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BBC Bias: an EU referendum campaign progress report

BBC Bias: an EU referendum campaign progress report

News-watch has been carrying out detailed monitoring of news output since mid-January. A large number issues relating to impartiality have been noted, and overall, there is still, despite improvement, significant cause for concern that the ‘exit’ case is not being properly represented.

On the plus side:

There is definitely and clearly an effort to explore the respective ‘leave’ and ‘remain cases. ‘Exit’ guests are appearing in unprecedented numbers, and are often being treated with due respect.  Pro-EU politicians such as George Osborne are, on occasions, being subjected to rigorous scrutiny. There is evidence that presenters and correspondents are better briefed on EU issues than in the past, and are challenging the key economic points from positions of real knowledge.

This improved coverage to date underlines just how much the ‘exit’ case had previously been neglected, and its advocates under-represented, denigrated or often ignored.

But:

That said, there are still major issues. All of them are fully evidenced on the News-watch website, and for the sake of economy, the key points are only summarised here.

The BBC has not explored much the issue of the validity or otherwise of David Cameron’s reform package. From the off, website copy suggested it was valid, and there has been no determined exploration of whether it is. This is central to the ‘remain’ case and the absence of scrutiny is bias by omission.

Though some programmes are going off-diary and exploring the roots of the current debate, as yet there has been no obvious effort to investigate critically the full nature of the ‘leave’ movement, and what it represents. Nick Robinson’s survey of the history of the UK-EU relationship was purely through the lens of Westminster Bubble, that is, the leading politicians and the main political friction points. It added nothing new, and if anything served only to reinforce the stereotypes that have characterised the BBC’s coverage of what it calls ‘Europe’ for far too long. Who are those who actually want to leave the EU?  They are not simply racists, anti-immigration fanatics, over-zealous ‘populist’ patriots, disaffected Tories, disgruntled fishermen and lazy working class louts who fear foreign competition. What is the ‘leave’ case and what are the historical roots, both inside and outside Parliament?  Nothing has yet been done in that terrain, and that’s a glaring omission.  Unanswered questions include why the most left-wing, radical Labour leadership in two generations has allied itself with the CBI, the big Banks, and the IMF, and against thousands of its traditional working class supporters in wanting to stay ‘in’. The BBC talks freely and often about the low-hanging fruit of a ‘Tory civil war’, but this debate is about much more – and nothing in the coverage has explored that area in any but a fleeting (and often derogatory) way.

Heavy and increasing weight has been given coverage of those who say ‘Brexit’ will be damaging, such as the IMF, the Treasury and the CBI. Senior BBC political correspondents have reinforced this by suggesting (18/4) that the ‘leave’ side case is ‘cobwebby’ and not fleshed out.

Analysis conducted by News-watch of BBC2’s Newsnight typifies the problem. This covered 40 editions. ‘Exit’ guests were appearing for the first time – a big step forward – but there were still serious inadequacies. The programme has not sufficiently explored the ‘exit’ case, and has routinely given far more prominence to the remain side. There have been fewer ‘exit’ guests, and the imbalance is not accounted for by a tougher treatment of the ‘remain’ side – if anything, the reverse applies. Against this already skewed background, the decision to use the Sealand defence installation as a metaphor for what exit might look like was silly. It skewed the first Newsnight special referendum programme (11/4) strongly against the ‘exit case’. It may have been intended to be a humorous approach, but given the BBC ‘s past track record of denigrating the exit case, it came across instead as a deliberately negative editorial device.    On Tuesday night (19/4) the different treatment of Emily Maitlis of her two guests, Pascal Lamy and Lord Owen, underlined the problems in the Newsnight approach. Towards Mr Lamy, she was thoughtfully inquisitorial, and allowed him plenty of space for his answers; towards Lord Owen, she was much sharper, interrupted much more, and scarcely allowed him to respond.

Similar detailed analysis (20 consecutive editions)  by News-watch of Radio 4’s 10pm programme, The World Tonight, also highlighted significant impartiality problems. The programme explored the ‘remain’ and exit’ arguments from its more cross-border perspective, and mounted special programmes assessing opinion to the EU debate in Berlin, Spain and France. But most weight was given to the pro-EU perspective in those features.  In separate studio interviews, ‘remain’ figures such as Alan Johnson had more opportunity to put their case than ‘exit’ ones.

Since January, News-watch has also analysed a number of referendum-related special programmes, including ones on Greenland’s exit from the EU, Norway’s existence outside the EU, a survey of the EU’s impact on countryside issues (Costing the Earth), and Nick Robinson’s Europe: Them or Us.  All of them have shown a distinct bias towards the ‘remain side. Nick Robinson’s description of Winston Churchill as the ‘father of European unity’ stands out as particularly biased because he chose as the bedrock of his programme a provocative historical interpretation that is hotly contested by the ‘leave’ side. The Greenland and Norway programmes particularly over-stressed the difficulties of leaving the EU, and the Costing the Earth programme gave much more space to the ‘remain’ side.

Analysis of Mark Mardell’s reports on World This Weekend is underway. Two editions, one from Portugal and the other from a meeting of The European House think-tank at Lake Como, have already been specially analysed and noted for their pro remain bias. On both occasions, Mark gave significantly less prominence to the respective ‘exit’ spokesmen and gave them less space to answer the points put to them.

Analysis of a strand broadcast on Radio 4’s World at One, by Professor Annand Menon raised serious bias issues.  The five three-minute segments (from 12/4) were presented as objective analysis of aspects of EU operations and impacts, but they were anything but. For example, he played down the complexity of the EU’s structure – flying in the face of one of the principal objections of the EU from Eurosceptics.

This brief synopsis of bias is not exhaustive, but gives an overview of some of the key issues.

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News-watch Launches EU Referendum Blog

News-watch Launches EU Referendum Blog

This new service will track on a regular basis programme items that seem to be biased towards the pro-EU side. The observations are not the result of detailed analysis. Rather, they are pointers based on News-watch’s experience in tracking the BBC over many years, and on past BBC performance.

If you spot BBC bias, do let us know.  You can register instances at www.bbccomplaints.com 

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Ofcom appointment ‘threatens fair coverage of EU referendum debate’

Ofcom appointment ‘threatens fair coverage of EU referendum debate’

Opinion polls at the weekend gave the EU ‘out’ camp the edge. But it has now emerged that supporters of Brexit will be fighting the battle to win hearts and minds as the EU referendum approaches with their arms tied behind their backs.

That’s because new developments at the BBC and the independent sector regulatory body Ofcom mean that complaints about unfair coverage of the EU debate on television – still the most crucial medium in influencing public opinion – don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of succeeding.

It paves the way for a constant barrage of pro-EU propaganda with the opposition neutered and unable to get a fair hearing for their concerns.

The most astonishing development came last Thursday when the Department of Culture, Media and Sport announced that an EU fanatic with little professional experience of broadcasting is to chair the content board of Ofcom, the body ultimately responsible for ensuring impartiality in news coverage across ITV, Channel 4 and Sky News.

Unbelievably, the press release announcing his appointment claimed that he had not been involved in any political activities for the past five years, and therefore (by implication) could be trusted with this crucial role.

But a moment’s investigation on the web reveals that this is utter nonsense. As his self-trumpeting website shows, Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist, is fighting an all-out political war on several fronts towards his revered dreams of slaying nationalism, allowing the free movement of peoples and of greater EU integration.

At the core of his campaign is a slickly-produced TV programme called The Great EU Disaster Movie, which his production company Springshot made last year in association with the BBC and Franco-German television channel Arte. It posits the collapse of the world as we know it if, God forbid, nasty nationalist factions such as UKIP have their way and the EU weakens its iron grip on the body politic. Predictably, the programme had its first network airing on the BBC. It has since been established that, disgracefully, the Corporation stealthily took substantial funding from the EU to ensure that it was translated into other languages.

Emmott’s so-called charity, Wake Up Europe – a trustee of which is Richard Sambrook, a former Director of BBC News – is in the midst of a major pro-EU propaganda drive at British Universities with the film at its heart. If that isn’t ‘political activity’, the definition needs changing.

The show’s joint producer has claimed in The Guardian that the programme is a neutral examination of the potential problems that would be caused by the UK’s exit. Her stance cuts to the heart of the entire problem of the Brexit debate in that those who want to remain simply cannot see or even begin to accept that they are biased.

What makes Emmott’s appointment so utterly damaging is that the rest of the Ofcom content board – in step with Quango Land generally – are like minds drawn apparently from the liberal left. The full list of 10 is here. What leaps out from their CVs is that all but two have worked for significant parts of their careers at the BBC. They write papers about how wonderful and important the BBC is. Many are closely linked to a BBC-favoured propaganda organisation called the (Reuters)Oxford Institute of the Media – which last November held a seminar about ensuring ‘fair’ coverage of the EU. Guess who chaired it? Bill Emmott!

One of the two content board members who has not worked at the BBC is Dr Zahera Harb, who began her career in journalism in the Lebanon, and is now a board member of the worthy-sounding Ethical Journalism Network. Don’t be deceived by such Orwellian double-speak. Its main concerns include attacking the ‘hate speech’ of Donald Trump and ensuring that Palestinian Authority – along with immigration generally – gets better coverage in the media.

The second important media development was on Friday: the closing date for submissions to a so-called ‘public consultation’ by the BBC Trustees’ in connection with their draft editorial guidelines covering the EU referendum campaign.

Those who favour Brexit should be afraid, very afraid. For all the 16 years that News-watch has monitored the BBC’s EU output, the Corporation has been massively biased against the withdrawal case. It has crudely but pervasively cast EU opponents as racist far-right xenophobes, Conservative eurosceptics as hopelessly ‘split’, and at the same has totally underplayed or ignored the solid, consistent support for withdrawal from Labour figures such as veteran MPs Kate Hoey and Kelvin Hopkins.

The Trustees’ proposals for ensuring impartiality, and no doubt will adopt – because such exercises are only fig leaves to accountability – are a farce. The main problem is that as usual, the guidelines put the BBC in the driving seat in terms of what is fair, under their definition of ‘due’ impartiality. That gives them massive leeway, and the proof is that the BBC Trustees have not upheld a single complaint about EU coverage in all their existence.

Even more disturbing, the final judgment on what constitutes bias in the run-up to the referendum will, in effect, be left to the only two Trustees who have any substantial journalistic experience. Both – surprise, surprise – are ex-BBC career journalists.

Step forward Mark Damazer, former Controller of Radio 4, under whose tutelage it was confirmed as the national channel of right-on causes; and Richard Ayre, a former controller of editorial standards who is an ex-chairman of an organisation called Article 19 which is similar to the Ethical Journalism Network mentioned above, with the addition that another of their obsessions is climate alarmism.

The News-watch submission to the BBC – for what it’s worth, because there is no chance that it will be heeded – is in full here.

A remaining question is who sanctioned the Bill Emmott appointment? Eurosceptic John Whittingdale is ostensibly in charge at DCMS. It seems scarcely credible that Emmott would have been his choice. Did David Cameron or George Osborne force the appointment through as part of their frantic drive to stack the cards as highly as possible against an exit vote? They both know that the BBC is firmly already on their side. Now Ofcom is sewn up, too.

After the publication of this post, an Ofcom spokesperson has contacted Newswatch with the following statement: “Any conflicts of interest involving non-executive Board members are managed appropriately and Bill Emmott would not be involved in discussions or decisions related to the EU referendum.”

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News-watch submission to the BBC’s EU Consultation on EU Referendum Editorial Guidelines 15.1.2016

News-watch submission to the BBC’s EU Consultation on EU Referendum Editorial Guidelines 15.1.2016

The BBC Trust recently embarked on an eight-week consultation on draft Editorial Guidelines for its coverage of the EU in/out referendum.  This is News-watch’s submission.  The proposed guidelines are here.

 

Preamble

News-watch has been monitoring the BBC’s EU-related output for 16 years. Detailed research based on systematic analysis of relevant BBC programming using established academic principles has shown that the Charter requirements on impartiality have been serially breached. Most importantly, the case for withdrawal has been seriously under-reported, and those advocating Brexit have been pervasively cast as xenophobic, disorganised extremists from the ‘right’ or ‘far-right’.[1] The archive of News-watch reports and elements of engagement with the BBC can be found at www.news-watch.co.uk. Over the entire period, the BBC Trustees have undertaken to examine the News-watch findings only twice. On each occasion, the Trustees adopted a highly biased approach to the research and clear evidence of breaches of impartiality were rejected on spurious grounds that suited the BBC but flouted rules of fair inquiry.[2]

This submission is an attempt to persuade the Trustees to adopt in the proposed Editorial Guidelines a much more rigorous and demonstrably independent approach to ensuring impartiality during the referendum campaign.

The BBC Trustees and those tasked with investigating impartiality on their behalf have sought to cast monitoring as ‘unhelpful’ and based on ‘metrics’, and implied that such investigations concentrate solely on counting speaker appearances and calculating airtime allocation.[3] This is a wilful misrepresentation of News-watch’s approach, which investigates impartiality using a range of analytical tools, both quantitative and qualitative, and has never focused on statistical data in isolation. The News-watch corpus of work provides abundant evidence that illustrates that the Trustees, by contrast, do not have in place adequate processes for properly ensuring that Charter requirements are met.[4]

And indeed, the draft Referendum Guidelines reduce impartiality to achieving ‘broad balance’ – a simple metric focusing on headcounts – and ignore the vital consideration of how guest speakers are actually treated, including interview tone, question content, the number of interruptions, the positioning of speakers within individual reports, within programmes or within the overall schedule. Also, who is chosen for each side, and how well informed and articulate are they. Impartiality rests on a multitude of complex, interlocking factors, and News-watch is concerned that the measures outlined in the draft Referendum Guidelines for monitoring content will be ineffective in ensuring a fair hearing for both sides.

Observations

This EU referendum will result in a decision of immense constitutional importance. The proposed Guidelines document is too vague to deliver demonstrable impartiality. It leaves too much to the BBC’s own ‘editorial judgment’ applied in the loose and imprecise framework of ‘due’ impartiality. It has been written from the inside to accord with and defend the BBC’s own operational practices rather than as a rigorous framework to ensure genuinely independent regulation of content.

A major over-arching concern is whether the Trustees – who are the final arbiters of impartiality – are themselves sufficiently independent. Of course members of the Trust are appointed by DCMS and a condition is impartiality. But special considerations apply here. Only two of the five members of the Trust Editorial Standards Committee, Richard Ayre, and Mark Damazer, have extensive experience of working in a national newsroom. Yet both spent the majority of their careers at the BBC and have been and are major champions of the Corporation. They may claim to be ‘independent’ but this is not credible, and yet they will inevitably play a crucial role in determining issues of impartiality that arise during the campaign. We spend several years trying to persuade Mark Damazer to take a less Europhile approach, without success. Also, as far as we can see several of the Trustees are firmly in the ‘man-made climate change’ camp, an issue clearly linked to the EU, and we see no counterbalancing members. The Guidelines, in the exceptional circumstances of this referendum, should provide detail of how genuine independence of outlook will pertain to key judgments.

There is nothing in the Guidelines about transparency of process. Whilst obviously elements of the BBC’s decision-making are confidential for good operational reasons, public confidence in the editorial processes would be boosted if there was a greater degree of openness in how key judgments are going to be made through the referendum campaign. The output can only formally be challenged through the complaints procedure. It is a fact that since the Trustees first became the BBC’s regulatory body, they have not upheld through the ESC a single complaint about EU coverage.[5] The BBC is judge and jury in terms of its own editorial balance. Against that background, measures should be included in which decision-making is open to retrospective scrutiny and which demonstrate that legitimate outside concerns about balance will be taken into account.

The key provisions contained in section 3.1 of the draft document are too vague to provide a reliable framework to ensure impartiality. The BBC should be aiming in this historic constitutional debate to achieve genuine impartiality (not just ‘due’) between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps. News-watch has provided extensive evidence to the Commons European Scrutiny Committee that the ‘due’ word has been the justification for major imbalances within EU coverage.[6] As things stand, nothing in the Guidelines will redress this. A further problem is that the requirement for impartiality is framed in relation only to a ‘broad balance’ and the need for the inclusion of a ‘range of voices’. This gives editors enormous leeway in exercising their judgment and makes outside challenge almost impossible. The ‘broad balance’ principle is further extended because it is stipulated in the Guidelines that it can potentially be achieved across strands or channels. This could lead, for example, to the 8.10 Today interview being ‘balanced’ by something much lower down in the running order. This is clearly wrong.

A major issue relating to EU-related coverage that is not spelled out in the Guidelines at all is the need for exact terminology. In one particular area this is absolutely crucial. The News-watch archive demonstrates that in BBC programming, the term ‘European Union’ has very frequently wrongly been used interchangeably with ‘Europe’. The inaccuracy has even extended to the Trustees’ own annual poll about whether the BBC informs audiences about ‘Europe’. Of course this looseness reflects to an extent colloquial usage. But in the referendum campaign terminological precision will be vital. Those against the EU, for example, are frequently cast as xenophobes who are against ‘Europe’. Such lines of attack will need to be rigorously challenged, but there is no requirement in the Guidelines that there must be heightened, constant vigilance to prevent breaches of impartiality in this way.

The BBC has ruled out in evidence to the European Scrutiny Committee the inclusion of monitoring as a means of assessment during the referendum campaign. This is confirmed in the Guidelines in that they make no mention of any monitoring processes other than through internal editorial judgment. That is a gaping hole in the assessment process. Without rigorous, structured monitoring based on academic principles, impartiality cannot demonstrably be achieved. For example, how can the editor of a daily programme, who is charged under the Guidelines with achieving such balance over the course of the week, keep track? With the Today programme (for example), that means running analysis of dozens of items. Who is going to do this work? Will it be a separate responsibility for the duration of the campaign with personnel allocated accordingly? 3.1 rules out ‘stopwatch’ and ‘mathematical’ measurements but what other ways of assessing impartiality between two sides are there? It is not spelled out.

A major unanswered question is how the trap of covering the campaign through the Westminster bubble will be avoided. Polls show that public opinion is heavily anti-EU in its apparent support for mass immigration. How are such views (for example) going to be taken into account? On the other hand, the leadership of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties are all likely to be in the ‘stay in’ camp, and possibly the majority of MPs (most Labour plus all SNP, all Liberal Democrats, and half of the Conservative PLP). How will this lack of accord between public opinion and their Parliamentary representatives be reflected and dealt with? And how will UKIP be handled in that it is the majority party in the UK contingent at the European Parliament, but has only one MP, and three peers who support the party, and yet commanded 4m votes at the general election. These are just a sample of the issues involved.

The Guidelines stipulates that ‘broad balance’ requirements will not apply to some coverage, for example if there is ‘an internal disagreement over tactics’. It makes the Chief Political Adviser the arbiter of suspension of ‘normal rules’. Analysis by News-watch has shown that such coverage of rows within UKIP, and especially with regard to its immigration-related policies, has led to substantial disproportionate coverage. If this happens during the referendum campaign, it could have a significant damaging effect on the ‘no’ campaign. The Guidelines actively give license for this coverage to continue, and decisions in this arena will be entirely at the BBC’s discretion, and not subject to monitoring.

The BBC accepts that its journalists are not currently informed enough about the EU to ensure impartiality during the referendum campaign. News Director James Harding has announced that compulsory training courses to remedy this are being planned. Mention of this training is not included in the Guidelines, however. Will members of staff who have not undertaken the training be allowed to work in frontline programming covering complex and sensitive areas of the referendum campaign?   Can we see this training programme, to comment on its objectivity – the BBC’s last training programme addressed none of the fundamental EU issues.

Related to this, the Lord Wilson of Dinton report on the BBC’s EU coverage specifically spelled out that special measures should be taken during a referendum campaign to inform audiences better about issues relating to the EU. There is no mention in the Guidelines of such special programming in the news arena or of any measures to ensure that it is properly impartial. This month (January 2016), a Radio 4 programme about Brexit, projected the process as something of unprecedented difficulty. This – in the context of a vote that could be less than six months away – showed strong bias against the case for withdrawal. The Guidelines should contain provisions that prevent this.

[1] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/News-Watch-European-Election-2014-Full-Survey.pdf

[2] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Independent-Editorial-Advisers-Report-on-Lord-Pearsons-Appeal-to-the-ESC.pdf and http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/2.-Editorial-Standards-Committee-decision-on-Newsnight-Complaint-17-November-2013.pdf

[3] http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/european-scrutiny-committee/eu-scrutiny-follow-up/oral/23350.html

[4] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/News-watch-submission-to-the-European-Scrutiny-Committee.pdf

[5] European Scrutiny Committee, Oral evidence: Scrutiny inquiry: follow up, HC 918, Wednesday 14 January 2015, p5

[6] http://news-watch.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/News-watch-submission-to-the-European-Scrutiny-Committee.pdf

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Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

Mandelson gets open goal to attack EU Referendum

One interview sequence is rarely definitive proof of BBC bias. But a recent Today feature about the private member’s bill to commit to a referendum about membership of the EU comes very close to it – and it has now become the subject of a complaint to the BBC.

The interview sequence in question, broadcast on January 10, also underlines vividly what Newswatch surveys repeatedly show: that editors and interviewers give most space to those who want closer ties to the EU and sideline, limit or disrespect the arguments of those who do not.

Update: Lord Pearson of Rannoch and the MPs Philip Hollobone (Conservative) and Kate Hoey (Labour), have lodged a formal complaint about the feature on the ground that it was ‘a striking piece of BBC bias at a crucial time in the debate about the EU referendum’. The full correspondence on the matter can be seen here.

At 8.10am, in the front page slot, Evan Davis interviewed Michael Dobbs – the Conservative peer guiding the private member’s bill through the House of Lords – and Peter Mandelson, the former Labour minister and spin doctor who, it transpires, believes that a referendum should not be held because it would be ‘a lottery’.

Both men were actually on air for about the same time. But the way they were treated was emphatically noteven-handed. One crude measure is that Lord Dobbs had just 250 words to put his case across, while Lord Mandelson had more than 750 to elaborate his anti-bill arguments. The difference in treatment went much deeper, in that Evan Davis allowed in some depth (without interruption) Lord Mandelson’s attack, both on the need for the bill and the reasons why advocates were supporting it.

But I leave you to decide for yourself why – the full transcript is below.

What leaps out is that Lord Dobbs was asked primarily about how he would vote over the bill and whether the measure was a waste of time on the ground that it would be the next Parliament that actually decided the matter. In consequence, he had only two short opportunities to explain why he was introducing the legislation.

After a brief initial question to Lord Dobbs about why he supported the bill, Mr. Davis quickly moved on to what was clearly his main focus – how Lord Dobbs would vote and whether the measure was a waste of time because it would be the next Parliament that determined whether the referendum would actually be held. Lord Dobbs managed to deliver only 250 words (about 95 seconds) about the reasoning (essentially that it was about giving people choice) behind the bill. His argument was heavily curtailed by Evan Davis’s interventions in which he put instead the points about how Lord Dobbs would vote.

By contrast, it was clear from the start that Evan Davis wanted Lord Mandelson to have space to put across his detailed reasoning why the bill was essentially ill-conceived, was Political grandstanding, and was a waste of Parliamentary time. In the end, he was afforded the opportunity to deliver three lengthy sequences amounting to more than 750 words in which he advanced his case that the bill was primarily designed to try defuse the UKIP threat.

On the face of it, elements Mr Davis’s approach to Lord Mandelson were adversarial, in that he suggested that the pro-EU case was not being put very well. But on closer analysis, his questioning actually delivered a framework for Lord Mandelson to plough on expansively with his substantive points. It seems clear, too, that Mr Davis had no desire or intention to interrupt in any significant way. For example, when Lord Mandelson, made the sweeping and politically partisan claim that the bill was grandstanding and playing to the UKIP gallery, why did not Mr Davis intervene to suggest that UKIP actually had popular support and this might instead be seen as something that aimed to give British people (as Lord Dobbs had suggested) a definite opportunity to express their opinions?

This all adds up to a striking example of BBC bias at a crucial moment in the debate about a referendum. And it fits closely with the longer-term and more detailed analysis by Newswatch, which shows consistently that those in favour of the EU almost invariably get the most space and most favourable framework to advance their views.

Full radio transcript here
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BBC Push European Elections Remain ‘Victory’ Claim

BBC Push European Elections Remain ‘Victory’ Claim

How very predictable. The BBC have never treated Nigel Farage or his core message seriously. During the European elections of 1999, when he was spokesman for the fledgling UKIP, they virtually ignored the party’s plans for withdrawal and gave far more airtime to the pro-Euro Conservative party. In all the years in between, they ignored as much as they could of the Brexit perspective and bracketed it firmly with bigotry, xenophobia and extremism. For example, News-watch surveys show that of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on Radio 4’s Today programme in survey periods between 2005 and 2015, only 132 (3.2 per cent) were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

And so on Sunday night, as the European parliamentary results rolled in, what was the BBC’s focus? Undoubtedly, virtually from the off, it was to discredit pro-Brexit developments in any way possible. The programme rapidly became the Emily Thornberry/Alastair Campbell show, complete with unchallenged allegations from the latter that the Brexit Party was funded by roubles, and from Lady Nugee that those who had voted for Brexit first time would see the error of their ways at a second poll. Both worked flat out to discredit Nigel Farage and rubbish the strength of the pro-Brexit vote.

It quickly became apparent, too, that part of the strategy was that BBC presenters and reporters crudely lumped together the votes for Greens, Liberal Democrats and the nationalist parties, and claimed they were all Remain.

This was poppycock, and at odds with what election results can indicate. For example, pollster Katherine Peacock said on the Today programme on May 3 when discussing the rise in the Liberal Democrat vote in the local elections, which Vince Cable had claimed was a vote for Remain:

‘You know, Vince Cable said that a vote for them is a vote for Remain. But I think it’s much, much more complex than that. And Lib Dems have a tradition of being that protest vote and of running councils and of making gains in local elections and I think that’s what you’ve seen a return to. Whether this actually can be transferred across to the European Elections is quite challenging. I think the issue of identity with political parties is very interesting. You’ve got only 8 per cent of the public who say they very strongly support a political party. Forty per cent say that they very strongly hold their position on Brexit, either Leave or Remain.’

There is no doubt that many of those who voted Liberal Democrat last Thursday were voting for Remain. But political allegiances are not currently as simple or binary as that, and to lump all the votes for one party together in the way the BBC did was highly questionable.

Yesterday morning Nigel Farage appeared on the Today programme. His interviewer was Justin Webb, and it was obvious from the outset that his mission was, as per usual, to attack and seek to discredit the Brexit Party’s success in every way he could, to the point of belligerence. There is a full transcript of the interview at the end of this article.

Mr Webb’s very predictable first point, continuing the overnight BBC theme, was that with ‘a total of 40 per cent of the vote’ Remain had won. Nigel Farage countered that parties who had entered the election supporting Brexit had won 52 per cent of the votes. Undaunted, Mr Webb resumed the attack. He said: ‘What they don’t accept is a no deal Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a no deal Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.’

And there we had it. News-watch research shows that this is what the BBC has been saying in various ways since the referendum took place. Of course, Corporation journalists have a duty to be adversarial when appropriate. But the overall treatment of the Brexit Party went well beyond that, and the negativity was only one way. On the results programme, by contrast, when a Plaid Cymru spokesman claimed at length that the Welsh vote was without doubt a victory for Remain and reversed the referendum vote, no one challenged him.

To be fair, Mr Farage managed to make some telling points of his own, such as that the two-party system served nothing but itself. But the relentless dogs-of-war onslaught continued, with Mr Webb openly laughing and incredulous at the idea of the Brexit Party standing in the next general election with a full manifesto, and then claiming Nigel Farage’s past policies included ‘a liking for President Putin’ – and no doubt in BBC terms the biggest heresy of all – ‘you don’t want the health service’.

In this one interview, all the BBC’s editorial doubts about Brexit, which have been the focus of their EU coverage for the 20 years that News-watch has been monitoring it, came into play. The difference now is that the BBC is seemingly transforming into what looks increasingly like a campaigning organisation with an agenda of its own – and that, as became crystal clear overnight, is to work all-out to discredit the idea of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, no matter how much the people of Britain might want it.

Here is the full interview:

JUSTIN WEBB: Let us turn to Nigel Farage who’s here in the studio, morning to you.

NIGEL FARAGE: Good morning to you.

JW: Nobody won, did they?

NF: Well, I don’t think we did too badly. I mean, the party didn’t even exist six weeks ago. We set it up and, of course, we had no ground campaign, no branches and yet, with a big simple message which is ‘We’ve been badly let down by two parties who’ve broken their promises’, we’ve topped the poll in a fairly dramatic start.

JW: And with a big simple message on the other side, ‘We want to remain’. They actually did better than you, got 40 per cent of the vote you, you and UKIP got 35 between you.

NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .

JW: So actually, they . . .

NF: (speaking over) No, no, no, no . . .

JW: Let me just put it to you . . .

NF: Hang on a second . . .

JW: They can legitimately, on the other . . .

NF: (speaking over) No.

JW: . . . side of the argument, claim victory this morning.

NF: (speaking over) Of course they can’t, because the Conservative Party position is they support Brexit and us leaving, add the Conservative vote are up. If you go around the country . . . do you know what it is? It’s about 52/48. We’re pretty much where we were three years ago. Things haven’t changed, people haven’t changed their minds. Now, actually, you know, that referendum was won by a clear majority of 1.3million. In a democracy, it’s the majority that wins. The problem we’ve got is that for a democracy to really function properly, you need the loser’s consent. And it’s pretty clear, listening to those clips, that the Remain parties still don’t accept Brexit. So these battles will go on.

JW: What they don’t accept is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which they say would be immensely damaging and what a huge number of the British people fear is a ‘no deal’ Brexit that would damage their jobs. And that is the point that they’re making.

NF: Yeah well, the point is . . .

JW: (speaking over) And that is the point that these European elections have made to you and your supporters.

NF: Well, we couldn’t have been clearer. You know, the next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as March 29. And all I can say is this: if we don’t leave on March 31 [sic] then you could can expect to see the Brexit Party’s success last night continue into the next general election.

JW: If a Conservative leader, new Conservative leader, new prime minister, comes to power and says, ‘Okay, we are going to leave on October 31 without a deal.’ And some Conservatives, as seems very likely, say, ‘We can’t support that,’ so there is an election. Will you do a deal with that leader to make sure that that side wins the election?

NF: Well, the first thing I want to say is this: that we’ve got a two-month period now during which there’s going to be this Conservative contest. That’s two of the five months we’ve got left until the leaving date. And I absolutely insist that we do have a mandate to now be part of that team. I want the Brexit Party . . . we’ve got some businessmen and women of considerable experience, quite happy to help the government get ready for 31 October by becoming part of that team . . .

JW: (interrupting) You haven’t got any MPs?

NF: Well, we will actually be in Brussels. You know, that’s where, that’s where . . .

JW: (speaking over) Yeah, but you don’t have any standing in this country to be part of the negotiations, any more than the Lib Dems do.

NF: Well, I don’t know, we’ve just won a national election. I would have thought we do have quite considerable standing. And we’ve also got the right people and the right expertise. So that’s the first thing I would say. The second thing I would say is whatever any Conservative leader says, well why would I believe them? Because we’ve heard it all before, Theresa May telling us 108 times we were leaving on March 29 and we didn’t, so . . .

JW: (speaking over) So hang on a second, even if there’s a manifesto then, say for the sake of argument, Boris Johnson is in charge, there’s a manifesto, he’s, he’s brought down by his own party effectively . . .

NF: (words unclear, speaking under)

JW: . . . there is a general election . . . well no, all these things are . . .

NF: (speaking over) We’re a long way from . . .

JW: . . . entirely possibly.

NF: We’re a long way from that.

JW: And they came to you and said, ‘Let’s do a deal, let’s say “no deal” Brexit, but let’s get it across by doing a deal your party’ are you . . . you’re not ruling it out, are you?

NF: I do not believe that the Conservative Party is even capable of producing a leader through this contest with that kind of clear message. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

JW: But if they do, if they do, and a lot of Conservatives not only think that it’s possible, but think that is likely, and want it to happen, a lot of Conservative members . . . members. What they want to know from you is what then is the electoral setup going into that . . .

NF: (interrupting) If I see a Conservative manifesto at the end of this year, with an autumn election that says absolutely, unequivocally and clearly, ‘We are leaving the European Union with or without a deal and we mean it’, I’d be delighted to see it, but, but again, would they (words unclear due to speaking over)

JW: (speaking over) And, and . . .

NF: But they, but they . . .

JW: (speaking over) No, but you, hang on a second . . .

NF: (words unclear)

JW: (speaking over) No, excuse me, because you were (words unclear due to speaking over)

NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .

JW: . . . almost getting there . . .

NF: (speaking over) In 2017 . . .

JW: . . . but then you didn’t tell us what you were going to (word unclear due to speaking over)

NF: (speaking over) In 2017, the Conservatives told us we would be leaving on March 29 with or without a deal, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t . . .

JW: (speaking over) And if they tell you now, at the end of October, what do you do?

NF: I wouldn’t believe them.

JW: What, you’d simply, you’d simply blank them and stand against them?

NF: Firstly, it isn’t going to happen. I don’t think you . . . I mean, we’re not going to get a Conservative leader with that degree of clarity. And secondly, I wouldn’t believe them. How could I, with the track record of the last couple of years?

JW: But, but what you’re doing then is (laughs) suggesting to the country that you are going to stand as a political party . . .

NF: Yeah.

JW: . . . with a whole gamut of policies . . .

NF: Yeah.

JW: . . . and recently, on The Andrew Marr Show, when you were reminded of what those previous policies were, that you’ve held, you didn’t much like it. You are going to have to turn yourself into a full-scale political party?

NF: It’s a heck of a job. You know we’ve done amazing things in six weeks. I’m not pretending that to set up the infrastructure to fight 650 seats, perhaps for an October election is easy, but that, that work . . .

JW: (speaking over) But you’re intending to do it?

NF: . . . that work starts (words unclear due to speaking over ‘this afternoon’?)

JW: (speaking over) With a full manifesto?

NF: Absolutely. (words unclear due to speaking over)

JW: (speaking over) And we’ll be reminded of your previous liking for President Putin . . .

NF: (words unclear, speaking under)

JW: . . . and you don’t want the health service and all the rest of it . . .

NF: (speaking over) Hang on, they were never policies. I mean, I know the job of media is to close down debate, but those things that were talked about on the Andrew Marr programme . . .

JW: (speaking over) No, I’m opening it up, they’re your policies.

NF: (speaking over) were never, ever policies. But we will, of course, talk about policies, to have a policy platform . . .

JW: (speaking over) Right . . .

NF: . . . no question about that.

JW: (speaking over) Right, you are, you are going to stand in the next election with a full set of . . .

NF: (speaking over) But I’ll tell you what’s also, I’ll tell you what’s also very interesting, all the focus this morning is on the impact we’ve had on the Conservative Party. Just look at what happened to the Labour vote in the north-east of England and in Wales, where for the first time in over 100 years the Labour Party have not won an election in Wales. We’re also taking huge numbers of votes from the Labour Party too.

JW: You are going to challenge those two parties, right across the board . . .

NF: (speaking over) Yes.

JW: . . . and you think you can supplant them or live with them . . .

NF: (speaking over) Well . . .

JW: . . . in, in an election?

NF: I think that the two-party system now serves nothing but itself. I think they’re an obstruction to the modernisation of politics in our country, an obstruction to us moving forwards and yes, we’re going to take them on and I accept it’s a hugely ambitious thing to do, but that is what we’re going to try.

JW: So you’re going to stay in politics, because you had said you’d gone. In fact, you had gone.

NF: Well, I was quite happy to have gone . . .

JW: (speaking over) But you’re not any more.

NF: . . . and had we left the European Union . . .

JW: You are sticking with this for the long term?

NF: Yes, absolutely.

JW: Final thought about Donald Trump who’s coming here soon, are you going to see him?

NF: Well it’s difficult because, you know, whilst I’m a friend of his and I saw him quite recently in America, you know, this is an official state visit. And we know that Number 10 are saying, ‘Please don’t meet that person’, so if I do, it’ll be in private.

BBC stone-walls Mark Mardell EU history bias

BBC stone-walls Mark Mardell EU history bias

On March 29 last year, one year before non-Brexit day, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a day-long series of programmes called Britain at the Crossroads which the Corporation’s PR hype said was designed to examine the steps towards Brexit.

At its heart was the first of a multi-part series presented by Mark Mardell called Brexit: A Love Story? which purported to give a history of the love-hate relationship between the UK and the EU.

Predictably, it proved very one-sided. There was a deluge of pro-EU/EEC comment, – from both the presenter and contributors –  but much less from those who were anti-EEC/EU. The News-watch survey into the programme, and of Britain at the Crossroads series can be accessed here.

A complaint against the blatantly biased approach was duly submitted by News-watch. Richard Hutt, the Director of the BBC Complaints Unit, finally responded, appropriately, perhaps, on April 1.

Mr Hutt relied for his defence on overarching ‘due impartiality’. This allowed him at a stroke to rule out the main findings of the News-watch report. Under this rubbery concept, of course, the BBC is allowed huge flexibility. They argue that most topics are not ‘binary’ but discussed from multiple viewpoints, and it is thus up to BBC editors to decide the degree to which the various perspectives are included.

It’s an all-purpose ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card, allowing the BBC to decide what it likes.

On this basis, Mr Hutt declared in his letter that it was perfectly acceptable for Brexit: A Love Story? to contain a predominance of pre-EU views (in a ratio of 9:4) – indeed that it was ‘inevitable’ – because the programme team had decided that the relationship would be examined through the lens of successive governments. Well, of course.

It did not seem to occur to him at all that on day of programming about Brexit, such an approach was grossly partisan. As most people in Britain voted for Brexit, why was the chosen programme angle (as an  example of an alternative) not instead about how Parliament had for 50 years flouted British public opinion against the EU/EEC and continued to do so?

Put another way, why were the main contributors legions of fawning civil servants, along with Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, rather than figures such as Nigel Farage – who spoke a mere 134 words, most of which were taken up by him explaining the correct spelling of his name –  or veteran eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash (who did not appear at all)?

Mr Hutt also argued that the low number of eurosceptic contributions was defensible, because those who were included were of a high quality and their comments were edited in a way that skilfully and succinctly conveyed their core arguments.  He claimed that this was an acceptable ‘editorial technique’; their contributions might have been small in volume, but they were punching above their weight and ‘fairly represented’.

This, too, is a highly dubious defence. The supposed expert selection of such contributions meant that the most prominent included Enoch Powell, Tony Benn, Jimmy Goldsmith and Kelvin Mackenzie. Of course, all these were ‘eurosceptic’ in their outlook. But were they typical of such opinion? Hardly. This was further evidence of the BBC ’bubble’ – those opposed to the EU were at every stage (and are) immoderate or extreme.

Mr Hutt, it also emerged, does not believe that academic techniques of content analysis of the type used by News-watch can be used to assess bias. It boils down to that, to him, that 9:4 imbalance was totally irrelevant because any attempt at ‘simple quantification’ of BBC content is not helpful. He argues that views about the EU/EEC are not generally ‘binary’ and that in any case, someone who might be classed as ‘pro-EU’ might actually have been making an impartial contribution.

This has now become a standard and fossilised BBC defence. Chief political advisor Ric Bailey made exactly the same stone-wall point on the BBC’s Newswatch programme which discussed the recent blatant imbalance against pro-Brexit panellists on BBC1 Question Time.

Lord Wilson of Dinton, the former cabinet secretary, conducted an inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of the EU in 2004/5 when a referendum about the proposed EU Constitution was being considered. He observed (p.5 of the report):

‘Senior managers appear insufficiently self-critical about standards of impartiality. . . This attitude appears to have filtered through to producers, reporters and presenters in the front line. There is no evidence of any systematic monitoring to ensure that all shades of significant opinion are fairly represented and there is a resistance to accepting external evidence. Leaving decisions to individual programme editors means that if there is bias in the coverage overall, no-one in the BBC would know about it.’

Almost 15 years on, Mr Hutt’s letter is clear evidence that nothing has changed.

BBC Bias: Pantomime villains poisoned the UK-EU relationship

BBC Bias: Pantomime villains poisoned the UK-EU relationship

BBC bias seems to be sinking to new depths each week.  It has become an advanced case of infestation by deathwatch beetle. The question is not any more, ‘is it biased?’ but rather, ‘what is not?’

Take Doctor Who on BBC1. Once it was an original, entertaining, and exciting sci-fi show brimful of intriguing ideas. Not now. Led by a female Doctor, it has fully transformed into an exercise in the Corporation’s box-ticking multiculturalism and the rewriting of history according to the creed of political correctness.

This week’s episode saw Gallifrey’s Time Lord and her motley multicultural crew witnessing Indian partition in 1947. The villains? Not, of course, the Muslim League. In the BBC’s alternative universe, it could never be that.  No, it was us empire-obsessed Brits, aided and abetted by a rampant, murderous Hindu who demanded separation.

The latest News-watch report into BBC bias – an analysis of former Europe editor Mark Mardell’s 13-part series Brexit: A Love Story?, covering the UK’s relationship with the EU from joining to possible exit – shows equally serious distortion and partisanship. The full report is here.

It was claimed that the programme, which was broadcast fortnightly as a segment in Radio 4’s World at One between March and September, and was thus projected as ‘news’ with all that this entails in terms of adherence to standards, was a journalistic examination of the ebb and flow of the UK’s membership.

Not so. According to Mardell and the editorial team, there were villains and heroes in the tale.  And just as in the now pantomimic Doctor Who, there was no doubt who the baddies were.

Step forward as the ringleaders – boo! hiss! – Margaret Thatcher,  whose alleged love of conflict and dislike of Germans alienated Brits against the nice, well-meaning EU folk;  the British press, which, dominated by barons such as Conrad Black and Rupert Murdoch,  and dolts such as Kelvin Mackenzie and Boris Johnson, lied continuously about benevolent EU rules; the ‘odious’ arch-capitalist Jimmy Goldsmith, who used his ill-gained cash to panic or blackmail the hapless John Major into accepting the Pandora’s Box idea of an in-out referendum; Nigel Farage, who opportunistically used events outside the EU’s control to force David Cameron to actually hold that referendum; and of course those in the Conservative party who dared over the years to challenge the EU’s goal of ever-closer union.

In Mardell’s estimation, it was the factors above plus Tory ‘civil war’ – not dislike and distrust by the British public of the EU itself and a desire to re-assert national sovereignty – which was a primary propellant of the exit vote.

The deluge of pro-EU opinion in the series was overwhelming. Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of the 38,000 words spoken by contributors were from figures who supported the EU and only 28 per cent who could be described as Eurosceptic or in favour of leave. Farage and supporters of leave such as the late Peter Shore were reduced to bit parts in the saga; most time was devoted to Brussels-loving senior civil servants, diplomats and politicians. Of course bias, cannot be measured by such numbers alone, but in the context of the overall editorial framework in the series, are an important indicator.

Another measure is that only six speakers of the 121 contributors who appeared in the series as a whole made what could be called substantive points against the EU.

Perhaps the most serious skew in terms of the rewriting of history was found in the episode which examined the handling of the BSE crisis during the 1990s. In Mardell’s hands, this was projected simplistically as a battle between a stupid and reckless Conservative government – putting lives at risk in their headlong defence of British beef –  – against those nice EU bureaucrats who were doing nothing but taking reasonable steps to protect the hapless British public.

According to Mardell, was immigration at all a contributory factor towards the Brexit vote?  Even he could not ignore the opening of the EU free movement gates from 2004, and one of the episodes dealt with this. But his primary contributor on this theme was Tony Blair, buttressed by then home secretary David Blunkett and an ‘expert’ from the London School of Economics, who argued one-dimensionally between them that the EU influx was an economic benefit and not at all a mistake. Opposition to that view? Only in the form of very brief vox pops which were clearly edited to convey the BBC’s wearyingly predictable version of anti-immigration bigotry.

The report as a whole shows a level of bias which is of the deepest concern. The series – as the endgame of the Brexit negotiations approached in the autumn – was cast as an overview appraisal of the the UK-EU relationship and scheduled accordingly in one of the BBC’s flagship news programmes. It was nothing of the sort. Rather, Mardell and his team were bent on showing that leaving the EU was an act of national mutilation triggered by the prejudice cultivated by the carefully-assembled cast of pantomime villains.

Photo by mattbuck4950

Nick Robinson wheels out usual BBC defences against EU coverage bias claims

Nick Robinson wheels out usual BBC defences against EU coverage bias claims

BBC presenter and ex-political editor Nick Robinson has been sounding off aggressively against those who he complains are ‘moaning’ that the Corporation’s reporting of Brexit is biased.

‘Calm down dears’ is his core, patronising message.

The Radio 4 Today presenter has declared in the Radio Times that, as departure negotiations proceed, there is no need to provide balance between the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ sides in BBC coverage of post-Brexit developments.

Instead, the requirement is only for ‘due impartiality’(defined, as always of of course, by the BBC itself) and the goal is is to scrutinise ‘new questions’ about ‘immigration, trade and industrial policies’.

Robinson is bluntly critical of those who ‘do not accept that the war is over’ and have challenged the Corporation’s coverage by getting out their ‘stopwatches and calculators’ and by querying ‘the alleged tone of questions’ and ‘the number of interruptions’.

In terms of detail, Robinson’s praise for the BBC reporting seems to be based primarily on the Corporation’s Manual of Usual Excuses. This is wheeled out every time the word ‘bias’ is mentioned, and vigorously deployed by the BBC Complaints Unit to repel all boarders.

Direct from its grubby pages come the wearyingly predictable defences.

Robinson first claims that both sides have complained, so that means the BBC must be getting things right; then that Brexiteers such as Gove, Fox and Johnson are ‘remarkably reluctant’ to appear, so any shortcomings in that respect are their fault; and finally (the trump card!) that the BBC’s duty is in any case to its audiences, and they – he opines –  don’t care about the obsessions of stop-watch wielding politicians.  The only duty (again, of course, on the BBC’s terms) is to make sure they ‘understand’.

This all adds up to classic Corporation extreme stone-walling. It has been voiced by Robinson but has undoubtedly been cleared and co-ordinated by the BBC high command – and must also be seen as the official response to the complaint filed a couple of weeks back by Tory MP Julian Knight and 70 other cross-party MPs who wrote to Director General Tony Hall about the Corporation’s failure to explore and reflect the pro-Brexit perspective.

And, with Robinson’s scathingly condescending references to stop-watches and calculators, it is also framed as a direct attack on the latest academic research from News-watch into six months of Today’s business news output.  This found a serious failure to air pro-Brexit viewpoints and an unjustifiably heavy focus on gloomy forecasts for the UK economy that added up to a continuation of the Remain side’s Project Fear.

But despite all the bluster, this exercise in smoke-screen obfuscation is remarkably threadbare.

It boils down to a chilling statement of intent that coverage henceforward will be whatever the BBC decides is impartial – no matter what evidence is produced to the contrary.

The reality is that, as the latest News-watch report detailed, the BBC’s coverage of post-Brexit developments is sharply skewed towards the Remain side – and that in the Corporation’s self-declared agenda-setting business slots, in six months, there were only only 10 contributions from clear supporters of Brexit, ranged against dozens who were not.

Robinson might rail against the use of ‘stop-watches and calculators’ but how can such lack of ‘balance’ or ‘due impartiality’ ever be defensible – and how else other than by careful, systematic counting can such blatant negativity be identified?

The BBC will NEVER countenance a complaint based on detailed research of their output – and that’s a gross affront to the licence fee payers that Robinson claims to be serving and helping to ‘understand’.

It is true that as Brexit unfolds, some elements of coverage do contain a wider range of anti-EU opinion than ever before.  Prominent Leave campaigner, the Labour MP Gisela Stuart, for example, was afforded a very unusual brief slot on Today on the day of the Theresa May Article 50 letter to outline her timetable towards Brexit.

But small morsels aside, the Corporation is otherwise relentlessly focused on the Remain agenda.  There’s a continuing, avid search for anything that suggests that ‘race hate’ has escalated as a result if the Brexit vote; Nigel Farage and Ukip continues to be pilloried – on Wednesday night, BBC1’s main bulletins reported Farage’s contribution to the European Parliamentary debate on Brexit in the worst possible light; and every obstacle in the Brexit negotiations, such as the Gibraltar clause, are seized upon with over- enthusiastic glee.

Robinson may claim that this is simple scrutiny of ‘immigration, trade and industrial policies’, but he’s wrong. It adds up to that since June 24, the BBC has mounted a declaration of war against the Brexit prospects and has sided firmly with the remain side.

There has not been a single BBC programme that has looked at Brexit optimistically.

Photo by bobaliciouslondon

KUENSSBERG’S BBC2 BREXIT PROGRAMME PROJECTS LEAVING EU AS NIGHTMARE OF COMPLEXITY

KUENSSBERG’S BBC2 BREXIT PROGRAMME PROJECTS LEAVING EU AS NIGHTMARE OF COMPLEXITY

Britain’s Biggest Deal, BBC2’s programme about the triggering of the Brexit process, had a prime time slot, and was presented by the Corporation’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg. It was thus a shop-window effort.

Impartial, in line with the BBC’s Charter requirements? No. It was a no-holds-barred attempt to show how literally nightmarish the exit process will be.

Since June 24, as News-watch’s report on the Brexit Collection showed, the Corporation has been on a flat-out mission to show how stupid the British people were in voting ‘out’.

With Article 50 due to be triggered this week, Britain’s Biggest Deal can be seen as a culmination and a summation of those efforts. It ominously presages that for the next two years, as the negotiations unfold, the Corporation – led by Kuenssberg – will be cheering on every effort to undermine them.

Element one was a gross imbalance of speakers who wanted to rake up every conceivable obstacle to the the UK departure. Kuenssberg assembled a diverse and impressive cast-list: Tony Blair bellyaching about how important high volume immigration is to the UK economy; Sadiq Khan warning about the dire consequences of leaving the single market; Remainer William (now Lord) Hague intoning that this was the most complex diplomatic task ever undertaken; a West Country baker fearing major negative impact on his business; EU figures warning of dire consequences, of hard choices, and UK civil servants echoing the same.

Basic programme statistics confirm this gross structural bias. Fifteen of the programme contributors were Remainers, were pro-EU or thought that leaving could not be achieved in the allotted two years. Pitched against them were only five guests who believed otherwise.

In other words, 3:1 in favour of the Remain camp. And no-one from Ukip. Slowly but surely, the party is being air-brushed out.

Remainers spoke 3,700 words; those who were in favour of Brexit only 2,300. That’s a 3:2 imbalance.

Far more important in the equation, however, were the 3,000 or so words spoken by Kuenssberg, her handling of the programme guests, and her decisions on the programme structure.

‘Double, double toil and trouble’ …. springs to mind, and (for once) is here perhaps totally appropriate.  No eye of newt and toe of frog in the programme brew, maybe, but a modern-day equivalent: first of all, the Tory Remainer from hell, Anna Soubry; then Blair, Sturgeon and Farron in full anti-Brexit cry, along with EU Harpies such as Karel de Grucht and Donald Tusk – and finally, an EU law ‘expert’ from Clifford Chance, one of the few legal practices to come out overtly (and aggressively) in favour of Remain (referred to here by Open Europe – link to pay-walled FT article).

Their combined oracle-reading was spine-chilling indeed.

Striking, too, throughout was Kuenssberg’s use of language to describe the Brexit process. It was, she posited at the outset, ‘a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare’, with political danger ‘all around from Westminster to Scotland’ (on high Dunsinane Hill?).

Then, as the programme unfolded, there was what amounted to a a torrent of negative observations and questions: were we, she pondered, ‘hurtling along a collision course?’; there was ‘a lot more to worry about than herring or cod’; ‘divorce was messy, breaking up is hard to do’; ‘could the whole deal be derailed before it’s even begun?’; and of course:

‘But as everyone knows, divorce isn’t only about cold, hard cash. Even if the money is settled, the deal means disentangling ourselves from the hidden ways that we are bound together.’

Followed soon afterwards by:

‘The lights in Whitehall are burning later than usual, with two new departments to cope. Government lawyers are right now trawling thousands of pieces of legislation to work out what’s next. Enough to make even the most brilliant minds boggle.’

And that was only in the first five minutes.

Also true, it must be acknowledged, is that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith were included in the programme mix, and between them made some strong points about positive outcomes.

But here, too, as Craig Byers notes in his blog on the programme, another type of bias was on display: Kuenssberg posed much tougher and adversarial questions to them than to the Remain contributors.  She suggested, for example, to Lord Hague that this was a diplomatic nightmare. His answer simply and obligingly confirmed it.

In sharp contrast, Brexit minister David Davis was dealing with that ‘nightmare’ and there was hard-edged steeliness from Kuenssberg about looming ‘cliff-edges’.

Perhaps the most blatantly biased aspect of the whole farrago was the sight of Kuenssberg brandishing to shoppers a giant cheque for £50 billion, which, she repeatedly posited, could be the cost of Brexit. Rather predictably, they were horrified at the idea, and said so.

The programme can be viewed here. The full transcript is below:

 

Transcript of BBC2, Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal, 9 March 2016, 9pm

LAURA KUENSSBERG:        Theresa May is about to press the button on Brexit and head off on a mission.

THERESA MAY:    The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. And my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do.

WILLIAM HAGUE: I can’t think of a more complex negotiation in modern diplomatic history.

LK:          Outnumbered, facing 27 different countries across the negotiating table.

KAREL DE GUCHT Don’t believe that this is not going to hurt you, it will hurt you. And that’s why it is such a stupid decision to take.

LK:          For Brexiteers, the dream is a quickie divorce.

BORIS JOHNSON: I am genuinely optimistic, I really am. I think we should aim to put a bit of a tiger in the tank.

LK:          But there is political danger all around. From Westminster.

ANNA SOUBRY If she doesn’t deliver what they want, they will stab her in the back just as they did with Major and, in effect, with DC – with Cameron.

LK:          To Scotland.

NICOLA STURGEON:           I’ve, you know, been very clear. I think a second independent referendum is highly likely.

LK:          The truth – no one knows where this will end up.

TONY BLAIR:        My anxiety is that the gain is very small and the pain is going to be very large

MICHAEL GOVE:  I think we should be confident, optimistic, pragmatic, open-minded.

LK:          It sounds like a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare.

WH:       I think it is. But it’s one the people have voted for, so it has to be carried out.

LK:          When the Prime Minister packs her bags for Brussels, how hard is it going to be?  Is she ready?  Is the country ready to do the deal? (Programme Title, ‘Brexit: Britain’s Biggest Deal)

UNNAMED ARCHITECT:     I had a secret wish to make a joyful building. To make a building that would relax people coming in and, you know, this is a very limited but still a power in architecture is to influence the mood of people.

LK:          Welcome to the brand-new HQ of the European Council, where Brussels’s power lies. This is where the Brexit talks will take place.

UNNAMED ARCHITECT:     I hope that it will help people respect each other and joyful meetings. I want to give them a homely space, a space where their deep talents can be expressed, like poets.

LK:          But Brexit might mean more stern words than poetry.

ARCHIVE FILM:     This has got to be clear, I’m leaving you for good and all.

ARCHIVE FILM:     Council, if you’ll prepare a judgement of divorce in this matter.

ARCHIVE FILM:     And you’ve got to divorce me.

LK:          But divorce is messy, breaking up is hard to do. Britain wants out of the EU, but we’ve been in for more than 40 years, with our countries, our systems becoming more and more tangled up with each other, more and more enmeshed. And we only have two years to hammer out a divorce deal. British ministers are also all too aware that with a series of elections right around the continent, it could be months before they get down to any serious talking. So straightaway the clock is ticking.

WILLIAM HAGUE: This is the most complex divorce ever, in history. The number of assets and income streams and expenditures that have to be separated from each other, and I think people don’t always realise that, erm, that we have become, over more than 40 years, very integrated into the European Union, so no-one should underestimate the complexity of this task.

SIR SIMON FRASER Permanent Secretary, Foreign Office, 2010-15:         There’s no real precedent for this other than Greenland. Now, Greenland is part of Denmark, which has about 60,000 people, and decided to leave the European Union and, actually, the main industry in Greenland is fish. And it took three years, actually, for the negotiations to be completed. Now, in the case of the UK you’re talking about the second-biggest economy in Europe, with 60 million people. So it is significantly a bigger challenge.

LK:          And we’ve got a lot more to worry about than herring and cod.

SF:          We’ve got a lot more than fish to deal with.

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI Polish Foreign Minister 2007-14:             It’s going to be the mother of all divorces. Some people will do well – lawyers and accountants.

LK:          The bean-counters could have a field day. Because the EU’s likely to make us pay – money, a lot of money is on the table. One of the first things the EU might well do is slap down a bill of as much as £50 billion for Britain to pay in order just to get out. That potentially massive bill is for Britain’s share of existing EU spending commitments like the pensions of EU officials. And if we don’t pay, the other countries will have to stump up.

WH:       There are some liabilities there. It will be very hard to settle what they are and of course whenever you get into money, as in any negotiation in life, that is one of the most vexing and controversial things. Given the sensitivity in the UK to being, for many years, the second-biggest contributor into the EU budget and then the anger that was felt by people about that in the referendum campaign, any such question will be extremely sensitive.

LK:          But hang on – remember this?

BJ:          We can take back control of £350 million a week!

LK:          Wasn’t the campaign based on getting money back from Brussels? What would we all make  of an exit bill? (Carrying large cheque) So we have a cheque here for £50 billion to the European Union that UK taxpayers might have to pay to the rest of the EU to get out.

VOX POP FEMALE:             We’ve been lied to.

LK:          Is that how you feel?

VPF:       Yeah, I don’t think anybody was explained to enough what was actually going to happen.

VOX POP MALE:   I can’t believe it. We would have heard about that before, surely?

VOX POP FEMALE:             Cheap at the price to get out of Brexit, yes. (sic)

VOX POP MALE 2:              Who are we going to pay the money to?

LK:          The European Commission in Brussels potentially.

VPM2:    Exactly, well sod ‘em.

LK:          Sod ‘em?

VPM2:    Yes, and Gomorrah.

LK:          (laughs)

VPF:       We should never, ever have given us a referendum (sic) None of us are educated enough to vote on something so serious.

VOX POP MALE 3:              You just need to be tough, the same as any business deal.

VPM:      I voted Out, so it’s all my fault, I apologise.

LK:          (laughs) (cuts to interview with Michael Gove) You were the chair of the Vote Leave campaign, you gave people a sense of expectation we were going to get money back. Now, won’t it be rather embarrassing for you if instead we end up being asked to shell out to get out of the thing?

MG:       We will get money back. Erm, there’s alway the chance, always the, er, potential that we’ll pay a one-off leaving fee. But that one-off fee having been paid, what will happen is that for years to come, money that we would have given the European Union we’ll now be able to spend ourselves.

LK:          But if we have to pay a one-off fee of some billions, won’t some voters who were persuaded by your arguments have every right to feel pretty cross with you?

MG:       Well, I think that we won’t be paying the enormous sums that have been talked of, in fact, in my view, we should actually be due a rebate. But we will see what happens in those negotiations.

LK:          What does the British government say if Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator, slaps down a bill for £50 billion?

BORIS JOHNSON: I think, er, I think we have, er…illustrious precedent in this matter. You will doubtless recall the 1984 Fontainebleau summit in which Mrs Thatcher said she wanted her money back, and I think that is exactly what we will, we will get. It is not reasonable . . .

LK:          (speaking over) That we will say no, that is what you’re saying?

BJ:          It is not reasonable, I don’t think, for the UK, having left the EU, to continue to make vast budget payments. I think everybody understands that and that’s the reality.

KAREL DE GUCHT EU Trade Commissioner 2010-14:    I can’t see at this moment in time the constructive approach on either side, how do we make the best of this, you know? This is very much now a fight.

LK:          Are we hurtling along on a collision course?  If the EU tries to insist the cash is agreed upfront, cut the whole deal be derailed before it’s even begun?

KDG:      I believe it will be a very tough negotiation and it could very well be that after a couple of weeks, everything breaks down because there is no agreement on the principal itself of a cheque to be paid here.

ANNA SOUBRY MP Conservative:    I think the EU will indeed deliver that bill and I’ll tell what I think will happen, is in that event, part of the media will whip up even more a storm of anti-EU feeling and so even more people will come to the conclusion that the sooner we are rid of this ghastly bunch of people the better. And that will drive the cliff-edge scenario. Because “they’re unreasonable, you can’t do business with them,” it’ll be whipped up and you can’t get a deal and the sooner we’re out the better.

LK:          But as everyone knows, divorce isn’t only about cold, hard cash.  Even if the money is settled, the deal means disentangling ourselves from the hidden ways that we are bound together.

JESSICA GLADSTONE Lawyer, Clifford Chance:             The EU and the UK have been intertwined for more than 40 years and that will take a lot of unravelling. If you like, you could picture it as a huge Jenga tower, and the task here is to remove or replace the elements that connect us to the EU without having the whole fall apart. It’s going to require, erm, a lot of concentration, a lot of skill, and it’s going to need a real appreciation of how the two interconnect.

LK:          Since 1973, much in our daily lives has been governed by EU law.  The quality of the water that we drink . . . the farms where our food is grown. And what happens to the law. All the rules and regulation. It all has to be worked out in a two-year deadline.

JG:          One good example is the European Medicines Agency, which supervises the safety standards for all medicines that are available in the EU.

ARCHIVE FOOTAGE OF DOCTOR:     I’m going to give you something new that we use with good results. You’ll be alright in a few days.

JG:          Once the UK has left the EU, there’ll need to be something in place of that, make sure that the products available in the UK meet requisite standards.

WH:       Even the way we do our air traffic control is now on an EU basis, you have to separate that out so that you know when aircraft can land, where people can fish, how farm subsidies are paid, and you could imagine talking for months about each of them.

LK:          It sounds like a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare?

WH:       I think it is. Erm, but it’s one that the people have voted for, so it has to be carried out.

LK:          Our skies right now are governed by the EU, with a myriad of European legislation. It’s in both sides’ interests to sort it out, but it will take a lot of officials a lot of time.

JG:          It’s the sheer scale that will be so difficult to manage, because there may be some tasks that in themselves are not particularly difficult, but when you add it to the huge to-do list that the government will have, to make sure that Brexit runs smoothly, then it becomes in itself a real challenge.

LK:          The lights in Whitehall are burning later than usual, with two new departments to cope. Government lawyers are right now trawling thousands of pieces of legislation to work out what’s next. Enough to make even the most brilliant minds boggle.

PROFESSOR STEPHEN HAWKING:    I deal with tough mathematical questions every day, but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit.  (laughter and cheering)

LK:          Remember, Theresa May doesn’t just have to sort out the money and, well, the whole legal system. But the hardest thing of all is how do we do business with Europe in the future?  And for months she dodged the question.

THERESA MAY:    Brexit means Brexit, and we’re going to make a success of it.  (in another clip)People talk about the sort of Brexit that there is going to be – is it hard, soft, is it grey, white – actually, we want a red, white and blue Brexit. That is the right Brexit for the United Kingdom.

JOURNALIST:        Are we going to get a detailed plan, Prime Minister?

LK:          Finally, in January, she laid out her vision of what the referendum result really meant, and what kind of deal that would entail.

TM:        The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union and my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do. But the message from the public before and during the referendum campaign was clear – Brexit must mean control of the number of people who come to Britain from Europe, and that is what we will deliver.

LK:          Gaining control over our borders and our laws meant losing something else.

TM:        We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, but I want to be clear, what I am proposing cannot mean membership of the Single Market.

LK:          In one phrase undoing nearly three decades of British history. Since 1992, we’re done business in Europe largely without tariffs or barriers in the Single Market. Remember who used to think it was a good idea.

MARGARET THATCHER:    The combination of a Single Market in 1992 and the Channel Tunnel in 1993 is going to make a historic difference to the future of the whole of Europe and its place in the world and our place in Europe.

LK:          For many big British businesses the Single Market has been hugely beneficial. (in interview)We are walking away from the biggest trade partnership that exists. Will you admit there will be losers as well as winners? We cannot get a deal that is going to be as good as our current relationships inside the Single Market.

BJ:          Well, with great respect, I think it’ll be considerably better. I don’t want to pretend that there won’t be difficult questions, because there will be challenges. By the way, I don’t want to pretend that this country doesn’t have economic challenges, of course we have challenges, but we can meet all those challenges, and I think the government is setting out a very positive programme for doing so. And we can do a great free trade deal with our partners.

LK:          So what would a free trade deal with the EU look like?

JG:          If you have a look at a free trade agreement – although I wouldn’t necessarily wish it on anybody – you’ll see at the back of the agreement there are schedules, and the schedules have, in minute detail, every different sort of product in every different form that that product might come in. And there is detail as to what tariff will apply in that case, and it’s line by line for literally hundreds, thousands of pages.

LK:          So Theresa May has set herself a huge task. Any new trade deal will require the agreement of 27 other nations and to be approved by 38 different national and regional parliaments.  But Britain is isolated. In Brussels it didn’t start well.

DONALD TUSK (unnamed) The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us. There will be no cakes on the table for anyone, there will be only salt and vinegar.

UNNAMED FRENCH SPEAKER:         Today, Britain wants to leave but does not want to pay anything.  That is not possible.

KDG:      The mood is a little bit like you’re having a divorce, you know? They feel betrayed, this is not proper, you know – that’s the mood in Brussels at this moment in time. And nobody’s showing any flexibility.

LK:          (referring to Theresa May) She knows Europe’s leaders feel the survival of their union is at stake. They fear a good deal for us would tempt this to leave.

RS:         Well, I hope the continental negotiations EU-27 will do everything in their power to make it a friendly process – although it’s going to be very difficult. But I think those who imagine that Britain will be able to dictate to the rest of the European Union will be disappointed and they might find it humiliating.

LK:          The strategy in Brussels is clear: for every single one of the 27 EU member states, apart from Britain, to stick together along with the European Council and the European Commission. But Britain knows they all have some different interests and some different agendas, so the British strategy: pick them off. Divide and conquer. And that means working not just with national governments, but powerful groups inside their countries too, and using them to apply pressure for a deal. Our fancy tastes might help. We drink more prosecco from Italy, and more champagne from France than anyone else. Surely the EU won’t want tariffs on those?  Even more importantly, Britain is the biggest export market for Germany’s mighty car industry.

IAIN DUNCAN SMITH:        The UK needs to identify very quickly every single nation’s real stake in this game and the number one thing that politicians react to is jobs? What happens when that million car workers in Bavaria, whose jobs rely on British exports, that’s one million people who are in work because they sell a large number of cars to the UK, what happens when they start saying, “Hang on a second, are you saying that my job will go because you will refuse to have an arrangement with the United Kingdom because you think, for political purposes, that’s best?” We should be talking and will be talking to the very people that make things and get people jobs and they pay their taxes because that’s where politics really sits.

LK:          And there’s the City of London.

ARCHIVE NEWSREEL:         Britain has one of the most highly developed banking and financial systems in the world.

LK:          The UK will also try to persuade Europe it’s in everyone’s interests to give London’s massive financial services industry a special status in any deal.

SADIQ KHAN Mayor of London:        I’m quite clear, I’m pragmatic, I’m trying to work with the Government to ensure when it comes to them doing a deal with the European Union, it doesn’t make us poorer. That means, for example, recognising the importance of privileged access to a single market. That means recognising the importance of our ability to attract talent. I think the reality of a so-called hard Brexit is we would lose, so would the EU, because the jobs that would leave London wouldn’t go to Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt. They’d go to Singapore, Hong Kong or New York. A so-called hard Brexit means we lose as a city, our country loses, but so does Europe.

MG:       It’s certainly the case that if the current negotiators on behalf of the European Union try to penalise the City of London, they would actually be penalising themselves because the depth and breadth of the capital market that is the City of London helps sustain European industry.

LK:          So, we should ignore sabre-rattling from European capitals at the moment, should we?

MG:       I think we should be confident, optimistic, pragmatic, open-minded.

LK:          Aren’t you gambling that the European Union will put economics ahead of politics? I mean, when has the European Union ever put economics ahead of politics.

BJ:          Well, I mean, I think, the answer to that is that I think the EU leaders will be very responsive to their electorates and to their business communities, who can see the advantage of striking a deal with the UK, where you have a strong EU supported by a strong independent UK, but where you maximise trade between them.

MARIO MONTI Italian Prime Minister, 2011-13  I know there is the view in the UK with many that economics ultimately trumps politics. Erm, I wouldn’t rely too much on that. Britain, on the 23rd of June, the economic argument for staying was overwhelming and yet it was the political set of arguments, however disorderly, which trumped the rather clear economic arguments.

LK:          And a key ally of Angela Merkel warns we cannot have it all our own way.

DAVID McALLISTER MEP Chairman, European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee:              Cherry-picking – that cannot really be an option. A state which isn’t a member of the European Union and which isn’t a member of a single market can’t be better off than a member state of the European Union, so whatever the new relation, the new agreement between the European Union and the UK will be, it will have to be less than the current EU membership of the European Union.

LK:          But the real Brexit-enthusiasts believe the costs of leaving will be swept away by the trading opportunities with the rest of the world.

BJ:          You’ve then got the FTAs, the Free Trade Agreements with the rest of the world that we will now be able to do. We’ve got an embarrassment of choice because a lot of people want to do a free trade deal and so the task will be how do we prioritise?

MG:       If you look at other countries which have been outside the single market, they’ve managed to secure for themselves not just trade deals worth far more than the European Union has been capable of negotiating for itself, they’ve also been able to pursue economic policies which have fostered growth, creativity and innovation.

LK:          But before any new deals can happen, we have to tie up the arrangements with the European Union. And it’s even more daunting, because there’s a deadline. Can we really move that fast? (in interview) How long do you think it will actually take?

SIR SIMON FRASER Permanent Secretary, Foreign Office, 2010-15:         The average accession negotiation to join the EU, for example, is about seven years and if you look at the negotiation of the trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, that took about seven years to negotiate.

JG:          So, I think the quickest one the EU has ever agreed has been within a period of about 4 years.  Typically, 8-11 years is not uncommon for negotiating trade deals.

LK:          But couldn’t we just put our foot down? Lawrence Tomlinson owns a string of businesses, including Ginetta Cars, and is a man used to doing deals. You might just remember him from the referendum campaign.

LAWRENCE TOMLINSON:   Well, actually, Boris took me out for a spin to start with, which was quite disconcerting, but I was really surprised, he drove it very well and then we brought him back and we did a few doughnuts and it seemed to catch the imagination of the campaign.

LK:          And now around here, you call it the Borismobile.

LT:          We do, we call this old girl the Borismobile.

BJ:          We’re taking back control.

LK:          In terms of the length of time it’s going to take, you know, some people say this might take as long as a decade, it’s going to be very complicated and that delay is going to mean uncertainty and that can be really damaging.

LT:          I think the Government will just plough straight on. I mean, it’s just utter bollocks that it should take ten years.

LK:          Why?

LT:          Well, World War II took just over five years and, I mean, in fact, I think it shows the reasons why we should leave, you know, that things like this could perceivably take ten years. It’s ridiculous, so let’s get on, let’s get a nice clean hard Brexit and let’s dictate it.

LK:          The government wants to get cracking. They’ve set themselves a target of negotiating a new trade deal in two years. On top of all that tricky divorce. (in interview) Every European diplomat, pretty much every expert, is very cynical about this being done within two years, why are you sure it can be done?

BJ:          Well, it certainly can be done in two years and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, and I think we should aim to put a bit of a tiger in the tank. As I say, the deal with the EU, that negotiation, I think, should be fairly straightforward because we are in line with the rest of the EU when it comes to our standards and our, our trade arrangements, we just need to perpetuate that agreement.

LK:          What do you say to many supporters of leaving the EU who say, “Look, We could just repeal the act, we could just walk out. It could all be done in a couple of years”?

SF:          My answer to that is you could do that, but you need to think about what you’re left with and if you’re left with not a very good relationship with other European countries and no clarity about the future arrangements in our biggest market because, after all, almost half of our trade is with the European Union, then I don’t think that’s a very satisfactory position to end up in.

LK:          So it’s a kind of crash and burn? You could do it fast, but we’d burn ourselves on the way out?

SF:          So you could do a quick deal, the question is could you do a good quick deal?

LK:          Everybody agrees that getting it done in record time is a challenge of historic proportions. This is Down Street Station, hundreds of feet below the posh streets of London’s Mayfair and, during World War II, the government used to come down here for secret meetings. Churchill used to spend time in these warrens, trying to decide what to do in the war. (in interview) Some people compare it to the biggest job for any leader since the Second World War. For you, is it right to compare this to a challenge as great as the Second World War?

WH:       In its complexity, it is right to compare it. This is nothing like as grave a challenge as the Second World War. It’s not even the gravest moment since the Second World War, but it is the most complex.  That is certainly true. I don’t think ever before has a government had to negotiate over so many subjects with such a . . . a complex set of negotiating partners on the other side and so many competing demands on their own side. I can’t think of any parallel to that for any British government in history.

LK:          Are ministers being straight with us about how hard it might be? One former Prime Minister doesn’t think so.

JOHN MAJOR:      I’ve watched with growing concern as the British people have been led to expect a future that seems to be unreal and over-optimistic. Obstacles are brushed aside as if of no consequence, whilst opportunities are inflated beyond any reasonable expectation. My own experience of international negotiations makes me doubt the rosy confidence being offered to the British people.

LK:          Should you not just level with people and manage their expectations, because it’s one thing . . .

BJ:          (speaking over) Okay, it’s a very important . . .

LK:          . . . saying, “It might be a bit difficult, there might be some bumps in the road,” . . .

BJ:          (speaking over) I think, I think that’s a very, very legitimate question.

LK:          There are millions of people who are worried about what might happen here.

BJ:          (speaking over) Yes, I think it’s very important, it’s very important to understand that, I mean, I mean, I am genuinely optimistic. I really am. I think it’s a fantastically exciting moment. I think we’re going to do brilliantly well, but it’s also important, at the outset of any negotiation, not to go into it with a sort of Eeyore-ish hesitancy about how things are going to turn out, but to, to, to recognise and to communicate to our friends and partners that this is going to be good for both of us.

LK:          But, just as you suggest, Eeyore might have been a bit gloomy, Tigger might have been a bit naïve.

BJ:          All of us who are working on this – Liam Fox, the Prime Minister – we all understand, the Chancellor, we all understand there are challenges and there are problems. None of them, individually, is by any means an insoluble problem and there are ways of taking advantage of the position we’re in, too, which will be greatly to the benefit of the UK economy, UK consumers and people in this country.

LK:          This is Theresa May’s deal. Can she get it done. She has a wafer-thin majority, but, so far, she seems pretty much unstoppable. Her bill to trigger Article 50 and start the Brexit process passed through the Commons easily. (footage of vote passing Commons)

MG:       It certainly felt historic, but I was also conscious that, in a way, this was the easy part. It was easy to make the case in the House of Commons that we should honour the referendum and respect the result. The difficult part is making the individual decisions that will ensure that Britain is in a stronger position in the future, but there are going to be, inevitably, difficult days ahead.

LK:          What there hasn’t been yet is intense political pressure. The referendum turned everything upside down.

JEREMY CORBYN: Mr Speaker, it’s not so much the Iron Lady, as the Irony Lady.

TM:        I’ve got a plan, he doesn’t have a clue.

LK:          It’s left Labour divided and confused.  (in interview) Do you think we are potentially at the start of a really fundamental reshaping of British politics.

TB:         I just don’t think you can tell at the moment. I mean, what is clear to me is that, if the choice is between a sort of hard Brexit Tory Party and a hard left Labour Party, there will be millions of people who feel politically homeless. The fact, at this moment in time with this issue of Brexit, that you don’t have an opposition capable, or looking as if it’s capable of winning, is a problem. I mean, that is a problem for our democracy.

SIR KEIR STARMER MP Shadow Brexit Secretary:         Brexit has clearly been difficult for the Labour Party, but I do think the worst is over and now we can hold the Government to account in a much more united way. The difficulty for us as a pro-European party was whether to give the Prime Minister permission to start the process. Now, we’ll hold her to account every step of the way.

LK:          But one party has seen an opportunity in crisis. Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat leader, and he’s calling for a second referendum, but this time on the Brexit deal.

TIM FARRON:       I think you kind of keep fighting for what you believe in. You’ve got to have the courage of your convictions and I think that what politicians tend not to do is say stuff that is uncomfortable. (leaving taxi) Thank you very much. Thank you, bye-bye.

LK:          He’s off to Doncaster, where 70% of people voted to leave, to thrash out his plan with some of them.

TF:          The bottom line is eventually she’s going to come back with some kind of a deal and the question is do you trust her and Parliament Our point is that people should be able to have one last look over the cliff and say, “I’m going over,” or, “Do you know what? I’d rather not.”

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP:               I don’t agree with another referendum. You know, the country’s made a decision. Why are we having the bickering, so let’s go forward together, we will get there.

UNNAMED FEMALE IN FOCUS GROUP:          It’s going to happen so, everybody, get behind it and make it happen in the best possible way.

TF:          I don’t think it happens in the best possible way if there’s no resistance and no challenge to the Prime Minister.

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP 2:            The trouble is it’s not a football match, it’s not like we’ve scored one goal, yeah, okay, you come in now, Tim, you get your referendum, you score another one and then we take it to a penalty shootout.

TF:          I know it’s not best of three, I get that. Although we’ve had two . . .

UMFG2: But you get one crack at it, you see.

TF:          What she’s doing by saying you’re out of the single market without even arguing our place is settling for a poor deal and that’s why, you know, amongst the things we’re saying is that the people should decide at the end. So, no, I think the job of a good opposition is to challenge the Government so that they’re better.

LK:          For many voters though, here and round the country, immigration was the priority.

UMFG2: Right, the reason why they come here… The reason why they come here is because of…

TF:          You’re about to say benefits, aren’t you?

UMFG2: Yeah, of course.

TF:          It’s not. Honestly, it’s not. They’ve never heard of benefits.

UMFG2: Oh, come on!

TF:          Honestly, they haven’t. Honestly, they haven’t.

UMFG:   What’s in that coffee, I’ll have some of that! Your average European in Britain is youngish, working, paying taxes. They are. And we have a kind of misconcept of the value or the damage that European labour is doing here.

UMFG2:               Democracy has spoken. Do you not believe in democracy?

TF:          Yeah, I do. I think, I think democracy means two things. One is having the grace to accept when you’ve not won and the second is you don’t flipping give up. You stake out a case and you argue people to follow you, and you may succeed or you may fail. A referendum on the deal is not just democracy – It’s about closure. It’s about the country agreeing that, yes, this deal, we’re content with it. The danger of there not being a referendum at the end is the Government decides and three-quarters of the country say, “I didn’t vote for that,” and there is simmering resentment, and there’s no closure.

UNNAMED MAN IN FOCUS GROUP 3: I can see why, as a politician, he has a lot of personal charm. He is a very persuasive speaker, but did he change my mind? Not for a moment.

UMFG:   We’ve got to take it on the chin and move forward as a United Kingdom and, actually, let’s make this happen, okay, let’s stop the rot, stop the circle, let’s just on with it.

LK:          Theresa May’s calculation is that most Britons would agree with that. They just want her to get on with it. And it’s the decision to control the country’s borders that has defined the Prime Minister’s plan.. But will she actually be able to cut the numbers of people who come here?

CHRIS ORMORD:  We’re seen as a brilliant business making brilliant cakes. We’ve been in Taunton since 1865, I’d like to think we’ll be here for another 150 years.

LK:          Chris Ormrod owns and runs a bakery in the heart of Somerset.

CO:         We employ 400 people locally, 200 of them British, and the other 200 are from a mixture of nationalities from the EU and in some cases beyond. So, if you suddenly give me a very hard Brexit and say, “You can’t employ unskilled labour,” I kind of worry where I’m going to get my staff from to do the sort of things that we do and to carry on growing the business for the future and that one, that is a sleepless night kind of question and I don’t know how to answer that properly at this stage.

LK:          Chris isn’t the only person worried here. Chef Lubo has been in Britain for eight years.

LUBO ROTAK:       When we first moved here, my daughter was five months old, and er, now she’s eight. My son is six so both my children were raised here. They went to kindergarten, they went to school here, they feel they belong here. If it was going down the hard Brexit way, then the worst case scenario for us would be to move, me and my whole family, over to Slovakia. That’s not what we planned, that’s not the future we planned for our children, so it’s not just about us, it’s about our children and it would have a massive impact on their lives as well, yeah.

LK:          The fate of the three million or so EU citizens who live here, as well as more than a million Brits who live on the continent, will be on the table when the Brexit talks begin. But this business and many others depend on them.

CO:         I suspect most people would say, “Why don’t you just hire Brits locally?” Believe you me, we have tried. As I stand right now, we’ve got 30 vacancies. That’s very nearly 8% of my workforce and I can’t fill them and the simple truth is there just aren’t enough local people that want to come and work in the factory.

LK:          Fears shared in very different industries, in very different parts of the country.

SADIQ KHAN:       Let me give you one simple statistic. 12.5% of London’s workforce – that is more than 600,000 Londoners and they’re Londoners, by the way, who were born in countries in the European Union. They work in construction, they work in finance, they work in tech, they work in the professional services. They help our city thrive and flourish. If we can’t continue to attract them, we’re going to struggle and suffer.

LK:          But Theresa May has been absolutely clear. We’re not staying in the single market and she’s determined to bring immigration down and that means an end to freedom of movement.

SK:          I accept the argument there are parts of the country that don’t want immigration. There are parts of the country where the voters there voted to leave the EU because they thought it would lead to less immigration. I’m quite clear in relation to London – if we’re going to continue to flourish and thrive, we need to continue to be able to attract talent.

LK:          Since the referendum, the government’s tried to reassure individual industries they won’t lose their workers. But does that mean immigration won’t fall?

TB:         Right now, on what the Government is telling us, we’re going to still be bringing the majority, probably the large majority, of these people in from Europe, yet that was the main reason people gave for pulling us out of Europe. So, all I’m saying is a very simple thing: you know, when people start not just to see the pain, but start to realise in terms of the gain, we’re not going to be pulling those European numbers down to a few thousand, people are going to carrying on coming because we want them to come.

LK:          For how long should voters expect to continue to see significant levels of immigration from the European Union? Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? There was a political promise of us being able to bring immigration down, leaving the European Union . . .

DAVID DAVIS MP Brexit Secretary (speaking over) It will come down. Listen, make no bones about it, I mean, the Prime Minister, ex-home Secretary, is determined that it will come down, but it’ll come down in a way that doesn’t do harm.

LK:          For swathes of voters, though, shouldn’t you be preparing them for something that feels rather different to what they think they were promised? I mean, might we not end up with a bad compromise here where significant level of immigration remain over time so that business doesn’t lose out, but then also a new bureaucratic system of dealing with work permits and visas for business? That’s not going to be a great compromise for anyone, is it?

DD:         Look, it’s going to be a good outcome, (words unclear) compromise. It’s going to be a good outcome because A – we’ll control it, that’s the first thing. We’ll decide and we’ll make decisions on economic, and also on social grounds and so on. Secondly, the bureaucracy can be overstated, it doesn’t have to be bureaucratic, it’s very plain what we want to do, we want to keep our economy running at the same time as bringing immigration down, and we’ll do both.

LK:          And how long should it take, how long should people expect?

DD:         Well, it’ll take what it takes because the economy will drive it.

LK:          But there’s another fault line, a fundamental one: the tension between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Just listen to this, from the Prime Minister’s very first speech on the steps of Number Ten.

TM:        It means we believe in the Union – the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

LK:          Yet more than 60% of those who voted in Scotland chose to remain in the EU. That’s encouraged those who believe in independence to push for a second vote.

NICOLA STURGEON First Minister of Scotland:             Theresa May, in deciding to play to the hard right Brexiteers of her own party rather than trying to find maximum common ground, is in danger of making a decision to leave the EU, which I already think would have been damaging, potentially quite catastrophic for the UK.

LK:          Your opponents would say, though, you’re trying to use this situation to revive the independence arguments.

NS:         I deliberately didn’t, the morning after the EU referendum, say, “Right, that’s it, we’re off and we’re having a second independence referendum,” because I wanted to see if we could find that compromise ground. I’m not hugely optimistic about it at this stage because we’ve been met with a bit of a brick wall from the UK Government, but I’m honouring the commitment I made in this very room on the 24th of June to exhaust all possibilities. But equally, you know, I’ve been very clear, I think a second independence referendum is highly likely.

LK:          You just dispute the sense, the claim that the case for independence has been strengthened fundamentally by the fact that the UK is leaving the EU?

MG:       No, the case for independence is weaker now.

LK:          It’s weaker?

MG:       The truth about the Scottish Nationalist Party is that they have one aim – they want to destroy the United Kingdom and they will bend and twist any aspect of politics in order to fit this preordained ideological goal. And we should call them out.

LK:          In Westminster, some politicians think you’re bluffing about holding a referendum.

NS:         I’m not, and I never have been. And, you know, I always think that sometimes kind of says more about them than it says about me because it suggests that there are politicians in Westminster who think Brexit and all of this is some kind of game. It’s not a game, it’s really, really serious and the implications for the UK are serious and the implications for Scotland are serious.

LK:          Some of your colleagues now talk about autumn 2018 as a likely date?

NS:         Within that window, I guess, of when the sort of outline of a UK deal becomes clear and the UK exiting the EU, I think, would be the common sense time for Scotland to have that choice, if that is the road we choose to go down.

LK:          Just to be clear, you’re not ruling out autumn 2018?

NS:         I’m not ruling anything out, no.

LK:          It seems the government in Scotland is deadly serious about another vote on independence. It means when Theresa May is up to her eyes in trying to get a good deal from the European Union, she might also be grappling in a fierce fight to keep the UK together. There are serious issues for Northern Ireland, too. The peace process which ended the Troubles partly depended on an open border with the Republic in the south. But Theresa May’s decision to leave the single market and what’s called the customs union could force a return to a hard border, with echoes of the past.

TB:         The risks to the peace process, I think, are substantial. If you start putting a hard border down there, quite apart from all the disruption and the difficulty, you will change that context in a way that is profound and adverse.

LK:          Tony Blair has told us in this programme that there is a real risk to the peace process while the border issue is unresolved, that things could be very unpredictable in Northern Ireland. Is he right?

DD:         Well, no, I don’t think he is and the reason he’s not right is because everybody is seized of the issue so we, all of us, want to solve it and what does solve it mean? It means having a frictionless border. It means not going back to the borders of the past. I am confident we can actually get a resolution which is comfortable for the people of Northern Ireland and also comfortable for Ireland, the Republic of Ireland as well.

LK:          By the end of the month, Theresa May will press the button on two years of Brexit negotiations. They’ll be as complex and tortuous as anything that’s been attempted since the European Union was born.

TOM FLETCHER Prime Minister’s Foreign Policy Adviser, 2007-11:          This time, every leader in that room is negotiating not just with their foreign counterparts, but with their own media, with their own parliament, with their own party and with their own public and that is a very, very tough negotiation to get right, that multi-dimensional chess game.

LK:          There are crucial elections in France and Germany this year. With Europe’s most powerful politicians distracted, it may be autumn before any serious talks begin in this town. With so much to negotiate, no-one doubts one thing: there’ll be long days, late nights, it will go to the wire.

WH:       In a negotiation which is relatively fixed in time, why would you make a major concession, once you’ve started the negotiations, half way through?  You would save that all up for when you’re getting to the 11th hour, for when you’re approaching the end of the two years and that will make it an agonisingly difficult process. It always does, there’s always somebody holding out for a bit more. Most European deals, in the end, are settled either at the last minute or after the last minute.

LK:          David Cameron learnt that lesson the hard way, in previous battles in Brussels.

DC:         And it’s frankly not acceptable for the way for it to be left to this last minute and then attempt at reopening it and the sort of ambush at 1am at the end of a European Council meeting. I just think this is no way for an organisation to conduct itself and I find it immensely frustrating, but, you know, in this town, you have to be ready for an ambush at any minute and that means, you know, lock and load and have one up the spout and be ready for it, and that’s exactly what I did.

TF:          The reality of these negotiations, particularly at three o’clock in the morning, is that no plan survives contact with the enemy. You can have spent months preparing the perfect game plan, but, just as in a military campaign, it will all come down to those fine, minute judgements you make on the spot.

LK:          In this diplomatic game, the questions: who has most to lose, and who blinks first? This is Brussels’ most famous chippie and Angela Merkel even popped down here from a summit when things got a bit fraught late at night and round here, things do get very, very late and very, very tricky and the closer we get to the end of the two year deadline, the more pressure there is on Theresa May.  Her opponents across the table, they know full well she doesn’t want to walk away with nothing. If the deadline looms and there’s deadlock, one option for the Government is to seek a temporary arrangement but that’s not what ministers want.

SF:          What does that transitional arrangement look like? If it consists of more or less staying in the status quo in terms of access to the single market and everything that goes with that in terms of respecting the rules of the European Court of Justice, allowing freedom of movement of labour, then I think there are many people in this country who would find that very difficult to accept.

ANNA SOUBRY:    Look, this is the reality. There’s a bunch of people. They have lived, eaten, drank, slept, everything for this moment and they are not going to let anybody snatch it away from them, and Theresa May knows that, you can’t appease them, and if she doesn’t deliver what they want, they will stab her in the back, just as they did with Major and, in effect, with DC, with Cameron.

LK:          Ministers don’t want to extend the talks beyond the two years.  So if there is no deal, that only leaves one option: the cliff edge.

JG:          The cliff edge describes the reality of one day being in the EU, with everything that that means and the next day being out of it with no deal. And the level that you switch between, between those two worlds is very dramatic, which is why it’s described as falling off a cliff edge.

TB:         There is a risk of no deal. If we get no deal, I think business would regard that as a pretty severe outcome so, you know, you’re playing for very high stakes in this for sure because there are a myriad of technical questions, all of which actually impact on jobs and business and industry and trade and commerce so . . . Look, I think no deal is a bad deal.

LK:          If you are so optimistic about getting a good deal, though, why did you warn your Cabinet colleagues that the risk of us having to walk away and not getting a deal at all is very real?

DD (laughs) Be careful. What I said to them was they’ve got to do the, they’ve got to do the work for the so-called plan B or C or whatever it is. It’s not plan A.

LK:          But you acknowledge it is plan B, plan C, plan D, whatever you call it, the risk of not getting a deal . . .

DD:         (speaking over) Where, where, wherever it goes in the list, it’s our responsibility as a government to make preparation for all possible outcomes, right, we’re going into a negotiation. We don’t control the whole thing. By far and away the highest probability is plan A or some variant of it, namely a comprehensive free trade deal.

LK:          You are acknowledging, very publicly, there is a real risk of what’s known as the cliff-edge? We walk away without a deal and some people say that’s a catastrophe even to contemplate that.

DD:         If you . . .  No, it’s not a catastrophe to contemplate things. You contemplate things so you either avoid them or mitigate them.

LK:          (speaking over) But were we to walk away, would that not be a catastrophe?

DD:         (speaking over) If you went out on the street today and said to the ordinary member of the public, “Should the Government prepare for all outcomes?” They would say, “Of course.”

LK:          If you had to describe the chances in percentage terms of us getting a deal, what would you do?

DD:         I don’t intend to go down that route.  The aim of my department is to deliver plan A.

LK:          In two years’ time, the world’s eyes will be on this building in Brussels.  Whatever the outcome for Britain and the EU in March 2019, it will make history.

MG:       There are both short- and long-term economic factors, which mean that Britain is likely to thrive and to succeed, provided we take the right decisions, provided we approach these negotiations and indeed provided we approach the world with the right attitude.

KDG:      You will see the results, the negative results, one would say, sooner or later, but I believe rather sooner than later. Don’t believe that this is not going to hurt you. It will hurt you and that’s why it is such a stupid decision to take.

KS:          I think this is a defining moment and Brexit has been a crossroads for politics and what matters now is the way ahead and I think the political divide will be between those that believe in a collaborative, cooperative approach with our EU partners, in other words changing the relationship, not severing it and those that want to sever it and walk off completely and that’s the real battle that now lies ahead.

BJ:          We want the best for Europe, we want a new approach. They want us there at the table for so many reasons. There are so many things that we do together that we will continue to do together.

LK:          Whether we crash out or sail smoothly, think of this. Theresa May will almost inevitably be the last British Prime Minister to sit at a European table like this. There’ll be no more – no Thatcher handbaggings, no Blair-Chirac bust-ups, no Sarkozy telling David Cameron to shut up – allegedly. It’ll be it. Probably one night in March 2019, probably one very late night, Theresa May will walk out of here, taking Britain out of the European Union with her. What she achieves, or does not achieve in this room will define her record and change our country.