Friday, 25 May 2018

Brexitwatch: BBC pro-Brexit bias - the BBC's response to my complaint


In my post of March 30, I put up a complaint I had sent to the BBC about pro-Brexit bias.

Below is the BBC's reply:

Dear Mr Withington
Thank you for contacting us in relation to the BBC Radio 4 broadcast of 'Today' on 30 March.
I understand you have concerns of pro-Brexit bias relating to a number of segments during this broadcast. I have reviewed these sections of the programme for you.
I understand that you feel that Nick Robinson's piece in the lead up to 8:00am contained inaccuracies and implied those who wished to remain were trying to undermine the EU Referendum. It is important to note that this was part of a day of programming on 29 March which saw Radio 4, with one year to go until the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union, broadcast a number of specialist programmes under the theme UK at the crossroads.
Nick Robinson had provided an analytical piece, exploring the question of 'What happens if the government fails at the Westminster Parliamentary hurdle.' In this report he discusses that "there is; as of yet, no agreement amongst Remainers on how to maximise their chance of beating the government, some favour a vote on a customs union, others on a second referendum or as they prefer to present it, a people's vote on a deal the Prime Minister does".
All staff; including Nick Robinson, working for the BBC, though clearly entitled to hold personal opinions and beliefs, are acutely aware that their views should never in any way influence their work for the BBC, nor should they be apparent to our audience. It is important to recognise however that a fundamental part of the role of our correspondents is to offer analysis, using their experience and knowledge, but this is not indicative of bias.
I also note your concerns relating to an interview which took place later that morning with Dr Liam Fox. On this date a range of contributors including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and Tony Blair were invited on to the programme to discuss numerous topics relating to Brexit over the next 365 days.
During this interview Mishal asks Liam Fox a range on questions looking ahead to 30th March 2019 and what trade will look like for the UK and also explores how this will impact citizens living in the UK. They also explore the subject of a deal between the UK and the EU and what would happen if Parliament failed to vote in it's favour. As the interview wraps up Mishal questions Liam Fox on the subject of employment in places such as Nifco and whether the UK could compete outside of the EU.
In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we're sorry this spoiled the interview for you. We always seek to ensure that the interviewer's particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost.
The key point here is that we aim to cover the ongoing Brexit negotiations with due impartiality. This means we carry a wide range of views about the European Union from across the political spectrum on our output. We regularly hear from those who are in favour of leaving the EU and those who wished to remain. As with any story we cover, the BBC does not have an opinion on the European Union, or on the UK’s position within it. Instead we try to explain the different and sometimes complex issues affecting our audience during Brexit. Our aim is to give them the information they need in order to follow the process clearly.
Due impartiality isn’t necessarily always achieved in one single report or programme, so we would ask that you take account of how we cover a topic over time.
We do value your feedback about this. All complaints are sent to senior management and the team at Today and I’ve included your points in our overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future content.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
Kind regards
Donal Rainey
BBC Complaints Team

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Brexitwatch: the bent referendum. A letter to the Prime Minister


Most MPs know Brexit will damage the UK. They have been proceeding with it only because of the referendum result. 

But we now know the referendum was won illegally by the Leave side, who broke spending rules. So why isn't Brexit being stopped? That is the question I have asked the Prime Minister:


'In view of the revelation that the Leave campaign won the Brexit referendum illegally, I am surprised you have not already been in touch with the EU to withdraw Article 50.
When do you plan to take this action?'

Monday, 14 May 2018

Brexitwatch; the referendum was won illegally. What is your MP going to do about it?


So the referendum WAS bent. The Leave campaign spent more than was allowed, and have been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission. The police are now also investigating.

So the result is null and void, of course? With that surrealism that has become typical of Brexit, the first reaction of MPs seems to be to ignore this inconvenient fact, and hope it will go away or that no one will notice.

This is not good enough. All the evidence suggests leaving the EU will damage our country, and to continue with it because of an illegally procured referendum result is inexcusable. The only justification advanced for Brexit these days is the so-called 'will of the people' argument (see my post of of 15 December 2016) and that has now been blown out of the water.

Theresa May should by now have withdrawn Article 50. As she has not, MPs should be forcing her to. This is what I have written to mine (Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer):


Dear Sir Keir,
I saw you on television yesterday admitting that there are no benefits to Brexit. I have written to you on a number of occasions urging you and the Labour Party to oppose this act of national self-harm. You have always maintained we have to do it (e.g, in your email of Jan 3, 2017) because people had voted for it.
As you know I have always rejected this, as Parliament itself ruled the referendum was 'consultative' only and not binding on MPs. Now, however, we also know that the referendum was ILLEGALLY won by the Leave side.
So what is Labour going to do about it?
I look forward to hearing from you,
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Monday, 7 May 2018

Brexitwatch: Labour too cowardly to have an opinion. My letter to the party's Brexit spokesperson


A crucial vote comes up in the House of Lords tomorrow, with a decision on an amendment that would require the UK to Remain in the EEA, meaning we would stay in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

And Labour's view? Incredibly Jeremy Corbyn has ordered Labour peers to have no view - to abstain - just as they did over an amendment to guarantee us all a vote on any deal agreed with the EU. The result was a win for Theresa May's extreme right wing Tories and their extreme Brexit.

My MP is Labour's Brexit spokesperson. This is what I have written to him. Do you know a Labour lord to whom you could write something similar?

Dear Sir Keir,
'Staying in the EEA could preserve our rights to live and work in 27 countries, stop our economy being destroyed, preserve peace in Ireland, and, of course, it wasn't mentioned on the referendum ballot paper, so any 'will of the people' arguments are irrelevant. What does Labour think?'
'Er, we don't really have a view.'
How on earth do you expect to be taken seriously as a potential governing party when you are too cowardly or too clueless to take a position on the biggest questions facing our country?
I was horrified to see Labour sabotaging the chance of a referendum on any Brexit terms by ordering its members in the House of Lords to abstain, so ensuring the most reactionary Tory government I have ever seen would get its way. Now you are planning to do the same on the EEA vote. 
This is inexcusable. I urge you at this late date to change your mind and just for once, put country before party. Every Labour lord should be urged to support the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Sunday, 6 May 2018

The Brexit Tax: how much are you prepared to pay?




Nobody much now believes the biggest lie in British politics: that leaving the EU would produce an extra £350 million a week for the NHS. It is now clear that ANY arrangement that follows us leaving the EU will make us worse off - apart from a few of the hyper-rich non-elite who may be helped to avoid tax.

An assessment that Theresa May tried to keep secret shows that if we get a Norway-type deal of leaving the EU, but staying in the Single Market (the kind Nigel Farage used to favour but now considers insufficiently extreme) we will all be 2 per cent worse off. 

With a Canada-type free trade deal, we will be 5 per cent worse off, and if we go for the no-deal scenario favoured by the Brexit fanatics, which Theresa May is keen not to rule out, we will all be 8 per cent worse off. So instead of being paid, say, £30,000, you will get £27,600.

But it gets worse. Because we will all have less money, the government will get less from taxes to pay for the NHS and other public services. By 2033, the Norway model will leave a Black Hole in the public finances of £20bn or about £300 for every man, woman and child in the country; the shortfall for a Canada arrangement will be £55bn, or about £850 for every man, woman, and child in the country, while having no deal would cost about £80bn, or £1,230 for each of us.

Interestingly surveys on how much people are to pay for Brexit usually come up with the answer: £0.




Saturday, 21 April 2018

Brexitwatch: Letters to Lords and Ladies - a referendum on any Brexit terms


The House of Lords has already done important work in trying to stop Theresa May from dragging us out of the EU Customs Union, with all the disastrous effects that would have on our economy and on peace in Ireland.

Over the next few days, the Lords will consider another amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill requiring the government to hold a referendum on any terms agreed for leaving the EU, with an option to stay if the leaving terms are not good enough.

This is the letter I have sent to three members of the Lords - Baronesses Browning and Warsi, and Lord Bridges. If you wish to write to members you think are persuadable, please feel free to borrow from it or adapt it.

I am writing to you to ask you to support the amendment “Parliamentary motions on a referendum” to the EU Withdrawal Bill so that there will be a public vote on any final Brexit agreement reached with the EU.
This is essential because it is plain that the Brexit people were persuaded to vote for in June 2016 cannot be delivered. We were promised that we would be able to stay in the Single Market, that we would be able to leave the EU but keep all the benefits of membership, that leaving would have no cost for our economy, that it would be child's play to reach new trade deals to replace those with 70 countries that we tear up when we leave the EU, that the UK government would save money, etc etc. It is plain now that none of this will happen.
It is also essential because the referendum electorate was gerrymandered to exclude huge numbers of people likely to vote Remain - many UK citizens living in the EU, 16-18 year olds, EU citizens with long residence in the UK. In spite of that, and a rabidly anti-EU press, the Leave campaign was able to win by only a tiny majority. (And I haven't even started to discuss the questions of dishonest financing and foreign interference on the Leave side.)
All respectable predictions say leaving the EU will damage our jobs, businesses, savings, public services, standing in the world etc. Before we take such a fundamental and damaging step, it is essential we know that it really is what people want. 
The 2016 referendum was ADVISORY, and not binding on Parliament. This is absolutely clear from the legislation itself and from the pronouncements of government ministers advocating it. If we leave the EU, therefore, the consequences will be the responsibility of Parliament. I do not think historians will be impressed by its performance so far. Supporting this amendment gives Parliament a chance to start to repair the damage it has done.
Please vote for the amendment.
Yours sincerely,
John Withington

Friday, 20 April 2018

Brexitwatch; what Labour really thinks about Brexit


Somebody called Barry Gardiner is apparently Labour's 'shadow international trade secretary' A couple of weeks ago he was secretly recorded saying worries that peace in Ireland could be threatened by the re-introduction of a border between north and south after Brexit were just a bit of flimflam concocted by the Irish Government and Sinn Fein. 

As for, Labour's Brexit tests, designed to try to prevent the UK being completely destroyed by leaving the EU, they were 'bollocks'. 

When front bench spokesperson Owen Smith said that as the Brexit people had voted for could not be delivered, there should be a referendum on any actual terms negotiated, Jeremy Corbyn sacked him for not following party policy. Barry Gardiner is still in his job.

I don't think he should be, and this is what I wrote to my MP, who happens to be Labour's Brexit spokesperson, Keir Starmer:

Dear Sir Keir, 
I had to cover the Birmingham pub bombings as a tv reporter. I have lived through a series of IRA bombing campaigns, and I have relatives in Northern Ireland and the Republic. I am horrified that Barry Gardiner is prepared to jeopardise the Good Friday Agreement in order to pursue his fantasy of a Brexit that everyone who has given it a moment's thought, knows cannot be achieved. That alone should have been enough to get him sacked from the Shadow Cabinet, as Owen Smith was.
Now I read that he also rejects the key basis of Labour's Brexit policy - the six tests - though he did not have the guts to say so publicly. Why is he still in his job?
Yours sincerely,
John Withington