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?
ZUZANA SLOBODOVA: Yes.
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”