government that an acceptable compromise on his demands for EU reform has been reached, enabling him to return to London to campaign for a “Remain” vote in the forthcoming IN/OUT EU Referendum. It is known that several central and eastern European countries, including Poland, are still unhappy about the key British request that the UK be allowed to deny in-work benefits to EU migrants for a period of four years after their arrival in the country. Yet the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk — himself a former Polish Prime Minister — declared late yesterday that EU leaders have ‘no choice’ but to do a deal on Mr Cameron’s demands. The prospect of Brexit — the UK’s withdrawal following a ‘Leave’ victory in the Referendum — is seen in Brussels as almost too horrible to contemplate. This is not just because most other member states genuinely value British membership and the way Anglo-Saxon values and working practices contribute to the EU mix but even more importantly because there is a fear that were Britain to leave other member states would start to make difficult demands and the whole European project could start to unravel. The discussions on the proposed British reforms will begin at 1645 today and I know from my own past experience covering EU Council meetings for Reuters that these could go on well into the night. If the leaders still have not reached a satisfactory compromise then, they will begin again over breakfast tomorrow morning. But even if Mr Cameron is able to claim victory when he returns to London (which is still not guaranteed) his battles are not over. Within the ruling Conservative Party, and indeed even within the Cabinet, there is deep hostility to the European Union and as soon as the Prime Minister is back in Downing Street those Tory EU opponents will join the campaign for Brexit with all guns blazing.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd August, 2015
The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond is in Tehran today, reopening the Embassy that has been closed for four years following its invasion by demonstrators. Given the recent progress in international negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions this was an inevitable and welcome step. Though Brtain’s engagement in Iran has not always been positive there are strong reasons for the UK — and indeed the European Union — to have closer working relations with this important Middle Eastern power. Commercial opportunities are obvious, but trade should not be the only focus for attention. If there is going to be a regional settlement of Syria’s ongoing civil war then Iran is going to have to be involved. Similarly, wider regional insecurity as well as the fight against ISIS, require closer contacts with Tehran. In particular, it would be helpful to reduce the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which has been a central cause of the recent events in Yemen.
Britain can also usefully use its influence to try to calm Israeli rhetoric against Iran and vice versa; yesterday, in an interview, the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak confirmed that Israel had considered attacking Iran four times over the past decade. Iranian propaganda against what it refers to as the “Zionist entity” is often poisonous, but Israel would find itself in a less ignominious position if it withdrew from occupied Palestine. There is, however, one other major issue that could be an impediment in the way of much closer British-Iranian relations and that is human rights. The Islamic Republic has a poor record in a number of areas, including the treatment of its Ba’hai minority, Kurds, political dissidents, LGBT population and others. And although the UK Foreign Office recently downgraded its emphasis on a worldwide campaign against the death penalty it should not let this issue drop off the agenda in discussions with Iran.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015
One of the striking characteristics of Britain’s current general election has been how very domestic the agenda has been: the NHS, job creation, the cost of living and so forth. Perhaps it is because I live in London, one of the world’s truly global cities, and write and broadcast about international affairs that I find so much of what the politicians are saying or putting in their leaflets dreadfully parochial. Of course local issues matter, but they need to be discussed in the wider context of what is happening globally, not just in economics but regarding the environment, migration, demographic trends and so forth. Moreover, despite UKIP’s higher profile than ever before in a British General election there has been remarkably little discussion about Britain’s role in the SU and the EU’s role in the world either, other than some very basic UKIP’s “we want to leave” and Labour and the Liberal Democrats saying “we should stay” (what the Tories say on the issue depends on which Conservative candidate you speak to). So it was a very welcome initiative on the part of the London branch of the European Movement, London4Europe, the other evening to put on a hustings for candidates from the five main parties at Europe House in Westminster. Interestingly, Mike Gapes for Labour and Dominic Grieve for the Conservatives were both more enthusiastically pro-EU and better informed than their national parties appear on the matter. Anuja Prashar for the Liberal Democrats (incidentally the only woman and only BAME candidate on the panel) not only stood up for the LibDems’ championing of our EU membership but was the only person really to contextualise the debate in 21st century global trends, not least the rise of the BRICS. Hugh Small spoke very competently from the Greens, whereas poor Robert Stephenson for UKIP was very much a fish out of water in this essentially pro-EU environment.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 6th March, 2015
It is frustrating that so much of the discussion about Britain’s relationship with the European Union is about the question “should we be in, or should we be out?” The Prime Minister, David Cameron, must shoulder some of the blame for this, for constantly trying to dance to UKIP’s tune, instead of standing up firmly on the side of most of British business (a natural constituency for him, one would have thought) to stress how important EU membership is for the UK’s economy and how risky leaving to “go it alone” would be. I wish Mr Cameron, and indeed other Tory government Ministers, could have been present yesterday at Thomson Reuters in Canary Wharf to listen to the First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, give a masterly exposition of how the EU can steer itself through the next four or five years, by doing less better. The event was organised by the social democratic think tank Policy Network, focussing especially on EU reform as well as UK membership, but Mr Timmermans also highlighted the need for a more concerted European response to challenges such as Russia’s adventurism, Mediterranean migration and ISIS and related matters. I asked him if that meant that a recalaibration of the EU’s priorities might therefore be towards a stronger Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), at the expense of internal market regulation, but he responded by quoting Harold Macmillan’s classic remark about “events, dear boy” — in other words, the EU must be able to respond pro-actively as necessary. Meanwhile, Britain marginalises itself from EU action to the detriment of both London and Brussels; I have already blogged about my dismay that Mr Cameron stood aloof from the Merkel-Hollande mission re Ukraine. On that specific issue, Mr Timmermans said that even if the Minsk Agreement has not yet reached a satisfactory conclusion, Minsk must be the basis for taking things forward.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 5th February, 2015
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are in Kiev today and tomorrow will move on to Moscow — all in aid of trying to mediate a peace deal between the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed rebels on Eastern Ukraine. They are to be congratulated for confronting head-on the most serious threat to security in the European Union’s neighbourhood since the Cold War. They are right to believe that the European Union should be pro-active in its commitment to peace and stability, not only within and between EU member states but in the neighbourhood as well. But where is Britain in all this, or more precisely David Cameron? The UK is a major player in NATO operations, but under Mr Cameron it has increasingly side-lined itself from EU activity. The Ukraine peace initiative would have been stronger with the involvement of the three most powerful member states: Britain, France and Germany. But once again, as so often over the past half century and more, the British government has left it up to a Franco-German alliance. David Cameron might claim to be too busy to drop everything to go to Ukraine and Russia, though Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande cleared their diaries for the trip. Besides, Mr Cameron had no problem dropping everything recently to go cap in hand to Riyadh, to pay his respects to the Saudi Royal family. No, what I fear is all to obvious is that the Prime Minister didn’t want to be seen as doing anything too ‘European’ out of fear of UKIP and his own Tory backbench MPs. So once again The UK has missed the boat at a crucial moment in the EU’s evolution. And Mr Cameron should hang his head in shame.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Britain, David Cameron, EU, European Union, France, Francois Hollande, Germany, Kiew, Moscow, NATO, Riyadh, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UK, UKIP, Ukraine | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 27th December, 2014
The “long campaign” period for the UK’s May 2015 general election has already started, though with the intervention of Christmas people could be forgiven for not noticing. What I find fascinating is that unless there is a massive sea change in British politics over the next few months, the result — in terms of what sort of government will come into power — is wide open. Normally one would have expected the main Opposition party, Labour, to have been enjoying substantial opinion poll leads while the Coalition government was implementing some unpopular austerity measures (along with some far more palatable ones). But that hasn’t happened. Instead, for quite some time now, the Conservatives and Labour have been boxing and coxing for first place in the polls and both have been struggling to attract the support of one third of the electorate. Of course, the surge on UKIP’s support during 2014 has been an important factor in this change, though UKIP seems unlikely to win more than a token number of seats. The Scottish nationalists (SNP), on the other hand, could do spectacularly well, at the expense of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. All this means that no single party is likely to be able to command a majority in the House of Commons after 7 May, which means another Coalition is the most likely outcome. But a Coalition between whom? That is anyone’s guess. Which is why the UK’s 2015 general election will be the most exciting in a generation.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st April, 2014
At the weekend, the former Labour MP Barbara Roche declared in a newspaper column, “I agree with Nick!”, referring to the two debates the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg held with his UKIP counterpart, Nigel Farage, over IN or OUT re Britain and the EU. Of course, I agree with Nick, too, but in trying to analyse why Mr Farage appeared to most people to have come out better from the confrontations– despite the fact that a narrow majority of Brits are reportedly now in favour of the UK’s membership of the EU — I have come to the conclusion that while Nick nobly stuck to facts, rather than Nigel Farage’s fantasy, facts and figures don’t necessarily win arguments of this sort. Farage came out with some very clear policy recommendations — end labour mobility within the EU, then leave the Union all together — which he put over with passion. I do not question Nick Clegg’s belief in the wisdom of continued British EU membership, or indeed of the need for European states to club together if they are going to compete properly in a highly competitive, multipolar world. But in such debates, perhaps he and other Liberal Democrats should show more passion — as he did when endorsing equal marriage, for example. Even people who are uninterested in politics often respond to passion. And it would be good when one has such a platform to put forward a clear, concrete proposal on how Liberal Democrats want to reform the EU from within. I’ve been trying to use that mixture of policy and passion in the hustings I’ve done so far, and though of course I will probably never win over any UKIP supporters or Tory Europhobes in the audience, I’ve found in general people have reacted well when I have unequivocally stood up for what I believe in, which is that Britain’s future is at the heart of Europe and that the EU must evolve in a way that guarantees peace and prosperity for all.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 18th March, 2014
The Irish in London have been in a fairly frolicking mood these last few days — perhaps not surprising considering St. Patrick’s Day. But there is more to it than that. As the (relatively new) Irish Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s, Dan Mulhall, put it at an event in the European Commission’s representation office, Europe House, this evening, the relationship between the UK and Eire has entered a whole new dimension by being fellow members of the European Union. That relationship has not always been easy in the past, given the resistance by certain English quarters to Irish home rule (the great Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone being a significant exception). But the combination of the Good Friday Agreement over Northern Ireland and mutual interests within the EU have brought London and Dublin closer together now than ever in living memory. The Queen made what was generally regarded as a most successful visit to the Irish Republic in 2011, and the current Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, is due here in London on the first ever state visit ere long. Ambassador Mulhall was in Europe House this evening for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by the Irish artist — long resident in London — Bernard Canavan, and naturally mused on the subject of Canavan’s work, which is largely about the Irish diaspora in the UK, from the Irish navvies working for Murphy’s to the nurses that helped keep the NHS afloat before more exotic helpmates arrived from elsewhere. Perhaps now some Brits could learn a thing or two from the Irish expats, not least a greater understanding of our common European identity, not only in culture but on a political level. All of the hundreds of thousands of Irish resident in the UK can vote here in the European elections on 22 May, of course, but so too can the residents of the other 26 EU member states other than Britain. The EU citizens, who make up such a vibrant part of London’s economy — as well as that in the UK as a whole — need to stand up and be counted, as to why Britain needs to be at the heart of the EU, not just for their future but for ours.