ASSOCIATION OF EUROPEAN JOURNALISTS
UNITED KINGDOM SECTION
No deal on Brexit?
How likely is no deal with the EU on Brexit? Much more than there was two weeks ago. There is now growing speculation and analysis of this possibility after two weeks of political chaos in the UK. Both the EU and the IMF issued warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU without any agreed deal. And although Prime Minister Theresa May keeps insisting she doesn’t want a hard or “cliff edge” Brexit her actions could mean this is exactly where the UK is headed. Not unexpectedly the EU took her negotiating stance apart at the end of the week as formal negotiations resumed. There is even a report that her government will now send out weekly bulletins on how to prepare for a disorderly Brexit. For a longer more thoughtful look at this try the BBC's Briefing Room.
On July 16 and 17 she managed to get Parliamentary approval of both her customs and trade legislation in preparation for Brexit – by the narrowest of margins and with questionable tactics. In the process she accepted four amendments to her plans from hard-line Brexiters and still managed to get all but a handful of her Conservative party to support her. The votes followed an agreement she forged from her cabinet a week earlier – and that fell apart starting two days later with a series of resignations, 10 in total including two of the three major cabinet Brexit hardliners David Davis and Boris Johnson. On July 6 Prime Minister Theresa May gathered her cabinet at her country retreat Chequers to get their agreement on a Brexit negotiating position. When the day ended she said she had it – and reported overseas here by the France 24 tv channel and the New York Times. Two days later the minister responsible for negotiating Brexit – David Davis – resigned, saying he could not support her position on Brexit and potentially upsetting her "delicate" balancing act of staying in power. He was replaced within 12 hours by another pro-Brexit cabinet minister Dominic Raab. Then Boris Johnson, the foreign minister and most prominent Brexiteer, resigned – again as reported overseas here by CNN and the Washington Post. That was just 30 minutes before the prime minister was scheduled to meet with her members of Parliament to seek their support. Key EU officials and politicians kept their remarks cautious – Mrs. May had visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel the day before her cabinet meeting. She is reported to have asked Mrs. Merkel to help restrain any immediate EU criticism of her plan, an amended version of her previously proposed customs arrangement which would keep EU rules on trade in goods but not on services, which constitute about 80 per cent of UK trade. The ongoing political moves follow Mrs. May’s victory in getting Parliamentary approval for her legislation bringing all EU rules into UK law.
Germany and the EU
Both supporters and opponents of Brexit might want to consider their expectations of Germany’s role in the process. That was NOT the message to the AEJ UK from Britain’s former ambassador to Germany - but it was inherent in his wide ranging and in depth analysis of Germany’s role in Europe. Sir Paul Lever, UK ambassador to Germany from 1997 to 2003 and author of a recent book on the subject, says despite becoming Europe’s dominant power, Germany has limited policy ambitions and no blueprint for Europe’s future. At the AEJ UK on June 25, Sir Paul said Germany’s key goals are supporting its national interests and economic strength while preserving what has already been achieved in Europe. So it is unlikely to show any appetite for grand EU integration plans as suggested by France's President Emmanuel Macron - and has already shown constraints on any support for adjustments to the EU’s trading relations with Britain under both UK Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May. For more on Sir Paul’s wide ranging and in-depth analysis please see this report by AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript of his remarks and following discussion.
UK Parliament passes EU repeal law
The UK Parliament has approved the Conservative government’s EU withdrawal bill, paving the way to Brexit by converting all applicable EU laws into UK law. Very narrowly. Without clear language to allow detailed parliamentary scrutiny of whatever deal – or no deal – is agreed with the EU. Without the support of 6 rebel MPS from the governing Conservative party - but with the support of 4 opposition Labour MPs who are longstanding supporters of Brexit. Without complete cabinet solidarity on the government’s approach to Brexit negotiations. Without clarity on a number of outstanding key issues such as the UK’s future customs relationship with the EU and the Irish border. And without even a hint of consensus on how to interpret all the political manoeuvring. Prime Minister Theresa May has called a cabinet meeting on July 6 at her country retreat Chequers to seek agreement on a Brexit negotiating position. Opponents of Brexit held a massive protest march in London marking the second anniversary of the referendum on 23 June - organizers said they drew 100,000 people. There was also a much smaller rally nearby in support of Brexit which included members of UKIP (the UK Independence Party) and far right groups such as White Pendragons and Generation Identity.
In a week of high political drama the government defeated a final amendment on June 20 to allow MPs a “meaningful vote” on the final Brexit deal by 319 votes to 303. It was the second time in a week that MPs voted on this issue. And it was the second time in a week that Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to offer an assurance to a small group of Tory MPs who threatened to vote against the government unless there was clear language on a “meaningful vote.” The first time she headed off the revolt in the final hours by personally giving assurances to the rebels – they said. But almost immediately other cabinet ministers said no promises or concessions were given – only a promise of further discussions. The second time she headed off the revolt – again in the final minutes - after convincing leading rebel Dominic Grieve with an assurance that the parliamentary Speaker could decide if MPs get a “meaningful vote” on Brexit. Again cabinet ministers immediately said no concessions were made. It was the final act allowing the government’s withdrawal bill through. But it’s far from the final act in the Brexit saga as Mrs. May faces a number of other Commons votes on Brexit issues, one expected within just a month on possibly the biggest core issue of Brexit – what kind of customs relationship to have with the EU. For more, with varying interpretations, on the latest events please see these sites:
Please see here for more about debate on this legislation.
Labour’s balancing act
As Brexit continues to divide both of the UK’s two major political parties and the British people, Labour’s shadow deputy leader in the House of Lords and spokesperson for exiting the EU walked the fine line between Labour’s stance on Brexit and political realities. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on 24 May 2018, Baroness Dianne Hayter of Kentish Town explained why she and other Labour members of the unelected House of Lords had challenged the UK government by forcing a series of amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill in the upper house. She says Labour is attempting to move Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May away from her hard red lines in negotiations with the EU and believes the final decisions on Brexit should be in the hands of MPs in the House of Commons. She also thinks that the Lords votes for 15 amendments to the government’s withdrawal bill may influence public opinion and debate on the kind of Brexit that will eventually happen. She acknowledged there was no clear evidence of a shift in public support or opposition to Brexit in most polling results since the referendum, including Labour’s own private polling and her own contacts with voters. There is however a recent analysis of multiple polls by the YouGov polling organization that questions this orthodoxy and suggests some possibly important shifts away from Brexit. Baroness Hayter was walking her own fine line inside Labour as a former strong supporter of Tony Blair now articulating a position under EU-sceptic party leader Jeremy Corbyn. She personally opposed Brexit and considers it a looming nightmare, but insists that the Labour party will honour the result of the June 2016 referendum. Baroness Hayter was Labour Party chairman from 2007-8, became a Labour peer in 2010, and previously held senior posts in the legal, financial and consumer affairs industries. For more on this meeting please see this article by AEJ member Nick Hopkinson and this audio transcript of her remarks and following discussion.
Will Brexit damage human rights in the UK?
The chairman of the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission says it could if the government’s Brexit withdrawal bill is not changed. At the AEJ UK on 23 March 2018, David Isaac explained the basis for his concern – backed by a number of NGOs working on human rights in the UK – that plans for incorporating European into English (and Scottish and Northern Ireland) law did not live up to the government’s promise that Brexit would leave our rights unchanged. Please see this account from Hugh Sandeman and here for an audio transcript of the meeting.
UK and EU Brexit transition deal
Britain and the European Union agreed on most of the terms for the Brexit transition period in a deal announced on March 19 2018 showing concessions on both sides as well as remaining disagreements. For instance the UK will be allowed to negotiate and sign its own trade deals but will remain subject to EU rules including new ones implemented without a UK vote. And both the deal and its interpretation will likely cause dissent and disagreement for some time. For more please see these varying reports:
German business on Brexit
There will be a Brexit deal says the leading voice of German business in the UK. Bob Bischof, vice president of the German British Chamber of Industry and Commerce and chairman of the German British Forum, said German business is confident of a Brexit deal and made his case at an AEJ UK meeting on February 20 2018. See here for a report on the meeting from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman. And here for an audio transcript of his remarks and subsequent questions and answers.
Lord Andrew Adonis says it’s time to stop Brexit. And 7 weeks after outlining concerns to the AEJ, he underlined them in Christmas week by resigning as infrastructure tsar for the Conservative government of Theresa May. At an AEJ-UK lunch meeting on Nov. 9 2017, the Labour peer and former Labour minister for education and for transport offered even odds on reversing the current political process to exit the European Union. Speaking while he was still chair of the UK Infrastructure Commission, Lord Adonis said the next 18 months are crucial. For more on his analysis to the AEJ-UK please see this report from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman.
Brexit will not happen…
says Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the Liberal Democrats and now the party’s leading elder statesman. As recently as July 2017, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon – Liberal Democrat leader from 1988 to 1999 and a bitter opponent of Brexit – expected Brexit to take place. But he has changed his mind and thinks Brexit will not happen. Speaking to the AEJ’s lunchtime meeting on 12 October 2017, he painted a grim picture of a dysfunctional UK government that is incapable of negotiating a satisfactory withdrawal from the EU and which could collapse next year. By a narrow margin, he believes Britain will stay in the EU but retreat from an active international role and lose global influence. Drawing on his many and varied experiences as a Royal Marine, intelligence officer, diplomat, politician and international administrator, Lord Ashdown also commented on a range of international issues in this “most dangerous, volatile and frightening age” of his lifetime. Please see this summary of his remarks from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman.
Article 50 can be stopped or revoked
The author of Article 50, Lord John Kerr of Kinlochard, says negotiators for both the UK and the EU have made fundamental mistakes and become mired in public disagreements. And he warned of a “precipice” in the UK’s relations with the EU if the talks end without agreement. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on September 15 2017 he also said there is nothing in the law to prevent the UK from changing its mind and stopping or revoking the process of UK exit from the EU. It’s by no means the first time he’s said this but at the AEJ UK meeting he spelled out his analysis of the Brexit process in forensic detail. A former head of the UK Foreign Office and a cross-bench (independent) peer since 2004, Lord Kerr has emerged as a severe critic of the UK government’s approach to Brexit. He has called for a halt to the Brexit process and a national debate in the UK to think again about leaving the EU, previously describing the UK government’s actions since the referendum as “a completely wasted year while the Tories negotiated with themselves”. See this detailed report by AEJ UK chairman William Horsley and an audio recording of the meeting.
Known in Brussels as a wily and
effective negotiator, Lord Kerr held senior posts in the UK Treasury as well
as the Foreign Office. He was UK ambassador to the EU and the U.S. before
taking the top Foreign Office job in 1997. In 2002/3, after retiring as a UK
diplomat, he was secretary general to the European Convention, where he
drafted the EU exit clause that became Article 50. For more on his recent
positions please see:
Theresa May’s election gamble backfires
Parliament votes for Brexit
AEJ plugs into reaction in Europe
MPs face rising levels of abuse and
The French election…
Brexit and globalisation
Donald Trump’s advisers are “stuck in the dark ages” and
the UK government of Theresa May has yet to “get real” about Brexit says the
man dubbed the high priest of globalisation. Jim O’Neill is the former chief
economist of Goldman Sachs who coined the term BRICs in 2001 for the rising
economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China; a former Treasury minister in
David Cameron’s Conservative government; and one of the world’s pre-eminent
proponents of globalisation. He says the populist politics of Brexit and
Donald Trump are hostile to further growth and out of sync with world
economic trends. Despite 2017 please see this from AEJ member and
former FT correspondent Peter Norman; and here for an audio transcript of
Lord O’Neill’s remarks and following questions and answers. And for more of his comments on Brexit .
Press coverage focussed on Brexit at the AEJ meeting can be
Also here and in these three articles from the Austria Press Agency were written by Thomas Karabaczek, president of the Austrian section, and quoted in Austrian dailies (edited translation via Google)
On another subject discussed at the Kilkenny congress see this article by Bruce Clark in The Economist on threats to media freedom in the Balkans.
Former prime minister of Finland and EU insider on Brexit
Alexander Stubb told another packed AEJ-UK meeting he believes Brexit is lose-lose for both the UK and the rest of the EU. And to avoid further damage the former finance minister and leader of Finland’s centre-right National Coalition Party has his own blueprint for a “soft Brexit”. William Horsley made these notes on his ideas discussed on 19 Sept 2016. Before stepping down as finance minister and party leader, Stubb served Finland as trade and Europe Minister, foreign minister, MEP and adviser to EU Commission President Romano Prodi.
Retired senior UK civil servant and trade negotiator on Brexit
Sir Simon Fraser, former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, provided an insider’s view of Brexit at one of the largest AEJ-UK meetings in recent years. The 5 Sept. 2016 lunch meeting was packed with members and invited foreign correspondents to hear and question Sir Simon on the details, complications and issues involved in the upcoming process of UK extraction from the European Union. For more on this meeting please see this blog by AEJ member Jonathan Fryer and this report by BBC News. Sir Simon retired in July 2015 after a long career with the FCO including secondment to the European Commission; he is now managing partner at business consultancy Flint Global.
French Minister Axelle
Lemaire on Brexit
A selection of AEJ-related writings and activities
Kevin d’Arcy, former AEJ UK secretary, has just published a new book “Adventures in the Gardens of Democracy”
Long-time AEJ member – and journalist, author and politician – Jonathan Fryer has been appointed Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman for London. Please see his blog here.
Firdevs Robinson’s writing is now accessible on FirdevsTalkTurkey.com
William Horsley blogs on BBC
Meetings are held at the European Parliament’s London Office (Europe House, 32 Smith Square, SW1P 3EU) and usually start at 12:30. AEJ meetings are open to journalists, academics and Europe specialists and guests. Pre-registration is necessary by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. A fee of £25 is charged to cover the cost of refreshments - £10 for under-25s and free admission may be extended to students on a discretionary basis.
Former Conservative cabinet minister and now an outspoken pro-Brexit voice as the decisive phase of negotiations gets closer. He was a member of parliament from 1983 to 2017 and took his seat as a member of the House of Lords in June 2018.
For previous speakers’ details and a list of our recent lunchtime guests see Past Events.
The EP’s UK website gives details of its own events of which visitors may be notified by email.
In May he celebrated his 85th birthday but soon afterwards was diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer. And although he also suffered from a rare form of dementia since 2012 he continued to enjoy life with his family and friends including trips to Japan and Sardinia before going into care in January. In 1960 Kiley reported on deaths and abuse at the Modder B prison near Johannesburg and was forced into exile – then coming to England and continuing to write and edit reports about Africa for many years.
AEJ events director David Lennon writes:
Dennis made a big impression on everyone who met him and I certainly remember the best piece of management advice ever, which I received from Dennis when I took over from him in FT Syndication:
"Tell your staff that any promises or commitments you make in the pub after 8 pm regarding their salaries, promotions or other benefits are non-binding."
For me this encapsulates the practical nature of Dennis. He was always direct to the point, except when retelling one of his dramatic African adventures. Years later I also remember his questions at the Association of European Journalists luncheons where he would like to preface his questions to our guest speaker with a pertinent anecdote or two to disguise the sharp edge of his question. He was also a terrific raconteur at the pub post-mortem which followed the lunches in those days. It was an honour and a privilege to have worked with him.
AEJ joins plea for media freedom in Turkey
Spotlight on Turkey’s breach of international
Turkey faces further loss of independent media
China and the world
Fake news, Facebook, and Democracy
World Press Freedom Day
Can Canada’s largest newspaper save itself with fact checking Donald
Is Anywhere Safe?
Fake News undermines democracy...
Two new reports try to examine the difficult phenomenon of
fake news. The AEJ has issued
a road map on how to respond after a detailed consultation by Irina Nedeva,
its adviser on fake news issues, with input from the AEJ-UK’s William
Horsley, former BBC Europe correspondent, and Rick Thompson, former BBC News
executive. The AEJ report
recommends: invest in media literacy, boost professional journalism, create
incentives for ethical media, and increase awareness of political misuse of
Poland, media freedom and Lech Walesa
Poland, the cradle of the Soviet Union collapse, is once again a frontline in the fight for press freedom in Europe. And Lech Walesa – former Solidarity leader, president of Poland, and Nobel Prize winner –urged a gathering of journalists in February 2018 to hold fast to press freedom and free speech. He was addressing a meeting in Gdansk of journalists and civil rights activists from across Europe who debated strategies for fighting back against reverses for press freedom across Europe. William Horsley, AEJ UK chairman and AEJ International vice president and representative for media freedom, was in Gdansk and has this account of the event.
AEJ is an independent, self-funding association for journalists, writers and
specialists in European affairs. The UK section is part of a Europe-wide
network of national
sections across Europe.
independent of any institutional or political group and are recognised by the
Council of Europe, the OSCE and UNESCO. Our goals are to advance knowledge
and debate on European affairs and to uphold media freedom.
AEJ Media Freedom Project
AEJ works to protect freedom of expression andata to d independent journalism
by bringing issues to the attention of governments and advising
inter-governmental organisations on behalf of our members. The AEJ's Media
Freedom Representative and Vice President is William Horsley, a former BBC foreign
correspondent and the current chairman of the UK section.
AEJ and the Council of Europe
The AEJ takes part in the policy work of the Council of Europe (CoE) on key issues of media freedom as a participant in the steering committee on Media and Information Society and the Platform to Promote the Protection of Journalism and the Safety of Journalists. It works on behalf of its members across Europe to hold the CoE and its 47 member states to their commitments on media freedom and freedom of expression.
To read further, please go to Media Freedom.
Media visits to the European Parliament
The EP's London Office has a small The EP's London Office has a small budget to offset some of the travel and hotel costs incurred by journalists when visiting the European Parliament. Only a limited number can be helped in this way, so you must first be invited by the UK Office before seeking reimbursement (see EP website).