EU Referendum



How Should I Vote, the BBC’s first formal programme of the referendum campaign aimed at helping voters to make their minds up, was on BBC1 on Thursday night. It was hosted from Glasgow by Victoria Derbyshire, who presents a current affairs show on BBC2 and the BBC News Channel. The key parts of the audience – all of whom were under 30 years of age – were made up of groups of 40 ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ voters, on either side of 55 ‘undecided’ voters.

Was it fair? Well at the end of the programme, most of the ‘undecided’ voters indicated that they had been persuaded to join the ‘remain’ camp’.  Was that down to the eloquence of ‘remain’ speakers Alex Salmond and Alan Johnson, and corresponding failures of the ‘leave’ panellists Diane James and Liam Fox? Of course, it is not possible to know for certain what led to the changes in views, especially as no clear indication of how the panel was chosen was given. Were they really all convinced ‘undecideds’ – and in any case, how could such a stance be defined with certainty?

What is certain is there are question marks about Derbyshire’s handling of the debate’s flow, and in particular, she appeared a more robust and negative approach to the ‘leave’ questions and panellists. Below is a series of transcripts of sequences where, arguably, she showed distinct favouritism.

Problems included interruptions of the ‘exit’ panellists, apparent comments in favour of pro-‘remain’ tweets,  preventing one of the most penetrating ‘exit’ questions being put, making  partisan points on immigration and the alleged freedom to travel generated by EU membership, a throwaway remark in favour of the ‘remain’ side’s views about the advantages of EU membership, and an over -zealous put-down of a point made by a ‘leave’ side audience member.

The difficulty of such analysis, is, of course, that it is impossible to be certain about what will sway an audience. This was a fast-moving programme, and there could have been no pre-planned or deliberate fixes. However, what emerges from this analysis and the transcripts is that Derbyshire seemed more keen to intervene against the ‘leave’ side.


8:17:50 Victoria Derbyshire interrupted Diane James when she attempted to link immigration to house prices, and didn’t interrupt or try to change the flow of argument of the Remain guests in this way:

VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE:        Diane James?

DIANE JAMES:   Well, isn’t it interesting, and I take the point about migration . . .

VD:        Can we just stay with Michael’s question . . .

DJ:         Okay . . .

VD:        Which was the warning from the Chancellor about house prices falling.

DJ:         (speaking over) I wanted to come back first, I wanted to come back first there, to make, to make . . .

VD:        (speaking over) We will, we will come back to that . . .

DJ:         . . . a link . . .

VD:        I promise you.

DJ:         . . . to make the link, Victoria . . .

VD:        Let’s talk about h— . . .

DJ:         On the basis that, your point is about can you afford a house, effectively, can you, if we remain a member of the European Union, is that going to be even a remote possibility.


8:18:46 After Diane James’s contribution finished, Victoria Derbyshire did the same to Liam Fox:

VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE:        Okay, Liam Fox?

LIAM FOX:          I’ve got no problem with migration, and controlled, and controlled . . .

VD:        (speaking over) This is about house prices, the question was why . . . why the Chancellor’s warning about house prices falling is meant to be a bad thing, when it’s not.

LF:         I’m coming to it.  I’ve no problem with migration, and control migration can bring benefits, but if you have an uncontrolled number, the arithmetic tells you it will put pressure on public services, on the health service, on schools and on housing (continues)


8:27:01 Derbyshire read out Tweets from audiences watching at home. The syntax of the third Tweet was problematic – it was difficult to precisely discern where the commentary ended and the tweet itself began.  Was it Derbyshire herself saying ‘a good and overlooked point, I think’, or was this contained within the text?  Subsequently, Derbyshire was also sure to place the word ‘foreigners’ in verbalised quotation marks, eliciting laughter from the audience, and simultaneously drawing attention to, and distancing herself from, Diane James’s earlier use of the word:

VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE:  A couple of tweets using the hashtag #BBCDebate, er, Stuart Young says ‘Will the economy be strong enough if we leave?’ Ghosthands on Twitter says, ‘People should look at the bigger picture, rather than their own personal gain, when it comes to the EU referendum.’ And Mellon . . . who . . . er, is going to vote to Remain says, a good and often overlooked point, I think, the Brits have free reign through Europe as well as – quote – ‘the foreigners.’ (laughter from some sections of audience)


8:32:45 Derbyshire cut off one of the most interesting questions of the night, which would have been difficult for the Remain side to answer:

AUDIENCE MEMBER:     I just want to ask the Remain side, if David Cameron believes all this scaremongering that we’re going to have a World War III (some laughter from audience) that our economy’s going to be completely awful – why are we having a referendum? Surely (applause and cheers) somebody who cares about the country wouldn’t give us one if it was that dangerous?

VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: We are where we are. Aren’t we, I mean you can (fragments of words, unclear) I just want to . . . (moves on to ask another audience member what they think of the Remain’s side of the campaign)


8:34:51 Victoria Derbyshire interrupted Diane James to make a partisan point on migration:

DIANE JAMES:   The aspect that I brought up is if you can’t control the number of people, if you can’t control demand, because you can’t control supply, you’re forever in a spiral downwards . . .

VICTORIA DERBYSHIRE: (speaking over) But you can, you can . . .

DJ:         (speaking over) I . . . I . . .

VD         (speaking over) You can control net migration from outside the EU, and we had the latest figures today, which show . . .

DJ:         (speaking over) 330,000 today, 184,000 from the EU . . .

VD:        . . . that as many people are coming from outside the EU, which Britain can control as are coming from within the EU.

DJ:         Yes, but what we do know is we want, for instance, more medics, nurses (continues)


8:38:50 Derbyshire frequenly interrupted Liam Fox with overtly political arguments, in a way she did not with pro-Remain guests.  Despite Victoria Derbyshire’s contention – that no one was suggesting that ‘you’re not going to be able to have a holiday in Mallorca if you want’ – earlier in the debate Alex Salmond had said specifically, ‘You’ve got the ability to go and travel, to work, to . . . er, to visit, without a visa, you can go into Barcelona, watch some decent football, you’ve got the whole of that European community at, at your disposal’:

LIAM FOX:          The idea that because we’re not in the European Union, you’re not going to be able to have a holiday in Mallorca is getting to, is getting too ridiculous . . .

VD:        (speaking over) I don’t, well no, well no one is . . . no one is, to be fair, no one is suggesting that . . . we’re not going be able to have a holiday in Mallorca if you want.  According to the Complete University Guide, as members of the EU, anyone here would usually be able to study in other EU nations as home students . . .

LF:         That’s right.

VD:        . . . Compared to the fees charged to international students, home fees are generally lower or non-existent.

LF:         But it’s here’s the difference that young lady at the back, the point about the difference between Europe and the European Union, because programs like ERASMUS, which have got bigger student programmes are not just . . .

VD:        (speaking over) That’s an exchange programme.

LF:         (speaking over) Yes, the exchange programme is not just the European Union, it’s the European continent, so it’s countries like Turkey as well, Norway, Iceland does that . . . Europe is a great continent of individual nations, with their own history, the European Union’s political construct . . .

VD:        But . . .

LF:         Europe, Europe (applause) Europe and exchange and trade and travel existed before there was a European Union and they . . .

VD:        (speaking over) But Stephanie’s fees might be higher . . .

LF:         . . . will continue.

VD:        . . . if Britain is outside the European Union, if she wants to go and study at university.

LF:         Why would that be, because the programmes are decided because they’re in the mutual interest, it’s the same as trade, it’s in both our interests to do so . . .

VD:        (speaking over) Why would that be, because we wouldn’t be members of the EU?

LF:         And we had all these programmes before we were in the European Union, and we’ll have them where were not in the European Union, just as we have programmes (continues, but is interrupted by a speaker from audience)


8:43:32 Derbyshire made a throwaway aside, (which ultimately made little sense given that we’re presently in the EU and have no requirements for travel visas) – but it served to reinforce the idea that visas might be required for travel post-Brexit, despite this being contested by the Leave  side during the debate:

ALAN JOHNSON:             No other country has more of its citizens living and working in other developed countries than Great Britain.  Now, if we’re not have visas, and Diane you said we wouldn’t, to go on holiday, or for people to come here, there are 2.5 million tourists who come to Scotland every year.  How are you going to differentiate between the Polish plumber and the Polish tourist?  It means, surely, a system of visas.  And if you haven’t got a system of visas, then how are you going to deal with . . . you’re going to be telling people we’re going to stop free movement, but you’re not going to introduce visas so free movement will still be there.  And you’re also, incidentally, unless you put a border and watchtowers across the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, going to have people coming in across there, because it would then be an EU country and a non-EU country.

VD:        Well that, so, so that’s . . . dealing also with (name unclear’s) point about easy . . . I mean, you can just get up and go anywhere in Europe . . .

AUDIENCE MEMBER:     I mean, I can leave right now if I wanted to, and just . . .

VD:        Bye!

AM:       You can come with me if you want, we can go together (laughter from audience)

VD:        But do you I mean, do you . . . (applause and cheering from audience) I haven’t got a visa. (laughter from audience)


8:54:45 Victoria Derbyshire chastised an audience member and ‘shushed’ them when they tried to interject during an Alan Johnson contribution. Although Derbyshire obviously needed to keep a handle on the debate, including of-microphone interjections, she could have picked up the point raised by the audience member herself.  Alan Johnson didn’t, as he promised to do, return to the issue of TTIP:

ALAN JOHNSON:             I think of all the arguments that the Leave side are putting forward, I think the NHS is the most ludicrous.  We’ve had the current chief executive of the NHS and his two predecessors saying, look, the NHS is a tax-based system it’s . . . it’s not a free system, it’s free at the point of use, but it’s paid by taxpayers.  If our economy shrinks, the NHS is in trouble . . .

AUDIENCE MEMBER (attempts to interject, but away from mic so words inaudible, judging by Alan Johnson’s response, question was on TTIP)

AJ:         And going back to what we were saying earlier . . .

VD         (to audience member) Hang on a minute, wait, wait, wait, shhhh. Don’t just shout out. Hang on a minute.

AJ:         I’ll tell you about TTIP in a second, but let me just deal with the first question . . .


Jeremy Vine presides over EU love-in

Jeremy Vine presides over EU love-in

Has Jeremy Vine presided over the most biased programme so far of the referendum campaign? And possibly the most biased programme that could be devised?

Someone on the BBC Radio 2 production team – the same service, it may recalled, that thought Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s humiliation of the gentle Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs was acceptable entertainment – had a brilliant wheeze.

Plan A was that they wanted to reflect the ‘diversity’ of views about the EU by sending Vine round all 27 member countries. That was ruled out as impracticable, so it was on to Plan B. Instead they invited someone living in the UK from each of the 27 countries to come to the Radio 2 studio. Vine would then chat casually to them for an hour or so to provide deep insight into the key issues of the referendum debate.

Vine claimed – as this slow-motion car-smash unfolded – that they had no idea in advance about what any of them thought about the EU.  But it soon became clear.  And golly gosh, how they loved the EU – and hated the idea of Brexit.  Jana Valencic, from Slovenia, set the tone  as she was asked if she enjoyed living in the UK:

I enjoy very much the country, I’m, lately, I’m coming across some pretty nasty people just because I’m European.

JV:         Oh, lawks, really?

YV:        Yesterday they said ‘get back to my country’?

JV:         Really, for real?

YV:        And I was told, erm, in a department store in Norwich that people come to their store and don’t want to be served by Eastern Europeans, and this is what this Brexit has done to us.

Guest number 22 was Szofi Barota from Hungary.  She said:

…and I was born and raised in the tiny country, controversial country of the EU, Hungary, and er . . .

JV:         Why is it controversial?

SB:         Well, you know, we have a bit of a controversial Prime Minister called . . .

JV:         (interrupting) Oh, is that the right-wing thing, or the left-wing thing, I can’t remember.

SB:         Absolutely right-wing.

There was no doubt whom she meant – that nasty, immigrant-resisting, racist Viktor Orban.  By this time, the programme was  getting into its stride and Vine started quizzing his guests.  First up in the comment stage was Yana Valencic again. She declared:

Well, increasingly, I think this country (the UK) is spoiling Europe for everyone else, er, because it insists on opt out of many things like Workers Rights and a few others, and the one I’m particularly unhappy about is that it, it’s er . . . it erm vetoes any good European, anybody who could be a good European official, and insists on the lowest common denominator.

Angela from Bulgaria then said that the EU was very important because it facilitated ‘cultural exchange’ and engendered ‘a broader view of the world’. Monica from Romania agreed and added that it also meant that people could ‘travel easily’ and ‘had more information about Bulgaria, for example’.

Imke Henkel from Germany now chipped in. She said:

Erm, actually, can I say that I think, from a German perspective, Britain is not at all spoiling the party, although there is quite a bit of annoyance with, with the British always being difficult, but I think from a German perspective it’s actually very important for Britain to stay in, and that is precisely because of the balance of power.  Because Germany has become, in a way, powerful within Europe, which is not good for Europe which is not good . . . The UK must save the EU from Germany.

Vine tried to get more people to agree, but Austrian, Susanne Chishti had a different point:

I mean, from our point of view it’s about collaboration, you know, because you need to collaborate on the innovation side, and London and the UK is a tech nation and I think we have got so many entrepreneurs, you know, who need to work together, and for the UK, within Fintech, you know, in the technology sector, we have got a talent pool coming from Europe, and we just don’t want it to stop, because it would be just negative.

And Andres, a Cypriot opined:

I believe Britain should stay, should stay as part of the European family, it should stay here, and if we spend all these millions and billions to go to war for the principles, they have to spend some pennies for the, for the Europeans.

Rob from Malta said:

Well, I think it doesn’t get any smaller than Malta, so I mean, for us, Czech Republic is quite a big country, so I obviously concur with what Sweden and the Czech Republic were saying immigration wise.  However, it’s important to point out that immigration is a phenomenon which will exist regardless of what happens. Erm, and I think the positives of the EU outweigh the negatives.

With that cue, Vine began to fish for other negatives. Marta from Poland was worried that too many Polish doctors were working in other EU countries. Vine asked Dina from Portugal to respond. The problem was that pesky national sovereignty. She said:

   Yeah, well I agree with, I agree with these guys, I mean it was good to, it is good to belong to . . . to EU, but I think, as Europe, er, we, we, we’re all getting a bit older and we need new ideas, new ways of being, of being a group and not being separate countries. I think er . . .

JV:         You want to get even closer?

DINA:    Yeah. We (fragments of words, unclear) I think we can . . .

JV:         (speaking over) Why would you want, why would you want France to make your laws . . .

DINA:    . . . forget about borders and forget about all these things that are just . . . you know, scrubbed or whatever in er . . .

JV:         (interrupting) Hang on, hang on, are you saying . . .

UNKNOWN FEMALE:      It’s not about France making laws for Portugal, it’s rather about all make laws together, and that is always forgotten (people say ‘yes’ in agreement) if, if they say that Brussels actually makes the laws, it’s all the 28 countries who come together and agree together which will be the laws.

Ever closer union. Vine noted at this point that this was now a ‘really interesting discussion.’ Michael from Ireland jumped in Did he agree? He said:

   It is Jeremy, but I think, first of all, symptomatic of how great the European Union is, is this gathering here today.  And we’re all likeminded people, not so long ago we didn’t even know some of the countries that are actually part of the European Union, that’s extremely important.  But like every organisation it’s about compromise, (someone says ‘hm-hmm’ in assent) and it’s not always going to work perfectly, erm, but if you’re not in it, you can’t fix it.

In other words, avoid Brexit at all costs. Michael’s enthusiasm generated a strong round of applause and Thanasis from Greece decided to comment.  Vine first observed that his country had been through ‘an absolute horror show’. Surely he would not back the EU?  Wrong. Thanasis said:

   Yeah, you name it we’re there (female giggles) the euro disaster that you mentioned, the refugee crisis and everything, and you add a thing, the democratic deficit and the lack of accountability. But the thing is that’s why . . .  even we want to stay in the EU and we want Britain in, because with you, you know, with this instinctive scepticism towards the EU . . .

JV:         Oh, you like Britain because we, we think it’s not working properly as well?

THANASIS:         Well, someone needs to be there and change it.

JV:         Why don’t you just leave, you guys, I mean, even the currency doesn’t work now?

THANASIS:         Of course the currency doesn’t work, but . . . it would be great if (fragment of word, unclear) if everyone left the eurozone, but not just Greece, because we would be doomed, even, I mean, I think . . .

JV:         So you’re, you’re kind of . . . what, regardless of whether the EU is a good thing or not, you feel Greece is trapped in it?

THANASIS:         No, I think (fragment of word, unclear) the EU is a good thing, I mean, in principle, we just need to make it work better.

That promoted Yorick from the Netherlands to reinforce how wonderful the EU was and to point out that nasty, negative forces in his country were daring to conspire against further integration and expansion by disagreeing that the Ukraine should come on board. He said:

   Okay, this is er . . . something, you might remember about a month ago, the Dutch had their own vote on one part of legislation within the EU, which is to come closer to Ukraine.  Er, was that reported at all on the BBC?  I don’t think it was, because the BBC is quite insular, with the rest of the British media . . .

JV:         Well, our bulletins are only half an hour long, but yes.

YORICK:                             Absolutely. Erm, there was a referendum about one particular piece of legislation which was funded and fuelled by the far-right, in which er . . . in the end, the far-right won, so Holland is the only country which doesn’t agree with closer union to the Ukraine.  And so, what we realised is that the people who are voting and profiting from a Brexit situation would be the far-right.

Bingo! Vine now had a full-on attack on the right and the idea that the BBC was being moderate and ‘insular’ by not reporting such extremism.  Next came another attack on Brexit, this time from Luxembourg:

   The main compromise cost for Luxembourg was giving up privacy and banking secrecy (some light laughter) and that was a pressure put on us by many of the other nations.  On the other hand, Luxembourg may be one of the only countries benefiting from Brexit more than, more than other countries, because . . .

JV:         Why’s that, why’s that?

JOHN PIERRE:    Because possibly, the financial institutions, if they have to open branches in other places, they may choose Luxembourg to do that. (male says ‘hm-hmm’ in assent, some laughter).

Michael from Ireland now returned to the fray. He wanted to point out something else that Brexit would not solve. Supporters were living under an illusion:

   Just a point that people need to be aware of, and Sweden have raised the refugee crisis, it’s important for the people to understand that Britain’s obligations under international law will not change if they leave the European Union.

Michelle from Belgium now wanted to contribute with another point about the wonders of the EU; why it was necessary. She observed:

   So, I’m from Belgium, a small country that really benefited from, from the EU and that . . . a country that suffered so much during the, the, the last war, so I think people generally do not complain (fragments of words, or words unclear) about the whole project.

She thought that economies might be made in how many languages the EU used.  Then came a bombshell. Inese from Latvia declared:

Yes, erm, being in the EU, it meant our fishermen got quotas, they’re not allowed to fish any more as much as they did before, a few of our factories were closed, we are not allowed to produce our own sugar, we have to buy it from Denmark for some reason, er, ignoring the fact that we were producing sugar for more than 100 years . . . Also many young people are coming to . . . EU to live, this is economic migration, and our country is losing people, losing children, we have to accept refugees . . .

At that point Vine suggested she was a Eurosceptic.  Shock horror. Was she? Of course not:

anyway, no, I’m not Eurosceptic, but I’m pointing out minuses and you said, as you required . . .

The next component of the show was a phone in.  Gary from Plymouth opined that the reason that the 27 supported the EU so strongly was because most contributors – unlike Britain – were net beneficiaries, that is, they got more out of their EU membership than they put  in. Patricia from France observed:

Actually, Gary, I would agree on one thing, with you, is that France is benefiting most when it comes to farming, erm, because they do actually have a big chunk of the, of the farming budget.  But, in terms of anything else, especially when the UK benefits from highly educated (phone ring tone) people coming into erm . . . into the UK . . .

Charlotte from Sweden claimed:

Even though if UK pays a lot of money to EU (sic) they actually get (fragment of word, unclear) 75% back from the EU, that’s the deal that Thatcher did, ’84 with the EU.

This, of course was blatantly untrue, Britain’s rebate reduces its contribution from (roughly, under a very complex formula) £18 billion to £13 billion (around 30%). But Vine did not challenge her. Instead, the ever-eager Michael from Ireland had another pro-EU point:

   It’s also important to point out that, like Switzerland and Norway, for Britain to continue to trade with the EU, outside the EU, they will have to make massive contributions in any event.

JV:         Yeah, but you gave up your currency, Michael?

MICHAEL KINGSTON:     We did, but it’s about . . .

JV:         (speaking over) Don’t you regret that?

MICHAEL KINGSTON:     No I don’t, because it’s about compromise, and we’re in a much better position now in Europe with peace and everything else that we benefit than, than the situation we were in.

Susanne from Austria wanted to answer the point made by the listener who called in:

   It’s Austria, yes, so we all live in London since many years, and I live since 20 years here, and what we can see as Londoners, you know, as UK, we all are UK residents now, that the UK benefits so much from being in the EU, and getting access to the talent, to the investors who invest here, and if the UK would leave, the talent wouldn’t come (words unclear due to speaking over)

She added that if the UK had not been in the EU, she would not have come at all, and she had stayed because the UK was in the EU.  Thiana from Croatia said her country had only been in the EU for only three years so it was hard yet to say what the benefits were.  But Vibne had different ideas. He suggested it had ‘helped stop fighting’ with its neighbours. Thiana agreed.  Vine then asked Johanna from Finland whether she thought the UK would stay in.

I think UK should stay in, I (fragments of words, or words unclear due to speaking over)

JV:         (interrupting) Will, will it stay in?

JOHANNA:  I mean, all of us, most of us are living here, working here, paying our taxes here, you know, consuming our salaries on, on the UK soil, so we are actually boosting your national economy as well, so it’s also a benefit for the UK.

JV:         Germany . . .

JOHANNA (shouting, but away from mic) Don’t leave!

Vine returned to Imke from Germany. She said:

I fear if Britain really were to leave that in 10 years’ time, 5 years’ time, everyone will turn round and say, ‘Whatever possessed us, what folly possessed us actually to leave this . . . very powerful community of countries where we . . . where we can actually have an impact.’  Just look at TTIP – people are very sceptical . . .

JV:         (interrupting) The transatlantic trade deal, yeah . . .

IMKE HENKEL:   With the United States.  Europe and the United States are about on equal terms, if the UK would leave they would either have an independent deal with the United States, which would be (voice says ‘Yeah’) which would be much worse, because the United States is far . . . or they would have no deal at all, and then hardly any trade.

JV:         Alright. Thank you, well listen, I think we’ve got to play some music now, but listen, thank you so much we’ve . . . to get 27 of you . . . has anyone not spoken?  Can I just check, I’m looking round the room, it’s really important.  Every single 27 – and I spoke a bit as well as number 28, so . . . I think . . . yes, hang on.  Slovakia?  Did you have one more thing?


JV:         As the most senior person here.

ZUZANA SLOBODOVA:   (laughs) Well, what I want to say is that . . . er . . . people who come here from European countries work for very little money and are very well qualified, so (sounds of assent from others) so . . . who benefits from the difference is the country where they work, which is Britain. (male voice says ‘great’, there is cheering and applause).

In summary, this programme by Jeremy Vine whipped up in the studio a pro-EU frenzy; in an hour only three or four mildly sceptical EU points were made.

As already noted, it was not explained how the guests had been selected but it very quickly became clear that every one of them were supporters of the EU to the point of fanaticism. Of course Vine might host a future edition of his daily show with a pro-Brexit bias. But it’s hard to see how this huge level of support for the EU could be balanced without filling the studio with a similar number of hand-picked supporters of ‘leave’ with a widely varied background.

Another major production issue was that Vine failed to challenge a blatantly wrong claim about the level of the UK’s EU contribution. It’s hard to think why a presenter of his experience and declared passion for statistics would not have known instantly that Britain’s rebate is not 75% of its contribution.

This show was massively biased, and the show’s producers – despite Vine’s claim to the contrary – must have known this was virtually a foregone conclusion of assembling 27 guests on this basis. Vine tried a few times to evoke eurosceptic responses, and made a few Eurosceptic points, and there was one phone-in call from someone who thought they could explain the in-built bias. But overall these negativities about the EU were only tiny fig leaves; Vine presided over a programme that at every turn  was rammed full of reasons why Brexit was a bad idea. This is impossible to justify in a period when there is supposed to be balance in the referendum debate.


Main Photo: Tweet from Jeremy Vine’s account, posted on May 18 2016, with the text: “TWENTY-EIGHT guests in our EU discussion just now – the British one (circled) seemed curiously neutral on #Brexit”

BBC passes the buck over pro-EU website ads

BBC passes the buck over pro-EU website ads

The eagle-eyed people over at Heat Street website noticed at the weekend that the BBC overseas website was running very prominent ‘remain’ banner ads, targeted at the 2 million ex pats in Europe, from the Britain Stronger in Europe group. They contained the highly misleading Project Fear message from Chancellor George Osborne that exiting the EU would cost every British family £4,300 a year – a claim that BBC home editor Mark Easton was busy debunking on the Today programme as the ads ran. The BBC took the ads down as soon as they were challenged about them by Heat Street. A BBC spokesman said they had been run ’in error’.  The statement in full was:

“This advert appeared outside the UK as the result of a third party error and was blocked as soon as we were alerted to it. We are investigating how this happened and we are taking steps to prevent this happening in the future.”

There was no further information, leaving unanswered how long the ads ran, how many page impressions they generated, and thus the extent of their overall impact. And it also remains a mystery how they ever saw the light of day. Surprise, surprise, the BBC slipped up in exactly the direction that its editorial output so strongly favours. Important here is the background. BBC services in overseas areas (primarily BBC World News) are allowed to take ads, and they raise substantial revenues, a total of £72m from around the world.

This being the BBC, however, the precise information on revenue is not available. Efforts in the past have been made to get at the exact figure through freedom of information requests, but the Corporation has resisted on grounds of ‘commercial sensitivity’. The only information in the public domain is that around £20m of revenues was generated by relevant European operations in 2011.  The proportion of that from website advertising, as opposed to on television output, would almost certainly, of course, have been relatively small, but nevertheless significant.

The second important point, this being the BBC, is that advertising and sponsorship is regulated by a 28-page publication called Advertising and Sponsorship Guidelines for Commercial Services, last updated in 2015.  One look at it makes it very clear that the appearance of the BSE ad was a jaw-dropping breach of the codes. Why? Well first of all, the main purpose is to ban very firmly numerous categories of commercials and to emphasise that any transgressions will be viewed very seriously.   Paragraph 1.4 says (in bold red):

Any proposal to step outside these guidelines must be editorially justified. It must be discussed and agreed in advance with a senior editorial figure. BBC Director Editorial Policy and Standards must also be consulted.

It goes on (2.3):

Advertising must not jeopardise the good reputation of the BBC or the value of the BBC Brand. It should: a) be suitable for the target audience; b) meet consumer expectations of the BBC brand; c) not bring the BBC into disrepute d) not give rise to doubts about the editorial integrity and independence or impartiality of the BBC.

And 2.9 is this:

Advertisements in the following categories must be approved by a senior editorial figure before they can be accepted for broadcast or publication: a) political advertising (on services where this is allowed); b) advertising by governments and government agencies (except tourism boards and trade or investment boards); c) advertising by lobby groups; d) advertising for infant formula or baby milk; e) advertising for any product or service which shares a name or trademark with a prohibited product or service, sometimes referred to as ‘Surrogate advertising’.

And then there is 2.13 (also in red):

Any advertisements that deal with a controversial issue of public policy, or which raise doubts about the BBC’s editorial integrity, must be referred to a senior editorial figure.

Every page is filled with similarly strong warnings and prescription. What this boils down to is that whatever happened over the BSE advert, it was a major breach of the advertising code and a clear failure of management procedures at a particularly sensitive period when the EU referendum was underway. Almost certainly, there was also a breach of the BBC’s (separate) specially-devised EU referendum coverage guidelines.

The BBC blamed a ‘third party error’ for the breach. But how on earth was supervision allowed to be so lax during the referendum campaign?  This was a gaff on a gargantuan scale. To blame a third party when the codes make it clear that decisions in this arena are of central importance to the reputation of the BBC is a total disgrace. But, then, at the very top (the BBC Executive Board) has got extensive form in blaming the wrong parties for its own mistakes.

Finally, an issue here is that it is impossible to gauge the likely impact of this breach on the referendum. How many ex pats and British holidaymakers did it actually reach? All the signs are that the poll remains on a knife-edge and overseas votes could well be crucial in determining the outcome. Tellingly, the ‘error’ was in favour of the pro-EU side, in line with much of the BBC’s other referendum output.

image: Peter Thompson, Heat Street


Brexit the Movie –  a perspective not on the BBC

Brexit the Movie – a perspective not on the BBC

This month marks the 17th anniversary of tracking by News-watch of the BBC’s EU-related output. The first survey was commissioned by a cross-party group of peers who were concerned that the case against the EU was not being aired by the BBC. It covered the build-up to the European Parliamentary elections on June 10, 1999.

The findings can still be read here. Key points relating to BBC bias are eerily familiar. They included bias by omission: election-related items on BBC television added to only 2.5% of airtime. Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight described the voters’ reaction to the poll as an ‘outbreak of narcolepsy’.  In the event, only 24% of the electorate voted, which still stands as the UK record lowest turnout in a national election.

Other points in the report were the virtual ignoring of the infant Ukip, despite the fact it came fourth,  attracted 700,000 (7%) of the votes cast and won three seats; a totally-predictable crude comparison of Ukip to the BNP in the sole interview featuring the party; a heavy and disproportionate focus on the breakaway Pro-Euro Conservative Party, which despite all the publicity, polled only 140,000 (1.4%) of the total turnout; a constant search for ‘Tory-splits’, even though – Michael Heseltine apart – the evidence seemed to be that William Hague’s party was remarkably united on EU policy; and virtually no exploration of either the overall Labour approach or potential splits within the party over the euro.

All of which brings Brexit the Movie – which, from today will have a permanent, prominent place on this site –  neatly into focus. For those of you who have not yet heard of it, this 71-minute feature by Martin Durkin – which was partially crowd-funded –  is a must-see. It’s a total revelation because it is a first: it straightforwardly and vigorously presents the ‘out’ case.

In Durkin’s estimation, negatives about the EU include that there are a staggering 10,000 European Union employees paid more than David Cameron; that Switzerland – despite being outside the EU – is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with earnings double the average in the UK, and unemployment far lower; that the EU ‘Parliament’ is the only body with that name in the world which has zero powers to propose legislation; that although the EU claims to be a promoter of trade via the ‘single market’ , the reality is that for most of its history it has been a repressive force against the free movement of goods; and that far from promoting harmony, the fundamentally undemocratic structures of the EU are promoting unprecedented frustration and triggering the rise of extremist parties of both left and right.

This is a perspective and a range of information that News-watch monitoring shows beyond doubt that the BBC has never presented in a coherent form. Of course the BBC, it will probably argue, is not in the business of producing such material.  But why not? Last year, the Corporation commissioned and broadcast with great fanfare The Great European Disaster Movie, which showed at length the chaos and panic the makers claimed would ensue, if, God forbid, the UK exited the EU.

That film was made by former Economist editor Bill Emmott, a self-declared EU-fanatic, who has a set up his own ‘charity’ (with Richard Sambrook, a former Director of BBC News) to promote such propaganda. The BBC was so keen on his film project that it applied for (and obtained)  EU funding so that it could be translated into as many languages as possible; the fruit of their efforts is that screenings are due in Geneva, Bologna, Cardiff University and Bucharest over the next month.

Continuing monitoring by News-watch during the referendum campaign shows that the BBC is at last – for the first time –  airing some detailed elements of the Brexit case. But at best this effort can only be described as begrudging and half-hearted. Craig Byers, for example , of the Is the BBC Biased? site has shown this weekend that  since April 14, the BBC1 News at Six’s coverage of EU-referendum related headlines have led with ‘remain’ headlines 14 times, compared to the ‘out’ side three times.

In the same vein, News-watch analysis of the May 11 and 12 News at 10 coverage of the Mark Carney, Sir John Major and Christine Lagarde interventions into the referendum debate was heavily skewed towards the ‘remain’ case. And other long-term investigations have shown that Newsnight, World Tonight and The World This Weekend coverage of referendum matters is strongly similarly imbalanced.

What is certain is that – although it is impossible to frame a definitive verdict at this stage about BBC coverage – the facts assembled by Durkin have never been presented in such a way by the Corporation. Don’t hold your breath that they will. Watch Brexit the Movie instead.

Craig Byers:  Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

Craig Byers: Here is the news. BBC bias revealed hour by hour

Thursday was ‘the big day’ at the BBC, and yesterday morning’s Today was all over Mr Whittingdale’s Charter Review report.

Did the BBC treat the story impartially?

Well, on Today there was Lib Dem peer Lord Lester QC sticking up for the BBC. And Labour’s Tessa Jowell sticking up for the BBC. And former BBC, Sky and ITV employee Professor Lis Howell half-criticising and half-sticking up for the BBC. And BBC presenter Nick Robinson not exactly firing, in ‘devil’s advocate’-style, on all impartial cylinders either.

They did have the SNP’s John Nicholson, for ‘balance’ though, demanding a Scottish News at Six – and getting a rough ride from Mishal Husain in the process. ‘Who wants that?’ was Mishal’s basic point. (A fair point, probably).

Impartial? Hardly.

And then came  The World at One on BBC Radio 4. And that was even worse.

After a short review of events in Parliament came a discussion between the BBC’s Martha Kearney and Steve Hewlett of the Guardian/BBC Radio 4’s Media Show, which suggested the Charter review wasn’t as bad as the BBC and its supporters feared, but that there are still issues of concern for them.

Then came a much shorter interview with Peter Bone MP, a BBC critic. It was the ‘balancing item’ -even though it lasted barely more more than a minute (the shortest interview by far).

Astonishingly, Martha forcefully stopped him in his tracks as as soon as he raised what he described as his “main concern”: BBC pro-EU bias. Martha clearly wasn’t going there for anything in the world. Realising that, Mr Bone just laughed.

Then came Jesse Norman MP saying that the government’s plan is great and the BBC is great.

Then came Labour-supporting former BBC Trust boss Sir Michael Lyons (not that Martha even hinted at such a thing) attacking the Government for going too far but saying that there is a problem with BBC bias: bias against Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. A somewhat-startled-sounding Martha Kearney not only didn’t cut him off when he raised it (in contrast to how she treated Peter Bone when he tried to air his concerns about pro-EU BBC bias) but actually went on to press his pro-Labour ‘BBC bias’ point with Lord Hall.

And Lord Hall was the big WATO interview.

He didn’t agree with Sir Michael about the BBC’s anti-Corbyn bias (you won’t be surprised to hear), saying that the BBC is impartial (you also won’t be surprised to hear) and that the BBC brings “light to controversy”.

Lord Hall sounded pleased with what the Government has announced. The BBC’s Martha (gently) pressed him largely from a pro-BBC, Wolf Hall director Peter Kosminsky-type standpoint rather than an anti-BBC Andrew Bridgen MP-type standpoint.

And that was that: Lots of pro-BBC types having their say, plus (very briefly) Peter Bone.

Impartial? Hardly.

Meanwhile over on BBC One’s News at One bulletin we got more of the same, plus three items on the EU referendum: Mark Carney of the Bank of England’s dire warnings of the economic dangers of voting to leave the EU came first. A little later came the Vote Leave/ITV spat over whether Nigel Farage should be involved in a TV debate with David Cameron. And finally, immediately before the sports news (i.e. as the last ‘serious’ news item), came the news that the ONS has finally conceded that immigration from the EU has been massively under-represented in the government’s official figures (not that the short BBC news item put it like that) – a point that many people have been saying might well give a huge boost to the Leave campaign.

So why did BBC One choose to ‘bury’ that story as a very short new item near the end of its lunch time news bulletin?

Wasn’t that Peter Bone’s point being proved?

Impartial? Hardly.

And then came BBC’s News at Six.

BBC One’s News at Six began with another pro-Leave point: Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s dire warnings about a vote to leave the EU:

A warning from the Bank of England: Leaving the EU could trigger a recession.

The bulletin’s reporting was ‘impartial’ in the BBC sense, in that:

  • (a) the bulletin kept using words like “stark” and “strong” to describe the governor’s comments.
  • (b) the BBC’s economics editor Kamal Ahmed, after laying out Mr Carney’s anti-Brexit case in detail, said that “many economists agree with the Bank’s gloomy prognosis” and then featured one such economist doing just that…
  • ‘…balanced’ by (c) a clip of Norman Lamont saying, very briefly, that Mr Carney is wrong…
  • and then (d) BBC political reporter Alex Forsyth setting the context by saying that Mr Carney’s intervention is “undoubtedly a boost” to the Remain campaign as Mr Carney is “a senior, credible figure once again warning in no uncertain terms of the economic risks of leaving.

ITV’s early evening news bulletin also led with that pro-Leave point and, like Kamal Ahmed, ITV’s deputy political editor Chris Ship also laid out the governor’s concerns in some detail.

Unlike the BBC, however, Chris Ship also said “the truth is” that the economic forecasts aren’t great at the moment whichever way we vote, and his ‘talking heads’ included two people who disagreed with Mr. Carney: John Redwood and Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin – both making substantive points against the BoE governor.

ITV struck me as taking its ‘impartiality’ responsibilities far more seriously than the BBC there. The BBC felt outrageously one-sided in comparison.

And after giving us its Mark Carney coverage ITV then moved straight onto the EU immigration question – for many Brexiteers the big story of the day – and those ONS figures with Chris Ship giving us James Brokenshire on one side and Liam Fox on the other, plus talk of economists claiming immigration is good for us on one side and Leave supporters saying we can’t control our border on the side, plus mention of the “true scale” of immigration and the figures taking us into “unprecedented” territory.

The BBC, in contrast, didn’t move straight onto the EU immigration story. It moved on to other stories instead. And we had to wait until nearly the end of the bulletin again for the EU immigration story to appear. And, again, it was given short shrift.

The BBC newsreader, George Aligiah,  introduced it as being a case of Leave campaigners “saying” and the ONS “clarifying”. It’s “quite complicated”, said George. Yes, it’s “not very easy”, said the BBC’s Tom Symonds. Tom said that “Eurosceptics say” it’s an underestimate but “the nation’s number-crunchers” have “tried to explain it today” as being just a matter of short-term migrants. He elaborated somewhat on the the ONS’s explanation, explaining their case in a tone of patient reasonableness. Then he said: Eurosceptics say this, the government says that.

‘BBC impartiality’ duly fulfilled. Story duly downplayed. For those who think that the government shamelessly ‘managed’ this story today (the ONS figures being released on the day the BBC was fixating on itself), this might suggest the government was ‘aided and abetted’ by the BBC here.

Is ITV biased? Is the BBC biased?

On the strength of this I’m definitely going with the latter.

Maybe the Charter review should have focused more on that.


This article first appeared on The Conservative Woman

Photo by Ben Sutherland

Craig Byers: BBC ‘European’ Correspondent bias ‘off the scale’

Craig Byers: BBC ‘European’ Correspondent bias ‘off the scale’

Well, ten minutes after posting that piece about BBC Europe correspondent Damian Grammaticas’s Remain-biased piece for Monday’s BBC One News at Six his latest report popped up on tonight’s BBC One News at Six

…and I think we may now have the winner in ‘Most Biased Report in the BBC’s EU Referendum Coverage’ category.

I know it’s an early call but I really can’t see anything topping it over the next six weeks. It was that biased.

It discussed the UK’s contribution to the EU – a highly controversial issue. And what did impartial BBC Europe correspondent Damian tell us?

Well, firstly, he showed us a dramatic graphic showing the huge amount of money we make as a country each year (UK GDP 2014 – £1,817 bn) and then total government spending (£747 bn). One and a bit columns of huge numbers of coins stacked up next to him. The graphic then shed two tiny coins to show us our EU contribution (£11 bn). It make it look like mere chicken feed (or sparrow feed).

[Of course, comparing our EU contribution to the totality of the UK economy (and the totality of UK government spending) is the most extreme comparison imaginable. Of course it will make our EU contribution seem tiny. It makes nearly all UK government (i.e. UK taxpayer) spending seem tiny.]
A second graph then showed us that we put in way less than Germany and France (and even Italy). Ah, but we put more in that Malta: so a third graph was then used to show that “we pay by far the lowest measured by our share of national income” [his emphasis].

Why this “special treatment”? In two words (Damian’s own two words): “Maggie Thatcher”.

He called the rebate our “discount”.

“What happens to our cash?” he then asked. More than half “comes back to us”, he answered, “to be spent in the UK”. He then listed all the wonderful things the EU spends this money on here before saying:

If we controlled this money we could spend it on other things. But only by depriving these of funding.

And by ‘these’ he meant the list he’d just given: farmers, “poorer regions, roads, ports, businesses”, “research grants, universities, companies like Rolls Royce”.
Would you want to “deprive” those things of funding by voting to leave the EU? That was very clearly the unspoken question Damian Grammaticas was putting to BBC One viewers here.
After all this there’s still the UK’s net contribution to the EU of £5.5 bn [half of that ‘chicken feed’ figure he quoted earlier]. Damian quickly told us that we’re one of 10 countries that pays more in that we get back [so we’re far from alone] and that Germany and France pay more than us anyhow. The money goes to Europe’s farmers, poorer regions and Europe-wide projects – infrastructure, energy, “spent in space even – European rockets and satellites” [and who doesn’t like European space missions involving the UK?].
And this tiny £5.5 bn figure?

Essentially it’s our fee for entry into Europe’s single market, with which we do more than 40% of our trade.

Who wouldn’t want to pay such a tiny amount to get us that much, and as well as saving Rolls Royce?
Frankly, my Biasometer was going off the scale by this point. But then came Damian’s closing comments and it exploded. The BBC man – despite a pretence at even-handedness – played the ‘uncertainly card’ (the ace in Project Fear’s pack):

But all these figures could be dwarfed by what might happen to our economy if we quit the EU. If it grew a lot or shrank a lot the impact either way on our government’s finances and on us all could be huge.

And that was how it ended.
This article first appeared on Is the BBC Biased


Analysis of 15 editions of World This Weekend from January 24 – May 1

The programme is presented by the BBC’s former ‘Europe’ editor, Mark Mardell.

Under his watch, the programme has worked consistently hard to present the arguments for ‘remain’, given more time to ‘remain’ supporters, and has featured most heavily stories which favour the remain side. It has paid much less attention to the leave case. At least seven of the editions have been heavily skewed in favour of the remain side; none has strayed even marginally the other way.

No edition has set out with claims from the ‘exit’ side on the ascendant, or has sought as its main editorial thrust to push the ‘remain’ side to justify their stance.

A recurrent editorial approach has been the investigation of divisions over the EU within the Conservative party. There has been no equivalent exploration within Labour of issues such as the impact on the working class vote of the parliamentary party’s strong support of EU immigration policies.

The partisanship of the editorial policy is perhaps best epitomised by tweeting from the programme on April 17, which sought to highlight that Lord Hill, the UK’s European Commissioner, was warning that British agriculture would face severe financial problems if Brexit occurred.  Such front-foot promotion of the ‘remain’ arguments confirms the programme’s partisan approach.


News-watch analysis recorded in site blogs has already established that three editions of the programme since January 24 were seriously biased in favour of the ‘remain’ case.  The sequence from Portugal on February 7 (also analysed here h/t Craig Byers) looked at attitudes in that country to the UK’s requests for benefits and immigration reform. All the speakers including those from the Portuguese government, were strongly in favour of free movement and the current EU regime in that respect. The discussion afterwards was focused on the EU referendum and gave far more time to former CBI chairman Sir Mike Rake, the ‘remain’ spokesman, against Richard Tice, a supporter of Laeve.EU.    The full programme analysis, in the form of a complaint submitted to the BBC, is at Appendix A.

The edition of February 28 focused on that The British Disease’ – discontent with the EU – could ‘be catching’.  Explaining what this meant, Mark Mardell emphasised that this included the rise of the ‘hardline anti-immigration party’ in Denmark. The Czech Republic’s Europe minister Thomas Prouza warned that a British exit could force Europe back ‘towards the Russian sphere of influence’. Bruno Grollnisch, an MEP from the Front National in France, countered that the British were setting a good example and showing that renegotiation with the EU could be achieved. BBC correspondent Nick Thorp, reporting from Hungary, said that ’populist right winger’ Viktor Orban, the prime minister, was promising a referendum. The goal was ‘defending his country from immigrants’ and he was thus popular with many other Eastern European countries. Finally, Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek government minister, warned that the EU was collapsing, but wanted integrated action by the EU to prevent this. Overall, the item suggested that ‘British contagion’ – linked to right-wing populism – was spreading across Europe and was endangering the EU itself. The main manifestation of the ‘contagion’ was in anti-immigration movements, with pro-EU figures suggesting that on the one hand there was a danger of ‘Europe’ being pushed closer into the Russian orbit, and on the other without steps towards greater unity, the EU would collapse, unleashing a 1930s-style depression and other consequences.

On March 20, the EU-related feature looked briefly at the resignation from the government of Iain Duncan Smith, and then the impact on business of staying in or exiting the EU. Mark Mardell spoke to two business owners with divided opinions. The questions put to the ‘exit’ supporter were much tougher than one who wanted to remain, and were designed to show that ‘exit’ would create potential problems. There was a contribution from Stuart Eizenstat, a former economic advisor to President Clinton, who said that leaving the EU would be a ‘disaster for the UK’. There would be economic stagnation no trade deal with the US. Gordon Ritchie, who had negotiated Canada’s recent trade agreement with the EU suggested that a better deal could be achieved by the UK. Mark Mardell, despite Mr Ritchie’s answer, persisted in focusing on how difficult such deals were, and then whether it would be easier to focus on a Commonwealth deal. Sir Andrew Khan, of The City UK, who Mardell said had previously been in charge of the UK’s government body promoting exports, said he was in favour of staying in the EU and claimed it would take 10 years to reach trade deals with countries like China.  He further claimed that leaving the EU would lead to 20 years of sub-optimal growth. Mardell then interviewed Peter Lilley. He attacked the idea that it would not be possible to reach a deal with the US or China.   Overall, this was less blatantly biased than the Portugal edition, but by far the most prominence and emphasis was given to the obstacles to leaving the EU.

The edition of April 10 was based on a meeting of an Italian think-tank in Lake Como, and it was particularly biased against the ‘exit’ case. They had gathered there, it was said, to discuss global economic problems including the possible impact of Brexit. Mark Mardell interviewed a former adviser to President Obama, a Chinese economist, a German government minister and the president of a major global investment fund (Allianz), all of who attacked this ‘stupid’ (as one contributor said) and damaging prospect. In their collective eyes, membership of the EU was unquestionably vital to the UK’s future. Their contributions were followed by a live interview with Labour donor and Vote Leave supporter John Mills, who Mardell introduced only as ‘the founder of a mail order company’. His tone and approach changed immediately – he was much more adversarial. To be fair, Mills was given a far crack of the whip in answering the points raised – and gave credible answers – but it was his contribution was in a much narrower channel, and he was subjected to more scrutiny. Mardell’s editing meant that the pro-EU side appeared more authoritative and more polished.

On April 17, the main focus was a warning from Lord Hill, the UK’s European Commissioner, that outside the EU, British agriculture would face a very bleak future, and farmers would receive less subsidy. The programme elected to tweet this warning (without any balancing material)  as an important development in the referendum debate.  In his introduction to the item, Mark Mardell noted that Brexit and remain supporters had been trading insults over the warning, then said that David Cameron had claimed that farmers could lose up to half their income and also face 70% tariffs on their exports. The first part of the feature was interviews with two farmers, one in favour of leaving the EU, the other who claimed that the need was for a level playing field, and it would ‘get hilly’ if there was an exit. Mardell then interviewed Lord Hill and created a framework in which he could project strongly his negative claims about EU exit. Mardell’s main challenge was that this was ‘project fear’. Agriculture minister George Eustice was able to put across that he did not believe that farming would suffer on Brexit, or that exports to the EU would stop, but Mardell pushed hard that this was strongly disputed by the Treasury as well as David Cameron.   Overall, the programme, in its tweets and the editorial structure, put most weight on the David Cameron/Lord Hill claims that agriculture would face serious threats if Brexit occurred. The balance provided through the appearance of George Eustice did not cancel this out.

More major bias featured in the edition of April 24, the weekend of President Obama’s visit to the UK. The problem here related to the weight that Mardell ascribed to the importance of President Obama’s intervention in the referendum debate. He amplified that he had taken a ‘wrecking ball’ to the Brexit case, and while Liam Fox was given the opportunity to respond to some of the points, his arguments were swamped by Mardell’s commentary and guest contributions that underlined the damaging nature of the president’s comments and also included opinion that the attack on him by Boris Johnson had been racist and ‘weird’. Mardell’s attitude and approach could be summed up by one of his introductory remarks:

The UK part of his farewell tour wouldn’t even count as a long weekend, but it might prove the most important 50 hours in the referendum campaign so far. Here was one of the most popular and powerful politicians in the whole world pulling no punches.

This was followed by:

It was a week when we could have been forgiven for being rather inward-looking, staring backwards at the past – a very British history-soaked week of pageantry, the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the Queen’s 90th birthday – time to revel in nostalgia for both the Elizabethan ages. And the Associated Press notes the President’s political intervention was “wrapped in appeals to British sentimentality”. But the blunt, unsentimental job he set himself was to send a wrecking-ball into the Leave campaigners’ case.  

The May 1 edition examined what Mark Mardell claimed were ‘slogans’ by Brexit supporters about regaining control of the UK’s borders in order to limit immigration. Most of the programme focused on the views of figures who foresaw problems in trying to do so, or who thought immigration was in any case vital to the economy.  The main speakers were John Vine, a former inspector of UK borders, who warned that it would be very difficult to introduce further border checks; Elmar Brok,the German MEP, who warned that any changes in border controls would meet with strong retaliation;  Heather Rolfe, a spokesman for the ‘independent’ National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), who said that immigrant labour was benign and vital to the British economy; and Tim Martin, the managing director of pub chain Weatherspoon.  The latter was said to be a supporter of Brexit, but he argued that immigration from the EU was vital to keep his service sector functioning. The recorded interviews were followed by an interview with Leave.EU founder, Aaron Banks. He argued that inequalities of wealth within the EU were creating the flows of people. What was needed was an Australian points system, with a cap of 50-60,000 annually. Mardell said the NIESR report showed that the British economy needed more people and was struggling to find them. Banks (AB)  said the UK was a small island and there was a need for controls. Mardell (MM) said the boss of Weatherspoon’s wanted more migration. AB said he thought it was good but had to be at a pace that was reasonable. MM asked if the UK imposed a points-system, the EU would retaliate. AB said that was possible. MM asked if it was worth that. AB replied that open door immigration could not continue. MM said:

Because lots of people have different views on this, would you expect any vote in favour of leaving the European Union to be an instruction to a future government to control this immigration?  Because some people might say, well (fragments of words, unclear) it’s more important to stay in the single market, and will accept free movement?

AB:        Of course. That’s, I think, probably the main reason, isn’t it?

In summary, Mardell again placed most editorial emphasis on the ‘remain’ case. Banks responded on several of the points, but in the context of tough questioning which meant tht overall, the need for continued high levels of immigration came across most strongly.


Seven of the 15 editions of TWTW from January 24 were thus heavily biased in favour of the ‘remain’ side. Analysis of the other programmes shows that there was nothing in any of them that offered counter-balance. Mark Mardell’s approach appears to be amplify the benefits of remain, and to investigate and expose in whatever ways he can problems of the Brexit case.




COMPLAINT:  Mark Mardell on Portugal, World This Weekend 7/2/2016

This was a seriously unbalanced item that explored whether David Cameron’s proposed curb on in-work benefits for EU migrants would be accepted by Portugal.  A report from Lisbon was followed by questions to two leading figures on each side of the British EU referendum debate. The interview sequence inexplicably gave more than double the space to the pro-EU case. Overall, Mark Mardell’s editing presented a one-sided view of the Portuguese attitudes to EU reform. Further, the pro-EU commentator, Sir Mike Rake, the past president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) – whose background as a pro-EU campaigner was not properly identified to listeners – had the time and framework to advance a reasoned case that it was vital that the UK should stay in a reformed EU and that the David Cameron reform package was in Britain’s interests.  Richard Tice of Leave.EU was afforded much less time (approximately two minutes compared with five and a half minutes) to outline why he disagreed, and he was pushed in his responses by Mr Mardell’s questions into a narrower and more negative framework.


The purpose of the location report was to gather the views of ‘typical’ Portuguese young people opposed to David Cameron’s stance on reform of the EU, especially with regard to immigration and benefits.

The report showed that the Portuguese who had been to Britain had done so for work, not benefits. Were their views typical? – there was no way of knowing. Those selected for inclusion in the package wanted to come to the UK for a variety of positive reasons, and Mark Mardell edited their contributions to bring this out. Of the eight vox pop contributors who featured in the report, the only benefit claimant was a nurse who had become pregnant while in the UK.  She felt it would have been unfair to stop her child benefit because she had paid taxes. All of the respondents felt that the Cameron approach was wrong. General comment was proffered that immigration was vital to the UK economy.

Mr Mardell also included a comment from the President of the Portuguese nursing organisation, who said that Britain needed nurses from abroad, and that stopping benefits of Portuguese immigrants was both unfair and would hit the NHS. She felt her country would oppose the plans at the EU level.

Mr Mardell then asked João Galamba, the Portuguese government’s economics spokesman, what he thought about Mr Cameron’s plans for curbing immigrant benefit claims. Mr Mardell mentioned that the government was anti-austerity, but did not say it was otherwise strongly pro-EU. The government spokesman asserted that Britain was asking for an unfair deal at the expense of other countries and should not get it. He further argued that the UK had received too much favourable treatment in the past.  The answer to the immigrant question was that the EU should adopt a federal system of benefits, because that was the only way of dealing with the differences of approach in each country.

Back in the studio, Mark Mardell introduced Sir Mike Rake as ‘the chairman of BT’, and Richard Tice, who was said to be ‘one of the founders of Leave.EU.’  More should have been said to identify Sir Mike’s position: he is an immediate past-president of the CBI, which under his tenure strongly supported continued British membership of the EU. He is on record making strongly pro-EU remarks that were clearly intended to be part of the ‘in’ campaign.

In the sequence that followed, Mr Tice spoke 403 words and Sir Mike Rake, 1,098 words. The latter had 2.5 times more space to advance his case and on four occasions Mark Mardell allowed Sir Mike to speak more than 180 words without interruption, with his longest contribution extending to 306 words (1 min 26 seconds). By contrast, the longest Richard Tice contribution was just 168 words (57 seconds), and aside from one sequence of 152 words, none of his other contributions was longer than 32 words.

These ‘metrics’ confirm that Sir Mike Rake had over five and a half minutes of airtime to make contributions which combined to form a largely uninterrupted, multi-pronged and detailed case why Mr Cameron’s reforms were necessary and proportionate, and why Britain, for a variety of factors, should stay in the EU.  Sir Mike spoke about how the UK had ‘benefited hugely’ from foreign direct investment, through being able to export to the European Union and beyond, and argued that there had been ‘enormous benefits’ from the free movement of labour, including in the health service and tourist and leisure industries.  He said he believed the reforms being sought by the Prime Minister were sensible, given different standards of living within Europe, but that the UK itself has had a skills shortage, and it was important to have the ability to bring in those ‘who are really critically important to various aspects of our society.’  He said that the government’s own studies had shown that net migration had been ‘nothing but a benefit’ to the UK economy ‘at every level’, but he conceded that issues such as the refugee crisis were causing concern.  On the question of Britain leaving the EU, Sir Mike said that his business would indirectly suffer, and pointed out that 45% of British exports go to the eurozone, including 53% of all manufactured cars, which creates ‘hundreds of thousands of highly paid jobs.’  He also made the point that although Britain’s gross contribution might look like a significant figure, in net terms it was not, because of previously negotiated rebates, grants and subsidies.

Mr Tice had only two minutes – in essence, two segments of a minute each – to advance a general case about why the UK should leave the EU, and why Mr Cameron’s ‘reforms’ were ineffective. Having been granted such limited space, he could only posit short one-dimensional declarations that trade with the rest of the world was now more important than that with the EU, that the EU economies were uncompetitive, that there was too much regulation and too many UK EU contributions.  In his first answer, he said the prime minister’s plans to put a brake on immigration would not work. Immigration was needed, but not at current levels, and the red card system proposed by Mr Cameron to protect British interests was not new and was a ‘deception’.

The questions put to Sir Mike Rake by Mark Mardell were: whether the curb on benefits would discourage immigration, whether his reform package would work because the feature showed that immigrants came to Britain for factors such as higher wages rather than to claim benefits, whether it was a mistake by the Prime Minister to make the deal look ‘so pivotal’ and what it would mean for BT if the UK left the EU. He thus had a broad, open canvas against which to put his various points.

By contrast, Mr Tice was asked only one direct question: if the ‘emergency brake’ would work. It was then put to him negatively that leaving the EU ‘would be a huge leap in the dark, would it not’. He thus had a much narrower platform on which to advance his views.


This was not a simple in/out item because the framework was whether Portugal would accept the reforms on the table. Asking whether the package could be vetoed and/or would be effective was an important line of inquiry. However, the item that was constructed was seriously imbalanced. From Portugal, Mark Mardell presented only opinions that were pro-EU, pro-immigration, and anti-the UK’s approach to change. In the discussion that followed, the views of Sir Mike Rake – clearly there to represent the ‘stay in’ side of the EU debate – were inexplicably allowed to be overwhelmingly dominant, with Sir Mike Rake’s contribution accounting for 73% of the total airtime, and Mr Tice just 27%.  Richard Tice had the opportunity to put briefly a few points against Sir Mike’s stance, but from questions that forced him into much narrower explanation.

Another way of looking at the item overall is that there were at least 11 speakers who were essentially in favour of the EU’s current arrangements ranged against one speaker who was not. Weekly current affairs are not obliged to have balance of speakers and due impartiality in every edition, but when did The World This Weekend carry a feature which had such numbers of anti-EU speakers ranged against only one with pro-EU views?  And is one planned? A second important point related to impartiality is that all the speakers from Portugal expressed similar views. There was no breadth of opinion, and no attempt was made to include opinion from figures with a more sceptical outlook.


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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.


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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Bbc correspondents’ comments raise impartiality issues

Bbc correspondents’ comments raise impartiality issues

Monday can be seen in referendum terms as the day that the Remain side produced what it believed was an Exocet.

Chancellor George Osborne released what he projected – to the point of pro-EU fanaticism – as a killer economic document which, on the basis of complex, algebra-led economic analysis, suggested that if the UK left the EU, every domestic household would be £4,000 worse off by 2030 and that income tax would rise by 8p in the pound.

How did the BBC do in covering this? That’s a tough question to answer because a News-watch transcript document covering everything that was reported and said about the Chancellor’s predictions on the mainstream news programme – starting with Today on Radio 4 and Breakfast on BBC1, and finishing with a 45-minute special edition of BBC2 Newsnight dealing with the economy in the event of a British exit – amounts to a boggling 36,000 words.

That, at an average speaking speed of 150 wpm is 240 minutes, or four solid hours of coverage. The issue in analysing this blizzard of coverage is where to begin?

One immediate point is that the BBC’s news judgment was that this was definitely a headline development in the campaign. They assigned immediate huge importance to the Chancellor’s report and freely suggested that it could be a defining moment in the campaign. From Today onwards, the Osborne document led the bulletins, and Today was crammed with references to it, for example in in the newspaper reviews and in the in business news. This was the BBC news machine in overdrive with all their big guns deployed.

In that sense, the Chancellor’s document was given huge credence. But was it properly scrutinised? The devil can often be in the detail. Early signs were not good. On Today’s business news, for example, Peter Spencer, chief economic advisor of the EY Club, and David Cumming of Standard Life Investments, were both asked what were said to be ‘quick questions’ about the report.

Their verdict? Spencer said that ‘it was not difficult to come out with figures like the Treasury have’ – suggesting the findings were credible – and Cumming, asked the loaded question  if the referendum itself was ‘already an economic drag’ replied that consumer spending was already being hit. He concluded:

‘I can see where the Treasury is coming from because the prospects for growth investment and profits would be poorer if we left the EU.’

There were no balancing comments, and these early verdicts thus stand out. So too, does the Today programme’s editorial decision to allocate 20 minutes at 8.10am to George Osborne’s advocacy of the report, against only around five minutes at 7.10am to John Redwood’s rebuttal. There is no doubt that Nick Robinson was robustly adversarial in the Osborne interview, but so too, was Sarah Montague in the exchange with Redwood.

Further question marks in Today’s coverage are raised by assistant political editor Norman Smith’s analysis at 6.35 am. He stated that the Osborne document was meant as the ‘Government’s big killer argument, that we will be poorer permanently if we leave the EU’. The bulk of his analysis focused on the key points of the report, and then, when asked about the likely repose from the Leave side, said that its reliance on attacking the reliability of past Treasury forecasts, for example, in supporting the euro, had ‘something slightly cobwebby’ about them. He contended that the problem they had was ‘being able to come up with a factual response’, then asserted:

‘And the reason they struggle there is because there’s nothing they can look at there’s nothing they can model it on, because no one has done this before. So they are in the realms of asserting that Britain would be more self-confident, we’d be more buccaneering, we’d be more entrepreneurial, we’d be more go-getting, but they have nothing to actually build a factual case.’

Almost 12 hours later – when the mighty BBC news machine had chance to analyse the report more fully, to talk in depth to the Leave side about the actual content of the report (the document was not released until 11am), Norman Smith’s boss, political editor Laura Kuenssberg was equally as attacking of the Leave case.  On the flagship 6 pm Radio 4 bulletin (clearly projected as the overview of the day’s events). Her conclusion?

‘….the weight of the establishment is moving more and more openly in favour of Remain, leaving the politicians arguing for exit seem like rebels with a cause.’

In 24 hours, it’s impossible to come up with a definitive verdict on whether 36,000 words of coverage were genuinely impartial. But here, on what was a crucial day in the referendum coverage, there were, some very loud flashing lights indicating significant cause for concern. Yes, the BBC are putting on Brexit voices. Yes, they are exploring the arguments of both sides. But Kuenssberg and Norman Smith are key figures in the BBC’s interpretative voice. And here – in the close analysis of the detail of their coverage – is clear prima facie evidence that they believe the ‘Remain’ arguments are stronger.

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Nick Robinson twists history to make Churchill ‘father of European unity’

Nick Robinson twists history to make Churchill ‘father of European unity’

An earlier blog noted that the first part of Nick Robinson’s series Europe: Them or Us had presented an account of the development of the EU that had badly distorted history by placing wrong emphasis in its role as a force for peace, and had amplified EU propagandists by projecting Winston Churchill as a warrior for a United Europe and thus as the ‘father’ to today’s EU.   What has now emerged as a result of further digging is something a whole lot murkier.

An initial negative is that it is now clear that Robinson’s first programme was not at all original. It was actually a re-hashed version of the BBC’s 1996 series The Poisoned Chalice. Robinson’s primary role was simply to re-voice that earlier commentary so that it sounded new. Should he have told viewers about this? That he did not is at best disingenuous…at worst downright misleading, passing off old goods for brand new.

Further analysis of the transcripts (h/t Craig Byers – plus a senior academic who did her PhD on The Poisoned Chalice) also shows that Robinson is guilty of something far more serious: he doctored some of the original commentary to make it fit with EU’s hagiography about its formation.

An important factor to note is that the original programme was itself deeply biased. The Poisoned Chalice chose as its start point the arresting concept that perhaps the ultimate embodiment of British patriotism, Winston Churchill, was an early enthusiast for ‘the idea of European union’.

Michael Elliott (presenter): There was a time, not so long ago, when Britain welcomed the idea of European union. In June 1940 London was bracing itself for the fall of France to the Nazis. General Charles de Gaulle came to London to put an astonishing rescue plan to Winston Churchill: Britain and France should unite as a single nation.

Robert Makins (Foreign Office, 1940): When he arrived he was taken straight into the cabinet room and, of course, we we all agog to know what it was all about, and we were afterwards informed that he had come over with a proposal that there should be a union between France and Britain. with common citizenship.

Michael Elliott: The scheme had been dreamed up by Jean Monnet, a civil servant who would later become the Father of the European Community.

Jean Monnet (reading from his draft declaration): The government of the United Kingdom and the French Republic make this declaration of indissoluble union. Every citizen of France will enjoy immediately citizenship of Great Britain. Every British subject will become a citizen of France.

Michael Elliott: Monnet’s draft was agreed in a hurry by Churchill and the war cabinet, with one prophetic proviso. They couldn’t stomach his proposal for a single currency. In any case, it all came to naught. The French cabinet turned down Monnet’s plan a few hours later.

The message could not be clearer. Churchill, as long ago as 1940, was advocating a form of ‘European union’. Elliott did not say ‘the’ European Union, of course, but there could be no doubt what he was implying; the man who had saved Britain from the Nazis was working in the darkest days immediately after Dunkirk towards the formation of a supra-national European body that would include from the start the United Kingdom.  Nick Robinson in his programme took this even further. His commentary closely echoes that of Elliott, but he made important changes. He said:

‘This wonderful treasure trove of interviews with the key decision-makers filmed 20 years ago, many of whom of course are no longer with us, gives us a real insight into the decision that we now face.

There’s one interview we haven’t got, it’s with the man who in many ways was the father of a united Europe. No, he wasn’t a Frenchman, he wasn’t a German, he wasn’t a Belgian, he was, in fact, the British Bulldog himself, Winston Churchill.

In the desperate days of June 1940, Britain’s new wartime leader’s first instinct was to go for full political union, quite unthinkable today. Churchill’s plan, in a last-ditch effort to stop France falling to the Nazis, was that Britain and France would become a single country, an indissoluble union with one war cabinet running defence and the economy on both sides of the Channel.

The British Cabinet backed it, but with one prophetic exception, they simply couldn’t stomach the idea of a single currency. Days later France fell, and with it, at that stage, the idea of political union.’

This was the bedrock of the programme that followed: Churchill, the saviour of the country, was dreaming of a United Europe in Britain’s darkest hour. Nick Robinson’s embellishment of Elliott’s already deeply skewed analysis took it many steps further. Churchill was baldly and without doubt ‘in many ways the father of a United Europe’, the implication being that it was on this momentum the project was built.

In order to show how risible – and deeply skewed – this interpretation is, the genesis and handling of the ‘Frangleterre’ idea needs unpicking.  It was born in June 1940 after Dunkirk fell and as the Nazi Blitzkrieg was heading towards France. The French cabinet was panicked and divided; prime minister Reynaud wanted resistance to continue while figures such as Petain were contemplating suing for ‘peace’. In this fearsome crucible, de Gaulle spoke to Jean Monnet (widely seen as the ‘father’ of the Treaty of Rome), who was then working in London with the War Cabinet on the North Atlantic supply route. Monnet had been developing ideas of a supra-national European Union for at least two decades, and he proposed a daring plan: Franco-Anglo unification to facilitate fighting on. De Gaulle decided he would put the idea to Churchill. Churchill himself was deeply cynical, but he had only recently become prime minister and knew that because it had come from de Gaulle, he must put it to the War Cabinet as a whole. That happened the following day, and much to Churchill’s surprise, it was accepted as a possible way forward. Two provisos were added – that it would only be for the duration of the war, and there would be no unification of currencies. De Gaulle then took the proposal back to the French cabinet. It was rejected almost immediately. The reality was that many ministers believed the invasion of Britain by Hitler was only months away, and they were deeply angry at what they saw as the British collapse at Dunkirk. In the discussions that followed, Reynaud resigned and Petain took his place; within days the French cabinet was suing for peace with the Nazis. Petain later dismissed the de Gaulle plan as the equivalent of ‘strapping France to a rotting corpse’.

The reality is that the ‘Frangleterre’ idea never stood the remotest chance of being accepted, and even if it had been, would have been only for the duration of the battle to defeat the Nazis. Robinson projected, in suggesting that it was the root of European integration – a provocative, deliberate, one-sided view of history. It is impossible to tell what was actually in Churchill’s mind in 1940 as the country he loved with a passion appeared to be rapid collapse towards Nazi domination. The paper trail left behind suggests that the War Cabinet backing of this half-baked Monnet plan for ‘Frangleterre’ was based only on expediency, and consider-all-options – however potty – desperation. Dunkirk had fallen; the horrors of the Nazi Blitzkrieg had been unleashed towards France and the United Kingdom, and both the British War Cabinet and de Gaulle were prepared to look at any options to prevent both invasion and the formidable might of the French navy falling into Nazi hands.

Is there any basis for Robinsons claims in what happened subsequently? After the war, Churchill, of course, made several speeches which pro-EU figures, political parties and organisations – including especially the EU itself- have claimed also showed that he wanted a ‘United Europe’, for example in Zurich in 1946. He most certainly did want a form of unification and proposed the especially brazen idea (in the context that a merciless war was only just over) that at its heart should be an alliance of France and Germany.  But there are two very important caveats in the equation that firmly disqualify his ideas as footsteps towards the formation of the actual European Union.  First is that Churchill never envisaged that the UK would be part of such as scheme. He made it very clear that the United Kingdom’s primary allegiance was with the Commonwealth and the ‘Anglosphere’, the United States especially. He never thought  the UK would become a full member. Second, as the post-war dust began to settle, it became clear that the biggest threat to world peace was Russia’s annexation of numerous European states – especially Czechoslovakia – and its hostility to the values of the ‘West’. Churchill wanted a European ‘Union’ primarily as a bulwark against this. He saw the concept as a component of hard-headed diplomacy in a world that, as the 1940s drew to a close, seemed yet again on the brink of war. His ideas, insofar as he wrote them down, were not based on ideology linked to Monnet’s desire for ‘ever closer union’ but political practicalities.

A final point to take into account is an issue of hindsight. Of course what became he EU did have its roots in the 1930s and 1940s. But no-one knew at that time what it would become, including Churchill. He was pushing the concept of ‘united Europe’ with no firm grasp of what it would be. In the event, the ideas that led to its foundation did not come from his concept of unity at all, but those – as was pointed out in an earlier News-watch blog – by figures such as the British civil servant Arthur Salter and the French businessman-turned-politician Jean Monnet. And in their plans, the driving force was a supra-national Commission which would take from each country most of the law-making powers and sovereignty, and be answerable only to what it saw as the greater good of ’Europe’ – as defined by itself.

In fact, no one envisaged what a United Europe could look like – and it did not become a practical possibility – until the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957. Proof of this is that the year before, the French prime minister, Guy Mollet, resurrected the idea of a France-UK union and put it formally to his British counterpart, Anthony Eden.  The proposal was triggered because France was desperate after the Suez crisis and saw such a move as its economic salvation. The proposal was kept secret until 2007 with the release of British cabinet papers.

In that overall context, it was doubly wrong of Nick Robinson to select the 1940 ‘Frangleterre’ idea as evidence that Churchill was the ‘father’ of a united Europe. First, because in 1940 the plan was based not on EU-related ideology, but desperate expediency.  And second because the ideology on which the EU was founded was nothing at all to do with Churchill: the ideas were rooted in the supra-nationalism advocated by such figures such as Jean Monnet.

Nick Robinson is a former BBC political editor. It is deeply troubling that he should project such bias, at any time – but especially during the EU referendum. It seems that he deliberately chose to amplify the ‘Churchill is father of European unity’ concept.  Clearly, no one at the BBC can see that bias. It is evidence of a deep institutional pro-EU mindset.

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