Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Vladimir Putin’

A New Cold War?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 31st May, 2020

UyghursIn recent weeks, both houses of the US Congress almost unanimously passed a Bill calling on the Trump administration to enact sanctions against China for its human rights violations in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region. Republicans expect the President soon to sign this into law. The main individual target is Chen Quanguo, the Communist Party’s regional secretary, whom the Bill accuses of gross human rights violations against the local Muslim population, many hundreds of thousands of whom have been detained in re-education camps in what some international human rights groups have termed cultural genocide. This is not the first time that China’s Han-dominated regime has tried to eradicate the religious beliefs and cultural norms of a minority ethnicity, of course; the military occupation of Tibet in 1959 caused a flood of refugees over the Himalayas to Nepal and India, while those who remained behind witnessed their heritage being largely destroyed, especially during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Josep BorrellIn the case of the Uyghurs another disturbing element has been the use of forced labour in detention centres and in factories across the country, with several major Western companies in fields such as fashion and electronics complicit in this abuse through their supply chains. The US Bill specifically calls on US companies and individuals working in the region to cut ties that involve forced labour in Xinjiang. This move in Washington coincides with the stated determination of the European Union to be more “robust” in its dealings with China. At a virtual meeting of the bloc’s Foreign Ministers on Friday, the EU in particular expressed its “grave concern” over China’s new security law relating to Hong Kong, which it said was not in line with Beijing’s international commitments. However, the EU — whose member states are divided about how strongly they want to stand up against China — stopped short of approving any sanctions against China.

Hong Kong demosThe issue of Hong Kong is particularly sensitive in Britain, the former colonial power. Now the UK is no longer a member of the EU it has to decide its own line on disagreements with Beijing. But in London, too, there are divided opinions, for example regarding the wisdom of letting the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei be integrated into the country’s 5G network. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is close to US President Trump, however, and the latter has become increasingly strident in his criticism of China, whom he particularly blames for the COVID-19 pandemic and for allegedly manipulating the WHO. Other Western governments have also increasingly expressed concern about what they see as China’s projection of disinformation since Xi Jinping consolidated his hold on power — a tactic previously mainly associated with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. This does all lead me to wonder whether a new Cold War is in the offing. The last one, between Washington plus its allies against Moscow plus theirs, ended with the collapse of Communism in Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union. But the new one would be between Washington and Beijing, with a disparate group of nations lining up on either side. But whereas the US could with justification claim to have “won” the last Cold War, its chances this time are perhaps not so bright. Despite Donald Trump’s bluster about Making America Great Again, he has presided over his country’s decline on the international stage, while China, despite recent economic setbacks, partly related to COVID19, remains on the ascendant.

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A Different Europe Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 9th May, 2020

Europe Day 2020In recent years on Europe Day, 9 May, I have usually been attending a concert at St. John’s Smith Square, sponsored by the European Commission office which occupied the former Conservative Party headquarters opposite. These days the latter building houses the EU delegation to the UK, because Britain left the European Union on 31 January, in keeping with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s determination to Get Brexit Done. Because of COVID-19 there could not have been a Europe Day concert and reception this week, anyway, as all such public events are potentially dangerous and in fact prohibited under the “new normal”. But millions of Brits who, like myself, bitterly regret the EU’s uncoupling from our 27 European friends and neighbours — though “resent” would be a more accurate verb in my case — still like to see ourselves as Europeans and cherish the values at the heart of the European project, many of which are under assault not only from distant rulers including Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping but also from within, notably from Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. Those values and the peace that our continent has enjoyed for the past 75 years need to be resolutely championed. And even if I shan’t have my spirits raised by the traditional rendering of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as the finale of a Europe Day concert this year I shall celebrate my European heritage and future with a suitably sourced Mediterranean lunch washed down by a fine bottle of pinot noir.

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Britain Casts Itself Adrift

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 21st December, 2019

03ED2EAA-8A9B-4ADE-B461-49A127C5F5BEHot on the heels of the Conservative election win last week, guaranteeing that Brexit will happen on 31 January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made clear that after leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be subject to EU rules and regulations. The government must know full well that this determination, if followed through, will mean that there can be no frictionless trade agreement with the EU27, either at the end of the projected transition period — arbitrarily set and enshrined in law by Mr Johnson’s Hard Brexiteers as 31 December 2020 — or ever. There is no way that the EU is going to compromise on its standards (from which British consumers have benefitted for nearly half a century) just to please London. So inevitably the UK economy will pivot towards the United States, the land of chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-injected beef. US pharmaceutical companies are already salivating at the thought of the killing they may make by foisting higher-priced drugs on the NHS. Of course, trade with the US will not in the foreseeable future make up for the inevitable shortfall in trade with the Continent and the Republic of Ireland. But Brexiteers argue that the UK will now be “free” to look elsewhere for trading partners (ignoring the fact that it always was). These presumably would include the Big Four BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. However, one should note that those four emerging powers do not share our values, let alone our standards, unlike the EU. I am not saying that Messrs. Bolsonaro, Putin, Modi and Xi are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but I would not fancy being stuck alone on a desert island with any one of them.

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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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Angela Merkel Nails It

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th May, 2017

Angela Merkel 2In a campaign speech in Bavaria, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, today declared bluntly that Europe can no longer rely on the United States as a core ally, now that Donald Trump is in charge — and that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy has put the United Kingdom beyond the pale, too. Although Frau Merkel emphasized the need for friendly relations with the USA, Britain and Russia, she declared, “We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” The Chancellor is recently back from the G7 Summit in Taormina, Sicily, and what happened there clearly made her realise that America under Trump and the UK under May cannot be fully trusted as allies. “The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” she said.

Trump May 1 The Trump administration, of course, leaked sensitive security information following the Manchester bombing, which must make even Mrs May regret that she cuddled up so closely to the Donald following his election victory. Even more uncomfortable is the reality that in the minds of the leader of Germany and of several of her continental counterparts, Trump, May and Putin (albeit not in equal measure) are now a triumvirate of the unreliable. How shaming for Britain, and it’s all the fault of the UK Conservatives embracing the hard Brexit narrative with all the fervour of new converts to the religion of UKIP. For an ardent European and Liberal Democrat such as myself this is painful in the extreme. Mrs May declared some weeks ago that the nation is behind her, 100%, but that is not true, Mrs May. It’s not just many among the 48% who voted Remain in last June’s EU Referendum who can see that you are in danger of leading Britain over the white cliffs of Dover without a parachute. Many who for various reasons voted Leave now also see the folly of your strategy. Actually, strategy is the wrong word, as it is all too clear that when it comes to Brexit you have no strategy, and your three idiotic Brexit Ministers have no plan. There are just 10 days for this message to get across to the general public before the general election voting. But the conclusion is clear: if you care about Britain’s future and its place in the world, Don’t Vote Tory!

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Weak and Unstable: Britain’s Brexit Government

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 7th May, 2017

Theresa May 8Theresa May and her camp followers have adopted with gusto the rather tiresome mantra “Strong and Stable”. I wonder if they realise that it was Adolf Hitler who brought that phrase to prominence, in Mein Kampf. Now, I am not suggesting Mrs May is a neo-Nazi, like Marine Le Pen. But apart from the fact that she scores nuls points for originality in political slogans, the Prime Minister’s “strong and stable” catchphrase repeated ad nauseam is an egregious example of alternative facts, an Orwellian distortion of words that chimes with the era of Donald Trump and Brexit. And, of course, in this case it is all about Brexit. What the Conservative government is doing, having co-opted UKIP’s agenda, is trying to hoodwink the British public into agreeing that it is providing decisive leadership in Britain’s best interests — whereas the reality is that it is doing precisely the opposite. The cack-handedness of their whole approach since the EU Referendum last June has illustrated their incompetence. They hadn’t planned for a Leave vote, and once it happened they floundered around, with chief ditherer and fantasist Boris Johnson despatched to the Foreign Office to try to explain things to the rest of the world. The rest of the world, with the possible exception of Putin’s Russia and other enemies of liberal democracy plus Donald Trump, is aghast. And instead of dealing sensibly with our 27 EU partners in the prolonged negotiations that are about to start, Mrs May has indicated that she intends to try to brow-beat them, cheered on by rabid Brexit media such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. No-wonder several of her key Downing Street advisors have resigned, as even true blue apparatchiks know that you do not succeed in negotiations if you insult the other side to their face. The sad truth is that the whole Brexit thing is going to go horribly wrong, with serious damage to the British economy and not least to the poorer parts of the British population — and Mrs May is going to blame it all on Brussels, as she wraps herself Boudica-like in the Union Jack. But she should remember that Boudica lost, as she will lose. “Strong and stable” May is a myth. She is weak and unstable, but the only way to stop her is to vote her out of office.

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France: Fingers Crossed for Macron

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 23rd April, 2017

emmanuel-macronVoters in France go to the polls today in the first round of presidential elections. If the opinion polls are right, none of the 11 candidates is likely to garner as much as a quarter of the votes, but what is crucial under the French voting system is which two come first and second — even if there are only a few votes between second and third — as there will be a run-off between the two front runners in a second round of voting in two weeks’ time. Pundits on both sides of the Channel are agreed that what one might call “traditional” party’s candidates are unlikely to make the grade. More probable is that the centrist former investment banker and civil servant, Emmanuel Macron, who has never held elected office, will go head-to-head with Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National dynasty. One has to note that the leftist Socialist Jean-Luc Mélenchon has been surging in the polls recently and it’s not impossible that the conservative Francois Fillon, recently accused of nepotism, might rally. So all is still to play for as voters make up their minds. Indeed, in the turbulent Western politics post-Brexit and Trump it maybe rash to even try to predict the outcome. What may be crucial is the turn-out; voting in France is not compulsory and some disillusioned voters may decide to stay at home. Even if Le Pen’s supporters may be more highly motivated (especially after the recent shooting of a policeman by a Frenchman of North African origin), which could mean she might just sneak into first place, most commentators believe she would be trashed in the second round. That is what happened to her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when Jacques Chirac wiped the floor with him in the second round in 2002 (though I suspect Marine could poll better than her father’s final tally of just under 18%). The question therefore is: who is best placed to beat Marine, even if in principle any of the leading contenders should be able to? I believe the answer to that is Emmanuel Macron, not just because he is new, looks good and is clearly intelligent, but for two other reasons related to policy. The first is that he is a keen European (unlike Marine, who argues for a “Frexit”, and is unsurprisingly chummy with Russia’s Vladimir Putin). The other reason is that Macron understands that if France is to compete effectively it has to reform its attitude to work, deregulation and so on. The economy needs a shake-up, which would benefit not only France but help strengthen the eurozone. That’s important for Britain’s trading future, too, whatever form of Brexit emerges from the May government’s current quagmire.

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Verhofstadt’s Warnings to Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th February, 2017

guy-verhofstadt-isaiah-berlin-lectureEurope currently faces three serious threats: Islamic terrorism, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. At least that was the view of Belgian MEP (and the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator), Guy Verhofstadt, when he gave the Isaiah Berlin lecture for Liberal International at Chatham House in London earlier this week. He warned that the European Union now has fewer friends in the United States than ever, with Mr Trump himself openly trying to break it up, just as Mr Putin is trying to undermine it. But Guy acknowledged that Europe itself is in a crisis — a “polycrisis”, as he called it — “a crisis of migration, of internal security, of geopolitical weakness in our neighbourhood.” This is unsustainable in the modern world, he argued, urging that the EU must reform. However, his words were not all doom and gloom, as he declared that Brexit “is a golden opportunity … to get our act together inside the European Union. What is really needed is not new ideas; the ideas already exist… we have the building blocks… we need the capacities… to do what is necessary.”

Guy is a former Prime Minister of Belgium who leads the ALDE group within the European Parliament. His latest book is entitled Europe’s Last Chance, which I shall review when a copy is available. For many of us in Britain, of course, the great tragedy is that the UK has willfully stepped aside from confronting the challenges facing the EU, at a time when we should be leading, not leaving. Prime Minister Theresa May blithely says that Britain will be great on the global stage, but even if she can hold the country together (which is far from certain), Britain on its own is far weaker than being part of the EU — and Donald Trump for one is well aware of that.

 

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Trump, NATO and the EU

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 15th December, 2016

img_1788Earlier this week I was one of the speakers at a Global Diplomatic Forum event in London on the foreign policy consequences of Donald Trump becoming US President. The other members of the panel were the new Latvian Amnassador to the Court of St James’s and the Conservative MP, Daniek Kawczynzki. By chance, the Ambassador and I were seated on a sofa on one side of the Chair, Andrew Wilson, while Dan Kawczynski was alone on another the other side, and that was exactly how our alignment went when it came to the discussion. Mr Kawczynski set the tone by focusing his opening remarks on why a Trump presidency is welcome and how we should engage more with Russia. It is disconcerting how pro Putin so many right wing Conservative as well as UKIP politicians are. The Ambassador countered with a resume of how Latvia suffered under Soviet Occupation and I spoke of what I had seen of Russian encroachment in Georgia this summer, as well as the assassination of journalists and liberal politicians in Moscow. But I also spoke of my wider concerns of what promises to be greater US isolationism under Trump, regarding international trade, climate change and so on. The appointment of Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State does not bode well, either. I would have liked to discuss things further with Daniel Kawczynski in the coffee break, but he shot out of the event like a bat out of hell.

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Why Is the BBC Normalising Extemism?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th November, 2016

Today, Remembrance Sunday, the BBC screened an interview with France’s far right leader, Marine Le Pen. Doubtless Andrew Marr and his producer are feeling proud of themselves with this journalistic “coup” that has caused such a storm on twitter, but they should be ashamed of themselves. Not only did this choice of interviewee dishonour the memory of people who died in the last century as victims of fascism and Hitler’s, Mussolini’s and Franco’s wars but it also gave a powerful platform to extremism. This came on top of the blanket coverage given to Nigel Farage and UKIP (which Le Pen’s Front National recognises as a sister party) over the past few years, especially in the run-up to the EU Referendum. BBC boffins would doubtless justify Farage’s being their most frequent Question Time guest on the grounds that he is entertaining, but there is nothing entertaining about the core values of Farage or Le Pen or Donald Trump, who also got massive coverage on the BBC. Lord Reith must be spinning in his grave. Farage and Le Pen are both part of the Trump-Putin axis that is speedily developing — an alliance that holds liberal European values in contempt. In case anyone doubts this in the British context, just watch when Farage leads what he hopes will be 100,000 UKIP, BNP and EDL Brexiteers to intimidate the Supreme Court when it convenes to review the recent High Court ruling on Article 50. Britain is heading into dangerous waters and instead of sounding the warning bells the BBC is becoming the extremists’ megaphone..

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