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Britain in the EU and what next?

On the day UK Prime Minister Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence from her own party, the official historian of Britain's membership in the European Community told the AEJ UK that Britain’s issues with it date back to the very beginning of the relationship in the early 1960s. Mrs. May won her vote of confidence. But that does nothing to resolve the current UK political impasse over Brexit. And at an AEJ lunch on December 12, Sir Stephen Wall, retired senior UK diplomat and author of the official history of Britain’s relations with the EU, reflected on the long and fraught history behind the divisive vote in the referendum on the EU in 2016.  Laying out some of the highlights of this history, he attributes these long term factors as well as the disruption of the 2008-9 global financial crisis to Britain's "No" vote in 2016. He said political errors in the management of Brexit had further contributed to the current crisis. What now then?  That’s "anyone's guess" says Sir Stephen. As a supporter of remaining in the EU he was now more hopeful of a second referendum but there are major issues over the wording of the questions and even more the reaction of the British voters. And both Mrs. May’s deal with the EU - which is still not expected to pass Parliament - or any of the trade alternatives so far being suggested face long and hard bargaining without solving the problem of the EU-UK border in Ireland. He predicts the UK is "destined for a decade or more of real difficulty" before regaining the prosperity lost through Brexit.  It removes Britain from policies and institutions previously deemed important for maintaining peace and security since the second world war and reduces Britain’s political clout in the world. And, he added, it would be a real loss to the EU. The UK has contributed to EU foreign policy cooperation; promoted the single market; promoted reforms on agriculture, financial services, and digital plans; and partly acted as a bulwark against Franco-German dominance of the EU. For more on his informative presentation please see this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman.


May and Brexit – what next?
Prime Minister Theresa May has delayed a crucial vote in Parliament on her deal with the EU for British withdrawal from the EU. She was widely expected to lose because the deal she negotiated has little obvious support from members of Parliament and has come in for a great deal of criticism from both her own party members and Opposition MPs. So rather than face almost certain defeat she postponed the vote at the last minute on December 11  - probably until January -  while she attempts to get concessions from the EU.  And instead of facing a “meaningful vote” – and possible amendments - on her deal, she was suddenly confronted by a vote of no-confidence in her leadership, mainly from right-wing pro-Brexit supporters in her Conservative party. She won 200-117 and cannot face the same challenge for another year. That all still leaves no clear consensus on what happens next but a great deal of speculation including:
– the UK leaves the EU with no deal.
- the vote in Parliament on her deal with possible major amendments or a major change of course depending on the vote.
- attempts to try for a different deal with the EU based on either the Norway or Canada models.
- another referendum, an option pushed by a number of politicians and public campaigns who support staying in the EU. But the questions to be on the referendum ballot are hotly debated, the government has to propose legislation to allow it, and a majority in the Commons has to approve it.
- a general election – the Opposition Labour Party’s preferred option but again it requires Parliamentary approval from a fractious and much divided Parliament – and country.
- a Labour minority government formed without a general election if the governing Tories fall in Parliament and the Queen invites them to try to govern.
For more please see:


Bleak outlook with Brexit says former top UK diplomat

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, one of the UK’s top diplomats before he retired, is not hopeful. In a meeting with the AEJ UK on November 22 to discuss Britain’s future after Brexit he asked if there are grounds for optimism. And his conclusion was very few. He said outside the EU, the UK would lose influence at a practical level and would lose stature in the view of the rest of the world. And the UK’s position is further weakened by two other factors he added - the fraying of its relationship and influence with the United States under President Donald Trump, and threats to the multilateral system of alliances and institutions that has served much of the western world for 70 years since the Second World War. Sir Nigel has 36 years experience as a UK diplomat including his three final jobs as UK ambassador to the US from 2007 to 2012, foreign policy and defence advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair from 2003 to 2007, and UK Ambassador to the EU from 2000 to 2003. Despite his pessimistic view of the future he did have some advice for UK action after Brexit so for more on his thoughts please read this report from former FT correspondent Peter Norman.


AEJ UK and Brexit – 50 years of dialogue

On the anniversary of its formation 50 years ago the AEJ UK hosted an open and substantial dialogue among figures from opposing sides of the Brexit debate. Six months before the UK’s planned departure from the European Union and at a time when the outcome of the negotiations was shrouded in extraordinary uncertainty, close to 100 diplomats, officials, and professionals from many fields including more than 40 journalists from all corners of Europe engaged in the debate. In his keynote speech (see link here) on Friday September 28 Sir Martin Donnelly, who held senior posts dealing with the EU inside the Cabinet Office and Foreign Office until 2017, said that the UK government’s mishandling of the Brexit negotiations and unrealistic expectations are likely to result in serious damage to the country’s wealth and standing in the world. That could last years and would require a sober re-think of Britain’s testy relationship with its closest neighbours to achieve a recovery in its fortunes. Gisela Stuart, who played a leading part in the Vote Leave campaign, contested that assessment. She said the referendum had shown the settled mindset of a majority of British people, she was confident that any second referendum would confirm the results of the first one, and that in future people would look back on this period of turmoil in the UK and ask themselves what all the fuss was about. The day-long Colloquium tested common ground in the fierce divisions exposed by the Brexit debate and included two panel discussions - The UK In and Out of Europe: Politics, Identity, and Cultures and Whose Europe Is It Anyway? Media and Public Opinion. Please see here for a detailed report and these links for more:

Photos and more on AEJ UK Facebook page

Debate on Twitter at #aejbrexitdebate

Agenda UK-EU Relations beyond Brexit: the  AEJ UK 50 years Forum

Opening remarks from William Horsley

Keynote speech by Sir Martin Donnelly

Notes on panellist Gisela Stuart

Notes from panellist Gina Miller

Notes from panellist Alexandre Holroyd

Notes from panellist James Hawes

Notes on panellist Peter Foster

Notes from panellist Imke Henkel

Notes from panellist Quentin Peel

Notes from panellist Stephen Jukes

Speakers biographies

Illustrated brochure celebrating the first fifty years of the AEJ UK

About the AEJ UK

Information on AEJ Membership


AEJ UK 50th Anniversary Dinner: then and now
At a dinner gathering in London AEJ journalists from across the EU celebrated the birth of the UK Section of the AEJ in 1968 -- five years before the UK’s accession to the EEC -- and the Association’s  present existence as a pan-European network for independent journalism and press freedom. Today the association is active in all corners of the continent, from Portugal to Armenia and from Finland to Greece. Please see here for more on this and following links to short speeches and references.
Recollections on the AEJ UK and the EU from David Haworth
Speech by Otmar Lahodynsky, AEJ International President
Speech by Miguel-Angel Aguilar, a founder member of the AEJ Spanish section in 1981
Speech by Kevin d’Arcy, former AEJ UK secretary
Roger Broad's account of the UK Section’s 40th anniversary ten years
Speakers at AEJ UK monthly meetings in 2018

No deal on Brexit?
How likely is no deal with the EU on Brexit?  Prime Minister Theresa says the only choice is between her Chequers plan or no deal – in a BBC interview on the eve of an EU summit.  EU president Donald Tusk said her plan won’t work at that EU leaders summit three days later -  and not unexpectedly. Mrs. May stood by her plan, taking a defiant stance in the face of Fleet Street newspaper headlines that claimed she had been humiliated or even ambushed by the EU. There are other options - another referendum on the outcome of the EU talks, replacing her as prime minister, or a forced election – let alone the possibility of a changed negotiating framework under any new prime minister or government, Conservative or Labour led - none of which Mrs. May wants. She says she wants her much-derided Chequers plan which would keep the UK closely aligned with the EU but outside its jurisdiction on issues such as immigration and the European Court of Justice, while keeping EU rules on trade in goods but not on services, which constitute about 80 per cent of UK trade. Donald Tusk responded to the UK prime minister’s unusual live statement by saying she had been too hardline in her most recent actions but the door was still open to compromise. Months before, when the Chequers plan was announced and formal negotiations resumed the EU took her negotiating stance apart. But talks continued and had already been extended to November, reinforcing a belief that the EU far prefers some kind of deal to none at all. Mrs. May has kept insisting she doesn’t want a “no deal”, “hard” or “cliff edge” Brexit. But her actions could mean this is exactly where the UK is headed. So there has been much analysis of a no-deal Brexit – what it is from the anti-Brexit London Evening Standard, how it might work from Politico, various analyses from think tanks, what the public thinks. Both the EU and the IMF issued warnings about the consequences of leaving the EU without any agreed deal.


No deal Brexit will work …

says Lord Peter Lilley, former Conservative cabinet minister and outspoken supporter of the UK’s exit from the European Union. He outlined his arguments to the AEJ UK’s first autumn lunch meeting on September 4 in a presentation he described as intentionally provocative. It came as the UK government faced make or break negotiations with the EU on their future relationship and widespread criticism of its negotiating plan both inside Parliament and across the UK. Hardline Brexiters have opposed and dismissed Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Chequers” negotiating position as a betrayal of the referendum result in June 2016. More moderate Conservative MPs outside the cabinet have been lukewarm at best and openly critical in other cases, mostly opposing it as an unworkable and ineffective compromise. The EU has rejected it but kept the door open to further talks. Peter Lilley says the Chequers plan is “moribund” and adds that the May government looks like it needs lessons in trade negotiating and is giving lessons in political suicide. Most important, says Lilley, is what the UK does with the powers it takes back with Brexit. Ultimately he says Brexit is a political issue and urged people not to exaggerate the importance of trade deals. For more on his presentation please see this report on the meeting from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman and this audio transcript of the meeting.


Brexit Checkers

In early July Prime Minister Theresa May forged an agreement from her cabinet on Brexit  – an agreement 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. Brexit hardliners further weakened her negotiating plan in Parliamentary votes days later.  For a longer more thoughtful look at the Chequers plan try the BBC's Briefing Room. On July 6 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 – 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 – 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.  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.


Brexit meets fake news

·    A UK Parliamentary committee says there is a crisis in democracy because of fake news – as in a campaign of disinformation and hate in the Brexit referendum two years ago.

·    Facebook has now released ads targeted at specific groups of people during the referendum – bought by the leave campaign for more than £2.7 million.

·    The UK Electoral Commission has fined the official Vote Leave campaign for breaking spending limits in the referendum and referred two key leave campaigners to the police for false statements.

·    And the man who bankrolled Brexit and the UKIP political party - Arron Banks – is facing questions over the source of his funds and possible Russian involvement.

Fake news? Supporters of Brexit in and out of the media accuse the Electoral Commission of bias against Brexit. The commission was set up by Parliament in 2001 as an independent body to regulate UK elections and sought enhanced powers in the wake of its investigation.
One of the men referred to police – Darren Grimes, head of the BeLeave campaign – has launched a crowd funding campaign to overturn the ruling.
And the Parliamentary committee doesn’t even like the term “fake news” and prefers “disinformation” as more accurate. Even as it in turn is accused of fake news – by leave campaign funder Arron Banks. The committee – the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins – highlights “the manipulation of personal data, and targeting pernicious views to users” particularly during elections and referenda.  And it outlines a series of recommendations to tackle the problem largely aimed at trying to make social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google more accountable for their content. The committee’s interim report was officially released at the end of July, days after it was leaked by a key Brexit campaigner who had consistently refused to appear before the committee. The official report will be released in the autumn but it has already sparked debate and this interesting comparison with action on parallel issues in the United States.
These latest developments follow a series of revelations about voter manipulation in the spring of 2018 noted here.


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.


Stopping Brexit

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
The newspaper headlines said it all on the morning after the 2017 UK election. Prime Minister Theresa May lost 13 seats and in the coming months possibly her own job. She was forced to lose her two long-time key advisers who designed the Conservative election manifesto, ran her office and in effect her management of the government for the past year, leaving her even more vulnerable to pressures inside her party. Her Conservative party won the largest number of seats in Parliament – 318 – but lost its Parliamentary majority.
Read more on the election

UK Parliament votes for Brexit
It was less than a month before the 2017 election call that Mrs. May’s government won a complex political struggle in Parliament over launching its countdown to leave the European Union. UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter formally triggering Article 50 was hand delivered to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, on March 29 2017. It began a historic two-year negotiation that would end 40 years of integration with the rest of Europe – and will rock the foundations of both the European Union and the United Kingdom.
For more on the Brexit vote and background information please see here.


AEJ plugs into reaction in Europe
As the UK government was launching its exit from the European Union, the AEJ plugged into a chorus of discordant voices at the European Parliament in Brussels. AEJ journalists met with MEPs from all parts of Europe and all the political groups for 2 days of lively debates in the run-up to the UK’s delivery of its `Brexit letter’ on March 29 2017. The event took place as the EU sailed into unknown territory beyond its 60th birthday and the UK prepares its own lifeboat to disembark from the mother ship. AEJ UK chairman William Horsley has this detailed report on a range of European voices.
And AEJ UK member Tony Robinson has these “personal musings” on the EU and its future after his participation in the European Parliament seminar with AEJ journalists from across Europe.

MPs face rising levels of abuse and threats
A survey by the BBC has confirmed growing levels of abuse and death threats to MPs. This issue was sadly highlighted by the killing of Jo Cox, the  MP for Batley and Spen, on June 16 2016 in Birstall, West Yorkshire.  The Association of European Journalists issued a statement condemning the murder of the 41-year-old Labour Member of the British Parliament who was shot and killed in her Yorkshire constituency. Jo Cox had reportedly received threats of violence before the deadly attack. The AEJ said such acts of extreme violence can have a chilling effect on the robust exchange of arguments, opinions and information which are the essence of open democratic societies.
On Nov. 23
2016 Thomas Mair, a 53-year-old unemployed gardener, was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life for the murder.  He had shot the MP twice in the head and once in the chest with a sawn-off hunting rifle before stabbing her 15 times. At the sentencing hearing the judge described Ms. Cox as “passionate, open-hearted, inclusive and generous” and a true patriot while the murderer “affected to be a patriot”. The judge  explained: “It is evident from your internet searches that your inspiration is not love of country or your fellow citizens, it is an admiration for Nazis and similar anti-democratic white supremacist creeds.”

The French election…
was a recipe for uncertainty even just 2 weeks before the vote said political scientist and columnist Dominique Moisi. He said the presidential election was the most unpredictable and most important that he could remember in a lifetime of observing and analysing French politics and international affairs. At the AEJ UK on 6 April 2017, Moisi said that if Brexit is likely to damage the EU then a victory for Marine le Pen and her far-right Front National would be far worse. For more on Moisi’s outline of the French election campaign please see this report from AEJ member Quentin Peel, this audio transcript of Moisi’s presentation and following questions and answers, and Moisi’s own recent article.


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 much of the political rhetoric surrounding both Trump and Brexit – and from other political leaders – he says world economic growth is not slowing, noting that in this decade it is in line with performance in the 1980s and 1990 and “not as weak as often perceived” by western leaders. For more on his nuanced and informed briefing to the AEJ UK on March 13 2017 please see this report on the meeting 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 see this report on Politico.
On the wider issue of globalisation, Lord O’Neill of Gatley has recently been arguing in articles and on a BBC radio series for a re-examination and urging business leaders to address issues which have left vast numbers of industrial workers and regions in the western world reeling and disaffected.

Brexit and cultural revolution
One of Britain’s foremost constitutional experts says last year’s referendum vote for Brexit shows that Britain is a totally different country from its continental neighbours. At a meeting of the AEJ UK on Feb.15 2017 Vernon Bogdanor, a historian and constitutional adviser to a number of governments around the world, explained the vote as the result of a long-simmering cultural revolt. In a wide ranging interpretation of the Brexit vote and its ramifications Prof. Bogdanor also said that it endangers stability in Northern Ireland; Leave voters are likely to suffer most from the consequences of Brexit; current political leaders in England are deceived about the deal they can reach; and there is still a possibility that the Brexit process can be aborted. For more on this meeting please see this report from AEJ UK Chairman William Horsley. Prof. Bogdanor is research professor at the Institute for Contemporary British History at King’s College London, and former professor of government at Oxford University and senior tutor and vice-principal at Brasenose College. He was awarded a CBE for services to constitutional history in 1998 and is a Fellow of the British Academy.


Scottish Brexit
Alex Salmond and two of his Scottish National Party MPs provided a preview of SNP plans on Brexit as they treated us to one of the more memorable meetings of 2016 on Nov. 29. While the former First Minister of Scotland  was trapped in a broken-down Heathrow Express and running late, his two MPs – Stephen Gethins and Tasmina Ahmed-Shah – valiantly tried for 45 minutes to answer a barrage of questions about their plans for dealing with Brexit. When Salmond arrived he brought both calm and some clear answers on SNP strategy: a desire to stay in the EU, retention of  trading and economic relationships in Europe, and as necessary a referendum on independence for Scotland. His clarity came weeks ahead of the official SNP blueprint released on Dec. 20 by Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, setting out in detail how the SNP believes the Scottish vote on the EU in/out referendum should be respected.  For more on this enlightening – and entertaining – meeting  please see these notes from AEJ members David Lennon and Rick Thompson.


Brexit Trumped
For one  - of many – analyses of the connection between the election of Donald Trump and Brexit please see here for a European perspective. And here is a quick survey of media coverage of his victory on Nov. 8 2016.

AEJ UK member and former FT correspondent Anthony Robinson has these reflections on the world post Trump and post Brexit – from the AEJ congress as well as the Brexit campaign just last June.


Brexit dominates AEJ congress
Perhaps unsurprisingly the issue of Brexit was on every delegate’s mind and their lips at the AEJ’s 2016 Congress in Kilkenny in southeastern Ireland on 4 –6 November – and in reporting of the event. The congress debated Brexit and the rise of demagoguery, the threat to journalism in a brave new media world, and talk of a so-called `post-truth era’, under the overall theme of `The changing face of Europe and its media. William Horsley, AEJ Vice President and Media Freedom Representative, has this account of the highly charged discussions.

Press coverage focussed on Brexit at the AEJ meeting can be found here:
Stephen Collins Irish Times

Miriam Lord irish Times

Colm Kelpie and Cormac McQuinn The Independent

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 French government minister provided the AEJ UK with a stark and critical assessment of the UK referendum campaign, the UK government’s post-vote strategy, and future prospects for both the UK and the rest of Europe.
Axelle Lemaire, Minister for Digital Affairs in the French Ministry for the Economy and Industry since April 2014, spoke in July 2016 at the AEJ UK’s first meeting since the referendum vote in which the British public voted 52% to 48% to leave the EU.
UK chairman William Horsley made these notes of an animated and informative exchange on July 14, Bastille Day, 2016.

Latest Briefings

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

William Horsley blogs on BBC Academy

Anthony Robinson: Corruption and the long arm of Moscow in central Europe.
Blog from the AEJ Congress in Sibiu, Romania:  6-7 November 2015 (10 November 2015)


Lunchtime meetings

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 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.

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.

Latest News

AEJ Turkey  survey shows more restrictions on the media

The AEJ Turkey’s annual survey of press freedom with other members of the joint G-9 press freedom Platform says 145 journalists are still in jail for their work in Turkey, and another terrible year saw a series of deliberate actions by the government that have further stifled the ability of the media to inform the public. Please see the full report here.


Press freedom solidarity mission to Slovakia calls for full justice over Jan Kuciak’s murder

The AEJ joined eight other partner organisations on the safety of journalists to  

press the Slovak government to bring all those responsible for February’s murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee to justice. The AEJ and partner organisations publish regular press freedom alerts on the Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists website visited the Slovak capital Bratislava on Dec.6. They also urged the Slovakian government to counter the hostile working environment for investigative journalists and to make legal and policy reforms to ensure the personal safety of journalists as well as their contacts or sources. Please see the full joint statement here.


AEJ joins call for justice for Jamal Kashoggi

The Association of European Journalists International has joined the Journalist Support Committee (JSC) to call for justice and a full investigation into the death of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey. His death has turned a spotlight on the Saudi regime’s pivotal role in a number of key issues – the Yemen civil war, western arms sales to the Saudis, international terrorism, its actions as one of two key Western allies in the Middle East, and its financing and trade particularly in relation to the USA and western European countries. In its statement the AEJ and JSC decried Kashoggi’s death and called for disclosure of all information in the Turkish investigation and for a thorough, independent review of the human rights record of the Saudi authorities. They join other journalist and human rights groups in their alarm as Saudi activists remain in jail. Jamal Kashoggi disappeared inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct.2 . He was one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent journalists, once an advisor to the country’s intelligence chief, but left in 2017 to the USA where he wrote a regular column for The Washington Post in which he criticised the direction of his country under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, profiled in this BBC Radio 4 program.


Dennis Kiley
Denis Kiley’s “full and outrageous life” was celebrated on July 13. Exiled nearly 60 years ago from apartheid South Africa for reporting on deaths and abuse at the Modder B prison near Johannesburg, Kiley ended up in England by way of Kenya and the Congo, continuing to write and publish reports on Africa for many years. The colourful story of his adventures is detailed with fondness by friend and colleague Raymond Whitaker, Dennis’ deputy at FT syndication and later founding member of the Independent’s foreign staff and foreign editor of the Independent on Sunday. Dennis died peacefully in a North London care home on June 29. A long-time AEJ member, Dennis celebrated his 85th birthday in May but soon afterwards was diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer. And although he had also suffered from a rare form of dementia since 2012 he had continued to enjoy life with his family and friends including trips to Japan and Sardinia before going into care in January.


Rule of law failing in Europe?
The AEJ has raised questions about how well the rule of law is working inside Europe in the wake of the killing of two journalists - in Malta and Slovakia. And it’s wondering if a ‘climate of impunity’ is developing, as AEJ Vice President and media freedom representative William Horsley writes in this report on a press seminar organised by the Association of European Journalists at the European Parliament in Brussels.


AEJ joins plea for media freedom in Turkey
The AEJ is one of 17 press freedom and media organisations that have signed and published an Open Letter to the president of Turkey. The letter is a 6-point appeal to reverse the drastic decline in freedom of expression and press freedom there and was published on June 23 just before the hotly contested presidential and parliamentary elections in which President Erdogan and his party won re-election on June 24, extending his 15-year domination of the Turkish political landscape. See this link on the AEJ International website.

Spotlight on Turkey’s breach of international obligations
Reporters Without Borders challenged the UK prime minister to hold Turkey to its democratic obligations as protests marked President Erdogan’s London visit in May 2018. And the latest AEJ reports and commentaries set out the mountain of evidence showing that Turkey is trampling on press freedom and is systematically violating the rule of law by jailing journalists and silencing opposition voices. Please see this round-up on the AEJ International website.

Turkey faces further loss of independent media
Turkey’s largest media group has sold its outlets to a business group close to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in March 2018. Dogan news outlets were among the few relatively independent media in a country dominated by TV stations and newspapers allied to Erdogan. The sale further curtails independent journalism as Turkey takes an increasingly authoritarian turn under his leadership. Dogan Holding sold its outlets — including flagship Hurriyet newspaper, the mass-circulation daily Posta, CNN-Turk and Kanal D television channels and Dogan News Agency — to Demiroren Holding.

China and the world
AEJ UK members received some wide-ranging insight into Chinese thinking at a meeting on April 19 2018. Dr Yu Jie, head of China Foresight at the London School of Economics foreign policy think tank, said President Xi Jing Ping’s immediate plans are to eliminate factions inside the Chinese Communist Party and establish China as a global power. Yu Jie has advised Chinese state-owned companies on European investment and leading European firms seeking to forge strategies for the Chinese market. For more on her thoughts please see this report from AEJ member and former FT correspondent Peter Norman and here for an audio transcript of her remarks.

Fake news, Facebook, and Democracy
It could have been a plotline straight out of the U.S. TV series Homeland – allegations of an illegal data grab used to manipulate national votes through social media. But this was life once again imitating art – sparked by an investigative report published in mid-March 2018 by The Observer newspaper and shared with the UK’s Channel 4 television and the New York Times. The company at the centre of this story – Cambridge Analytica -  said in early May it’s shutting down and starting insolvency proceedings – but the reporter who first broke the story raises major doubts about whether this either ends the questions or closes the issue. For the latest developments see here in The Guardian, here at BBC News, as well as in many other media. The stories report how a UK data analytics and election consultancy firm – Cambridge Analytica – used data harvested from 50 million Facebook users to influence both the U.S. presidential election and the UK referendum on leaving the European Union. That soon turned into 87 million users as Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg  was called to answer questions in the U.S. Congress – and has again been urged to testify at a UK Parliamentary committee. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied any wrongdoing. Facebook lost around $50 billion in share value on the stock markets in two days – but recovered all that within two months. Facebook changed its internal rules. Facebook suspended its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica suspended its chief executive Akexander Nix after he was shown on TV boasting about his company’s influence in the American election. UK Information Commissioner officials raided Cambridge Analytica offices to search for records. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission and EU regulators are looking at possible breaches of the law.
By way of perspective on the latest revelations, parts of this story have actually been reported previously – as Wired magazine notes here and this earlier report on the Brexit vote shows. The Observer reporter breaking these stories – Carole Cadwalladr – even got a pat on the back from Alastair Campbell, former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s spin doctor. And for a look at what can happen with Facebook data and some of the issues raised see this New York Times piece.

World Press Freedom Day
AEJ journalists have noted an intensifying struggle to save independent media as they marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3 2018 across Europe. This year saw anti-media violence during Armenia’s popular uprising against a repressive government; new actions to silence independent journalism in Hungary and Turkey; and multiple protests against the murder of two journalists in the past year in Malta and Slovakia and ‘vicious ties’ between some governments and criminal elements.  There is also this special report from the UNESCO 2018 World Press Freedom Day conference in Accra, Ghana on May 2-3 – Out of Africa: the winning ways of the enemies of press freedom. This UNESCO report and the round-up of events here was compiled by AEJ UK chairman and AEJ international media representative William Horsley.

Can Canada’s largest newspaper save itself with fact checking Donald Trump?
The Toronto Star was the inspiration for Clark Kent’s Daily Planet – and like nearly every mainstream newspaper and broadcaster in the western world it’s desperately trying to save itself. Having its star reporter in Washington spend a lot of his time fact-checking the American president is part of a survival strategy in a maelstrom of digital media, a puzzled public confounded by fake news, and shrinking revenues.

Is Anywhere Safe?
Two new reports highlight ongoing concern about erosion of media freedom where you might expect it to flourish – in Europe and the (former British) Commonwealth. William Horsley, AEJ UK Chairman and AEJ international media freedom representative, has this report on how Commonwealth leaders meeting in London in April 2018 have turned a blind eye to journalists being threatened or killed with impunity in member states. And this article on the latest world press freedom index  from Reporters Sans Frontieres/Reporters Without Borders showing the “traditionally safe environment for journalists in Europe has begun to deteriorate”.

Fake News undermines democracy...
and even confuses expert researchers

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 news.
Across the Atlantic in the USA, Nieman Labs has a disturbing report on how difficult deciphering false information from reality is even for expert researchers. Please see the article here.

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.


Roger Broad
Friends and colleagues commemorated AEJ UK founder member Roger Broad at the Reform Club in London on 2 February 2018.  It was with enormous sadness that the AEJ UK learned of his death on Aug. 17 2017 from complications following heart surgery.  Please see here for more about Roger and this story of his career from former colleague Michael Berendt. 


Democracy and populism
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s chief economist says populist government benefits corrupt elites. And Sergei Guriev, linking the rise of nationalist populism in western countries with “reform reversal” in some post-communist countries, argues that populist governments remove political checks and do not create free markets and democracy whereas states which consolidate democracy do well. He was speaking at the AEJ’s first meeting of 2018 on January 17 about the political economy of reform in Europe and its neighbourhood. Dr. Guriev is a former senior Russian economic policy advisor now in exile and working for the EBRD. His bank’s Transition 2017-18 report shows economic performance in many parts of the former Soviet Union has fallen behind other global emerging markets because of excessive state controls and weak corporate governance. His remarks before he went off the record are here – and they prompted these personal reflections from AEJ member Anthony Robinson, a former east Europe editor of the Financial Times.

Concern about investigation into Maltese journalist’s murder

The AEJ joined its partners in January in the Council of Europe Platform for the Promotion of Journalism and the Protection of Journalists to express deep concern over the lack of progress in the investigation into the murder of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

The media freedom groups “… join Daphne Caruana Galizia’s family in calling on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to appoint a special rapporteur to monitor the ongoing murder investigation and make an assessment of the contextual circumstances that led to her murder.”


Croatia Mission

The AEJ international president Otmar Lahodynsky joined a fact-finding media freedom mission to Croatia in January 2018. After talks with politicians, journalists, and trade unionists the participating organisations agreed that the major problems to be addressed include political pressures on the public broadcasting station HRT, the lack of transparency of media ownership and the destructive influence of hate speech on the society. Please see more here on the international AEJ website


Mediating Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump, fake news, and post truth.. for some reflections at the beginning of 2017 please see:

Open letter from White House press corps – from Columbia Journalism Review (courtesy of AEJ member Andrew Dobbie as is the CJR article below)

The Coming Storm for Journalism – from Columbia Journalism Review

Covering politics in post-truth America – from the Brookings Institution

The New York Times on fake news.

Who to blame for fake news -

Prospects for the American press under Trump:

And prospects for journalism in 2017 from Nieman Labs:




About us

The AEJ is an independent network of journalists, writers and specialists active across Europe, part of a Europe-wide network of national sections.  In the UK we host regular meetings for journalists which provide a forum for open-minded exchanges with public figures of all backgrounds to promote informed debate on European and international affairs. Our lunchtime meetings are open to bona fide journalists and an entry fee must be paid to cover the costs of food and drink. Pre-registration is essential. Journalists, writers and specialists in European affairs may also apply to join the Association of European Journalists – please see here for more about the benefits of membership or contact the AEJ UK Secretary. 
You can also follow us on our
Facebook page.

We are 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.
Internationally, the AEJ has an active programme of professional activities and the annual AEJ Congress is a forum for debate on matters of common concern to journalists across the continent. A high priority is given to the AEJ's Media Freedom Project.

Individual members of other AEJ national sections are very welcome to attend our meetings, by prior arrangement.

AEJ Media Freedom  Project

The 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.
Since the 
AEJ Media Freedom Survey in 2007 (Goodbye to Freedom?), the AEJ has published Europe-wide surveys and reports that reveal the erosion of press freedom through physical assaults, wrongful imprisonment, oppressive laws, and unacceptable political and commercial pressures.
The AEJ is an observer at the 
Council of Europe. Since 2 April 2015, it has been one of the eight partners in the Council's online platform for early warning of and rapid response to attacks on the media. For more information, see Media Freedom.
The AEJ actively supports the ongoing efforts of UNESCO, the UN Agency with a mandate to safeguard media freedom, to implement the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. The AEJ Media Freedom Representative authored the OSCE's Safety of Journalists Guidebook setting out the obligations of participating states to protect the security of journalists, including those using the Internet.
Our campaigns and activities can also be tracked on the
Media Freedom and News pages of the international AEJ website,

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).