World This Weekend

Mark Mardell wins Vince Cable award for balanced reporting as Germans warn of Brexit ‘nightmare’

Mark Mardell wins Vince Cable award for balanced reporting as Germans warn of Brexit ‘nightmare’

Mark Mardell, presenter of Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, has been on his travels again, this time to Berlin.  His purpose was to find out whether Germany – in his words the country that ‘ran Europe’ – would treat a UK exit from the EU with kid gloves or a mailed fist.  The structuring of the report left no doubt: Germany would be displeased.

His analysis was pitched in such a way that it prompted his studio guest, the former Liberal Democrat MP Vince Cable – arguably one of the most staunchly pro-EU figures  in the UK – to say that the conversation he’d had in Germany was ‘very balanced and very good’.  The ex-business secretary added for good measure:

The only real, heavy endorsement of the Brexit position came from that ex— that, er, the MEP from the extreme right wing German party, which is not an endorsement I would want.

What was that ‘conversation’ as edited and presented by Mardell?

He spoke first to the Reuters Brussels correspondent, who confirmed that there had been secret talks by the EU to deal with Brexit and to head of the (associated) rise in ‘far right’ parties.

Next stop was Artur Fischer, CEO of the Berlin Stock Exchange, who warned that if the UK decided to leave the EU, it would not enjoy the economic benefits that it currently enjoyed.

Christian Ehler, a senior MEP from Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrat party, warned that a European parliamentary report he had coordinated warned that a British exit would lead to a ‘nightmare’ – ’Mr Putin will laugh his butt off’.

Mardell noted that Ehler had also worked for Biotech, a multinational corporation, and asked for his reaction to Brexit in that capacity, too.   His response was that it would be ‘a disaster’ and ‘very messy’ and warned that jobs and big contracts involving companies such as Rolls-Royce in the supply of Airbus would be at risk.

The next interviewee was Daniela Schwarzer, director of what Mardell said was the ‘German Marshall Fund’s Europe programme’. What he did not say was this was an organisation set up in 1972 to foster stronger relations between the EU and the United States.

Schwarzer conceded that the UK might still be part of the Single Market, but warned that it would not be involved in the political decision-making of the EU. Prompted by Mardell, she also warned that it was important to stop (for the rest of the EU) the idea that this was ‘an easy game’ and to make it clear that a ‘visible cost’ was attached to leaving the EU.

Next up was MEP Beatrix van Storch, vice chair of the Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party. This, stressed Mardell, was ‘Germany’s hard right party’, though he did not explain any of their policies or why they had earned that label.

Van Storch said first that from the German taxpayers’ point of view, she wanted the UK to stay in the UK because it was the second largest contributor to the EU budget. But she added that on the other hand, she wanted the UK to leave, to show that it could survive and not everything would break down. She asserted that it would be possible to trade with Europe without being part of the EU. To suggest otherwise was ‘complete rubbish’.

Mardell chose not to explore this further. Instead he asked whether the political elites would react by saying that other countries could not follow their lead ‘like the Front National in France…’ you are not asking Germany to leave but they would not want to…anything that would encourage you either, I guess’

Van Storch replied that any attempted punishments would only encourage ‘these movements’.

Mardell then – without explaining specifically why – spoke to two students, who he said had studied in London and Paris as well as Berlin. His point was presumably therefore that they had balanced views about the EU and ‘Europe’.  One duly said it would be a shame if Britain left the EU because it was ‘very valuable’. The other was worried that British exit would lead to the need for the re-introduction of visas.

The next interviewee was Artur Fischer again. This time he warned that nationalism was not a good thing. British exit would lead to Germany becoming nationalistic again, and that would lead to the ‘thin layer’ of civilisation collapsing. The EU created the chance of compromise; without it he warned that Germany would instead look for ‘a winning’.

Mardell’s final port of call was Juergen Maier, whom he introduced as MD of Siemens. What he did not say is that the company is possibly one of the most pro-EU businesses in any EU country, and that it has been warning for many years about any form of Euroscepticism.

Mardell asked him what sort of a deal the UK would get outside the EU, and then carefully coaxed him to spell out each of the various obstacles. He made no attempt to be adversarial.  Maier warned that barriers to the imposition of tariffs would first be taken down, then that new rules that disadvantaged the UK would be written – without the UK being round the table – then that German companies, along with those in the rest of the EU, would find it more difficult to invest in the UK, and finally that it would take much longer than two years to negotiate any new arrangements.

In summary in this report from Berlin, Mardell produced two senior industrialists, one senior politician and two students to say that Brexit would be a more or less unmitigated disaster and nightmare for the UK and would lead to the rise of nationalism and collapse of civilisation. Against this torrent of Europhilia, he produced one AfD politician and stressed that she was from the ‘hard right’.  At various points in the report, he stressed how much of a threat the ‘hard right’ was seen to be and how the EU was fighting to prevent forces such as the Front National in France.

Mardell’s report was bookended at the beginning and end with discussion involving Vince Cable and Gisela Stuart MP from the Vote Leave faction.   Mardell first put it to her that a Vote Leave letter warning about levels of immigration did not say how exit would allow better control of the problem. She said a new points system with the people’s consent would be devised at Westminster that better reflected the economic needs of the country.

His next question was whether there was any unease about the growing attacks on David Cameron. Stuart responded that he had not spelled out the consequences of remain or immigration at current levels.   After the Berlin report, Mardell suggested that the UK would not get the sort of trade deal it enjoyed through being in the EU.  Stuart replied that the euro was pulling the EU down and Britain was best outside.  Finally, he asked her if British exit would be the end of the EU and whether that would be a good thing. She replied that the UK departure would allow closer integration within the remaining EU. Britain needed to get out because current performance in the Eurozone was dragging the economy down.

Before the Berlin report sequence, Vince Cable – in response to Stuart’s points about immigration – argued that the UK had signed up to free movement under Margaret Thatcher and that all reports from economists showed that immigration was good for the economy. He attacked the Conservative party for making promises about levels of immigration it could not keep.  He emphasised that immigrants’ contributions to the UK were overwhelmingly positive and that they swelled the tax income of the Treasury. In the final sequence, he reinforced Maier’s warning that exit would generate very serious uncertainty, and, in turn, a fall in living standards and business opportunities. He warned that leaving the EU would take the UK out of the single market ‘which was absolutely fundamental to our manufacturing industry and the traded sector of the economy’. He concluded:

it’s completely unnecessary to walk away from that, with all the uncertainty and all the damage that that will create.

Overall, this The World This Weekend sequence had superficially reasonably balanced contributions from Gisela Stuart and Vince Cable. But in between was a report from Berlin by Mardell that presented with only minor tempering, a full-on case for ‘remain’.  Those who disagreed were described as ‘hard right’. In that context, Stewart’s arguments for exit were totally swamped by Mardell’s overt bias.


Transcript of The World This Weekend, Sunday 29 May 2016


DIANA SPEED:      The infighting within the Conservative party has intensified with senior MPs and the Leave campaign making personal attacks on David Cameron and some Eurosceptic backbenchers suggesting there could be a vote of no confidence in him after the referendum. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove accused Mr Cameron of corroding public trust by failing to meet a promise to cut immigration. Here’s our political correspondent Susana Mendonça.

SUSANA MENDONÇA:       The Leave campaign say this spat is about the UK’s ability to limit EU immigration, but the sight of two senior Conservatives Boris Johnson and Michael Gove accusing the prime minister in such a public way of undermining the trust that voters place in politicians has made this debate deeply personal. And the infighting hasn’t stopped there – the employment minister Priti Patel has gone a step further in her criticism, suggesting that Mr Cameron was too rich to care about people’s concerns regarding migration. All of this appears to have unleashed the wrath of Eurosceptic backbenchers Leave campaigner Nadine Dorries has called Mr Cameron an outright liar and said a letter was being circulated among backbenchers calling for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, who she warned would be toast within days after the referendum even if remain narrowly won. Number Ten said the Leave campaign was just trying to focus attention away from the economic debate which it claimed Leave had already lost.

Main Story

MARK MARDELL: The prime minister stands accused in a letter from the Vote Leave campaign of corroding public trust by making a manifesto promise which it says is plainly not achievable while we stay in the European Union. That promise is to cut immigration to the tens of thousands; what makes the letter explosive is it’s signed by two of the most senior Conservatives who stood on that manifesto Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. But the issue itself is perhaps even more important than the impact on the Conservative party – the letter challenges the prime minister to admit that a vote to remain is a vote to permanently maintain free movement of people from the European Union including allowing what it calls economic migrants with or without a job, putting a strain on schools and hospitals and pressure on the wages of low paid British workers. To discuss that the former business secretary Liberal Democrat Sir Vince Cable and Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston Gisela Stuart who is the chair of Vote Leave and provides the third signature on that letter to the prime minister. Good afternoon to both of you. Gisela Stuart, first of all, conspicuous by absence in that letter is any way you would actually control immigration?

GISELA STUART:  It, actually, the letter has two points, first, it’s outlining the risks of remaining and it also makes it quite clear that whatever immigration policy you have, it has to have the consent of the people and therefore this is a letter which addresses both a democratic issue about consent, but also the economic consequences, particularly on the low paid if you don’t have control over immigration.

MM:       We, we know people are constantly (fragment of word, unclear) asking for facts in, in this debate, would you . . . are you talking about visas?  Are you talking about work permits, how would you control it if you got that power back?

GS:         Whatever system you end up with, and it will be a combination of something like an Australian points system, there’d be visa-free areas, but the key thing is, it’ll be, the decision will be made at Westminster in striking the balance between the economic needs of the country, the kind of skills we need and historic links, and it’s that absence of any control, combined with the economic pressures, because we’ve got an underperforming European economy, creates risk if we stay in.

MM:       So Vince, the letter is correct, isn’t it that without leaving the European Union you can’t fully control the migration of workers from Europe?

VINCE CABLE:      That’s correct, yes, it is a single market, it’s something the British sought originally and negotiated in Mrs Thatcher’s day, which is free trade in goods and services, free movement of capital, and free movement of labour, that’s the package, that’s what we bought into and it’s brought us . . .

MM:       (speaking over) Right, so, so it it . . .

VC:         . . . considerable benefits.

MM:       Is it correct that it corrodes public trust, because we can’t control that in a democracy?

VC:         I don’t think that (fragments of words, unclear) free movement of labour and the single market corrodes trust, but what has corroded trust – and this is one of the few points where I agree with Mr Gove and Boris Johnson – that when the Conservatives made this pledge to cut immigration to under 100,000 back in 2010, and then actually, foolishly, repeated it last year, for the very simple reason that you cannot directly control in a market economy levels of net migration.  It isn’t just free movement of labour in Europe, we can’t control immigration, we don’t have a wall to stop British people coming and going and the volume of people coming and going depends on the state of the economy.  And our total level of net migration also includes substantial numbers of people like overseas students, who are not immigrants at all.  So, the figure itself, I said repeatedly in government, my Lib Dem colleagues repeated it, this was a very foolish commitment to have made, and it has corroded trust, making a promise that could never be met.

MM:       Gisela Stuart, you’ve been on the battle bus with Boris Johnson, was there any sense of unease that they’re making this so personal, attacking the Prime Minister?

GS:         I think we, we have to challenge the Prime Minister who makes those promises, and . . . force him to spell out what the consequences of a Remain vote are.  And these consequences are spelt out in that letter: if you’ve got an underperforming economy in mainland Europe, and you cannot control people coming, then essentially, you will have huge pressures on . . . which will hit worse the low paid in this country.  And that is simply bad for this country, and the Prime Minister, I think, needs to answer the questions in that letter.

MM:       Sir Vince, you served in cabinet alongside these people, what do you think this sort of debate will do for, for them?

VC:         Well it’s not helping them, but can I just reply to Gisela’s points, which are perfectly fair.  Of course, there are immigration in some areas which do create pressure on some public services, though we do know from the work that’s been done that there is an overwhelmingly positive contribution to the British Treasury, therefore public spending from immigrant workers who are young and they pay taxes here, but one specific area I was responsible for in the coalition and that was low pay, and the Low Pay Commission on the minimum wage, and, and the simple truth of the matter is that low pay is protected, provided it’s enforced by the minimum wage. And . . . added to of course, tax credits, which I also believe in, and that’s the way to deal with low pay, and all of the research we did in the coalition government showed that there was very little impact of migrant workers for (sic, means from?) Europe on, on pay amongst low paid . . .

GS:         (speaking over) But the . . .

MM:       Vince Cable, Gisela Stuart, thanks very much.  We’ll be talking to you again in a moment, but the other great debate within the referendum campaign is what leaving would mean for our economy.  A lot would hang on what sort of deal we could do with the rest of the European Union. The first, secret, talks have taken place in Brussels about how to cope if Britain does leave, vote to leave in 25 days from now. Alistair Macdonald is the Brussels Bureau chief for the Reuters news agency and broke the story.

ALISTAIR MACDONALD:     Whatever the result is, the EU will have to respond and they want to respond in some kind of co-ordinated manner. We know that senior officials in Jean-Claude Juncker’s office, his chief of staff chaired a meeting at the beginning of this week with senior diplomats and ambassadors from a number of key countries, particularly France and Germany with a number of countries also involved, notably Slovakia and Malta who will be running the rotating chairmanship for European Councils over the next 12 months starting in July.

MM:       Any hints at all about what the attitude might be if Britain did vote to leave, what they might say?

AM:        They will say, almost certainly, they regret the British decision, that they respect the will of the British people and there’ll be a third, perhaps less clear message which is: this is going to be very painful for you, which is a way of saying, ‘please don’t anybody else try this at home’ they will want to head off centrifugal forces in other countries, they do not want Marine Le Pen in France, the Dutch Geert Wilders or a whole number of other Eurosceptic forces in Europe to take heart from this and start agitating.  So décourager les autres – as they say in Brussels.

MM:       Alistair Macdonald from Reuters. Indeed, there’s an irony here: if the UK votes to leave, the internal politics of the European Union might matter more than ever before for Britain’s future.  Would Europe’s biggest power, Germany, want to treat others with kid gloves or deal a blow with a mailed fist? I’ve been to Berlin to try to judge the mood.  In a big Berlin store, the sound from high-end hi-fi’s and speakers and headphones is testimony to Germany’s technological prowess, as are the rows of red toasters and espresso machines.  Outside, there’s a queue of Mercedes taxis.  Germans are proud of what they make and we like it to, last year, the exported £67 billion worth of goods to the UK, we were there third most important export market after the US and France, and they wouldn’t want to put that at risk, would they? Artur Fischer is CEO of the Berlin stock exchange.

ARTUR FISCHER:  In Europe, we agree on a number of rules in order to take down the trade barriers.  And Great Britain doesn’t like some of the rules.  Now, our industry will be against any kind of trade barrier, be it for countries inside the EU or outside the EU, they obviously don’t want it.  I work two days a week in London, and because of the EU, because of agreements, I don’t have to ask for a work permit, I just go over there and I work.  However, from a political point of view I’m pretty sure that Great Britain will not enjoy, after they left the EU, the benefits they currently have.

MM:       Berlin is not Europe’s economic powerhouse or manufacturing centre, but this friendly, attractive city is one of its political centres.  And I’m in the political quarter.  Fountains are playing in front of the white-walled, tinted glass cube that is the Kanzleramt – the Chancellor’s office.  Outside, fly side-by-side the German and the EU flags.  Angela Merkel runs a Germany from here, and arguably Europe, at least what she says matters hugely. Christian Ehler, is an MEP and senior member of her party, the Christian Democrats – and industry committee coordinator in the European Parliament, where some are braced for Brexit.

CHRISTIAN EHLER:             We were asked by the general secretariat what would be the result of an exit, and our report back has been pretty much easy, saying it will be a nightmare for three years. And I mean, Mr Putin will laugh his butt off.

MM:       Christian Ehler is wearing cufflinks.  One says, ‘trust me’, the other, ‘I’m a politician.’  But he also used to be MD of the multinational Biotech. What do you think would happen if Britain did vote to leave, what would be the reaction here?

CE:         Take my constituency, and one of the biggest employers is Rolls-Royce, I mean, it’s a totally integrated economy, and the reaction would be at first sight, total confusion.  I think the outcome for my constituency will be a disaster.

MM:       Why would it be a disaster for your constituency?

CE:         At the given moment, Rolls-Royces producing half of the engines for AirBus in Germany, shall we put the British out?  But then my constituency is out.

MM:       Would there be any political impetus to treat Britain, frankly, badly, so not to encourage other people to go down a similar route?

CE:         That doesn’t make sense, I mean that is, that is the thinking of the 19th Century, I mean, this discussion is driven to some extent in the UK and to some extent in other European member states by people having the arguments of the 19th of 20th Century.  We are beyond that.  My boys are attending school in England, my former company was heavily affiliated with UK, so it’s no longer that Germany or Europe treats the British in a certain way, I mean, it’s simply an integrated market and to sort that out is complicated.  Obviously, both sides have interest not to create a complete mess, but it would be a mess anyway.

MM:       I’m now in front of the wonderful Reichstag – a 19th Century building with a modern, glass dome, the past fused with the present. Modern Germany’s sense of self is very firmly intertwined with the European Union, which tempers its economic and political eminence of the continent.  The shocks of the migration and the Greek crisis, and the fierce criticism of Mrs Merkel’s conduct in both have meant to heightened awareness of the European project’s fragility.  If there’s another shock, the German political class’s instinct may be to wrap a protective arm around the EU.  Daniela Schwarzer is director of the German Marshall Fund’s Europe Programme.

DANIELA SCHWARZER:      One of the objectives on the German side will very likely be to have a good deal with the UK, but it is not part, obviously of the political decision-making of the European Union, but still a part of the single market.

MM:       There may also be a feeling, of course that we don’t want to encourage other people to do the same thing, particularly with the French elections coming up?

DS:         One motive will be not to make others think that this is an easy game – you have a referendum and then you get what you want, right?  So, there has to be a visible cost attached to the choice of leaving the European Union.

(German speech, ends with ‘Alternative für Deutschland’)

MM:       ‘Take part in the change’ – the slogan of the rising force of the AfD – Germany’s hard right party.  Just three years old, among the victors in the regional elections a couple of months ago.  They are watching our vote very carefully.  The party’s vice chair, MEP Beatrix von Storch says if the UK leaves, Germany will pick up the bill.

BEATRIX VON STORCH:      From the German taxpayers’ point of view, I would like them to stay because, as we all know, UK is the second-biggest net payer for the European Union, so, if they leave, it’s going to be even more burden on the German taxpayers.  On the other hand, I think it will be good if they leave, just to show that they will survive, because this is what now is told, if they leave, no one can leave, without the European Union everything will break down, you can’t trade any longer you can’t travel any longer.  I think it’s completely rubbish and I would like to see how it works.  And I think we will see that it’s possible to trade with (words unclear ‘a new’?) European Union, not being part of it.

MM:       And you don’t think that trade barriers would go up?  That there would be a reaction against it?

BVS:       I think it would be very stupid to punish the trade which serves the people on both sides.

MM:       Might there not be an instinct from the, the people that you’re against, the political elites in the European Union to say, ‘We can’t have this, we can’t have other countries following their lead, like the Front National in France’, and indeed, you’re . . . you’re not asking Germany to leave but they wouldn’t want to . . . anything that would encourage you either, I guess.

BVS:       If they start to punish the UK after they voted to leave, I think this will strengthen all the movements you want to leave the European Union.

MM:       Under the stony eye of a statue of Alexander von Humboldt, students at the University that bears his name in central Berlin, tell me how they see the UK. Nora and Theresa are both law students, who’ve studied in Paris and London as well as here.

NORA:    I personally think Britain is very valuable, I think it’d be a shame if they left.  I they’re also actually valuable by always being critical, because you always, you need criticism to develop something, to develop a project, to see where one needs reforms, what doesn’t work.

THERESA:             We don’t need visas, so we can just go to Britain with our passport.

MM:       Do you think that would change?

T:           I hope not.

MM:       (church bells) Just a Berlin church, but if Britain votes to leave, Europe’s politicians will be asking if the bell tolls for them too.  There will be reflex actions, some within the EU would see it as an opportunity to question its very purpose and direction.  But more would automatically, defensively, talk of building a better, stronger Europe.  Daniela Schwarzer again.

DS:         There has usually been a movement of deepening in a moment of deep crisis.  So take the Eurozone, or take the whole discussion on EU border controls and immigration policy, in a moment where the migration crisis hit.

MM:       Artur Fischer from the Berlin Stock Exchange has deep worries about what a British exit could mean for his country and the whole continent.

AF:         I always had a feeling that being nationalistic is not a good thing.  So, if the EU would be damaged and the value of the EU is already fragile, and if Great Britain is out, the temptation is that the German population will also consider what are the benefits, why don’t we do things on our own.  It gives you a very eerie feeling – how thin that layer of civilisation is. Look at it. We’re only a few years away from this, and we all call ourselves civilised and, like, you know, it’s not going to happen anymore.  We just have to make sure that people realise how small that step is and that we do everything possible not to cross that line.  And . . . to do that together with other countries in the EU gives us a chance . . . to come to a compromise, if we have differences of opinion.  If we are not in the EU we will not look for compromise, we will look for a winning.

MM:       Artur Fischer in Berlin. There are, of course, big German companies based here. One of the biggest, Siemens UK. I asked their CEO, Juergen Maier, what sort of deal he thought the UK could get outside the EU.

JUERGEN MAIER: Over a period of time there will be trade agreements that Britain can do with the EU, and of course with other nations. But the much more important thing here is the non-tariff barriers, which, over many, many decades we have taken down, we have created a level playing field across the EU, that’s what the single market is all about, and we would be outside of that signal market and we would, over a period of time, not from today to tomorrow, but over a period of time, we would see those nontariff barriers rising, and that would be a disadvantage to especially British manufacturing companies, who are exporting into those EU markets.

MM:       But why would they rise, because those on the Leave side have said time and time again that it’s in nobody’s interests, neither the remainder of the European Union, nor the United Kingdom, to have those sort of barriers raised.  It is of course true that, you know, Germany will want to continue to trade with Great Britain, as we will want to continue to trade with them.  But we will have just said, ‘Actually, we’ve left your club’, and in the real world what happens is that the people who are then left sat round the table – remember, we’re not around that table – they will be writing new standards, they will be done in a way that certainly does not advantage, and probably could disadvantage Great Britain.

MM:       Do you think there will be a difference in Germany between business interests if Britain leaves and political interest?

JM:         If we were in a situation outside of the European Union then, you know, companies like ours, but, you know, the many German companies we have that invest in Great Britain would find it more difficult to create new investments here, or, let’s put it another way they would just find it easier to do that for countries within the European Union.  And the interesting thing about it is that actually, currently, with us being in the European Union, we, in Siemens – and I know that from many other companies as well – we see the UK as a fantastic place to invest in new R&D.  You know, we think the environment here, the business climate, the investments that are going on are absolutely tremendous, so why make it more difficult for ourselves?

MM:       I suppose what I’m asking is if the German government and other governments in the European Union said, ‘Look, we’ve got to make it difficult for Britain, for political reasons, for the rest of the European Union’ – would businesses say, ‘No, come on, hang on, we can’t have that’?

JM:         No, I mean, there, there will no doubt be, you know, some of that, but what I think would happen is, is that, you know, the European Union would, would, you know, obviously accept the decision of the British people at the end of the day, and the European Union will do whatever it can to make sure it continues to prosper, invest and grow its activities in the European Union.  And yes, Great Britain would not always be right on the inside of the . . . of the negotiations, and, and that club. Would they completely alienate us and not want to work with us at all?  No, I mean that’s just . . . that’s just crazy thinking.

MM:       Do you have emergency plans, or plans for what you do if there was a vote to Brexit?

JM:         We haven’t, no, we’ve clearly er, you know, thought about some of the immediate risks and some of the things we might need to do, but the fact is, is that should there be a Brexit, there is this two-year period that we all know about.  My own view is, is that would probably end up needing to be extended, because it would take longer to negotiate trade agreements, so, you know, we would have that time in order to consider what we need to do around, you know, things like exports regulations and paperwork and red tape and, you know, all of these things that we’d actually have more of and not less of, you know, so we’d have plenty of time to work that out.

MM:       Juergen Maier. The Labour MP, Gisela Stuart, who was born in Germany and came here in 1974, and Sir Vince Cable are still with me.  Gisela Stuart, we got a sense there from Berlin that, you know, there wouldn’t be any desire to harshly punish Britain, but we just simply couldn’t expect the sort of trade deals that we have now?

GS:         Well, but it also ignores the, the real big game-changer in this whole conversation, which was the introduction of the euro.  We’ve had a European economy which, in the last decade, you know, hasn’t managed to grow in comparison to other economies.  You know, the US grew 6% faster.  So you’ve got a, a, a trading bloc that is actually not growing as fast as it could, you have got a single currency that requires much deeper integration, for Germany to succeed, we are not part of the single currency, and by that decision we would be much more successful if we were outside.  And Germany, for example has just introduced a minimum wage, which is lower than our minimum wage, so, if you’ve got high unemployment on mainland Europe, and you have got jobs and a minimum wage here, you will increase the pressure on the United Kingdom and the public services and all the things that we talked about before, which is why I say, you know, vote Leave on the 23 June.

MM:       Sir Vince, it’s a failing bloc and we’re better off outside it?

VC:         Well, some of the countries in the European Union have had . . . done very badly, of course Greece most extremely, Italy and others.  Germany, of course, consistently has outperformed the UK, has got much higher levels of productivity.  Spain is growing quite rapidly, it’s recovered, in many ways, from the crisis, so it’s a very, very mixed picture.  But I think your comments er, the, the conversation you had in Germany was actually very, very balanced and very good.  The only real, heavy endorsement of the Brexit position came from that ex— that, er, the MEP from the extreme right wing German party, which is not an endorsement I would want.  I thought Juergen Maier’s comments at the end captured it just about right, but you’ll have two or three years of uncertainty, probably upheaval is overstating it, but very, very serious uncertainty in the UK about where we go next as renegotiate new arrangements, and then you have a gradual loss of business and . . . undermining our living standards because of the difficulties of continuing to operate in the single market, which is producing common standards, particularly in manufacturing, which we’re no longer part of, I think that was a very good summary of the problem.

MM:       Gisela, you know there’s very deep worry among Germans about the future of the European Union if we left.  Would it be the beginning of the end?  And would that be a good thing?

GS:         I think the beginning of a managed process which would allow the Eurozone countries to achieve that deeper political integration which they need in order for their single currency to succeed, and for those countries who are outside to disentangle and establish different relationships.  And, you know, even in countries within the Eurozone which have got high growth, Spain still has 45% unemployment of the under 25’s.  This is a currency bloc which is in deep economic problems, they need to do something which is right for them, which is simply not appropriate for us, and the sooner we realise that a managed separation would be beneficial for both sides, the better.

MM:       Sir Vince, we’ve only got a minute left, but would it be the beginning of the end?

VC:         It would certainly be very difficult if we left, I’m not into kind of Armageddon-type arguments, but you know, Gisela’s argument that we have to separate ourselves, we are separated by the fact that we’re not part of the monetary union, that’s a decision we’ve made, and we’ve gone our separate ways, but you don’t need to compound the differences with the European Union by also leaving the single market.  The single market, which Britain sought and has profited from is absolutely fundamental, particularly to our manufacturing industry and our traded sector of our economy, it’s completely unnecessary to walk away from that, with all the uncertainty and all the damage that that will create.

MM:       Sir Vince Cable, and Gisela Stuart, thank you very much indeed.


Photo by Foreign and Commonwealth Office



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.


Photo by theglobalpanorama