BBC doesn’t get PM’s key promise quite right

by Hugo Dixon | 20.02.2019

Next week MPs could start a process to force Theresa May to delay Brexit. But the BBC misleadingly says the vote will be “non-binding”.

Parliamentary process is complex. But on such a critical issue, our national broadcaster needs to get its facts straight.

In an article about the prime minister’s trip to Brussels today, the BBC says: “The PM has promised to return to Parliament to update MPs again on 26 February and, if she had not got a new deal by then, to give them a say on the next steps in non-binding votes.”

This is not quite what the PM said in the House of Commons on February 12 when she caved into pressure from MPs and ministers not to run down the clock. She promised to make a statement and “table an amendable motion”, with the votes on that statement and motion taking place on February 27.

The most likely way the motion will be amended is by MPs taking control of the parliamentary timetable. They would then force through emergency legislation requiring the prime minister to ask the EU for extra time so we don’t crash out of the EU.

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This is what a cross-party group of MPs, led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative Oliver Letwin, are planning. A group of ministers are threatening to support the move if May doesn’t herself agree to ask the EU for an extension of the Article 50 process.

This is a big story – arguably much more important than today’s talks in Brussels. And the key point is that, if a law is passed forcing the prime minister to ask for extra time, it will be binding on her – not “non-binding”.

This wasn’t the only inaccuracy in the BBC’s story. The prime minister didn’t say last week

that there would be an amendable motion “if she had not got a new deal” by February 26. She said there would be such a vote if the government hadn’t secured a majority for a deal (not necessarily a new one) by then.

The distinction is important. It’s not enough for May to do a deal with the EU to avoid Cooper’s manoeuvre next week. She also needs to get it through the Commons – and that seems a tall order.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

11 Responses to “BBC doesn’t get PM’s key promise quite right”

  • The main complaint from business groups is around the uncertainty of Brexit.

    Surely delaying article 50 will cause even more uncertainty therefore what will the delay actually achieve? I hear the complaint all the time about kicking the can down the road, but isn’t that exactly what delaying article 50 will do?

    No, there needs to be certainty now, either a no deal brexit (assuming no changes to the backstop are made) or a general election called immediately where remain and leave politicians make their position crystal clear so as the electorate can choose a parliament that reflects their desire to leave or remain. There is no point in choosing politicians along party lines now, it has to be a vote on EU membership and once the dust has settled a new election should be called.

    We have been deceived once by politicians with a referendum they did not want to adhere too. We had another general election where the main parties ran on a platform of leaving the EU then welching on it. It is now time we have an opportunity to vote them out and bring in individuals who are committed to either leave or remain and then I would be happy for parliament to decide our future.

  • Peter, the problem with a General Election is that it cannot just be about Brexit, because of all the Party branding and other policies that each candidate will be associated with. That is the great fallacy on which the 2017 election’s ‘mandate’ is based: even if Labour and Conservatives had had distinguishable Brexit policies at that stage, the vast majority of the electorate would still have judged between those two on their reputation and social and economic policies, and ignored any other Party in order to ‘vote against’ the one they most disliked.

    Party and personal branding was even an issue in the 2016 Referendum. A sizeable minority of those who voted to Leave, according to their own comments at the time, did so mainly to spite David Cameron and/or to blindly follow Boris Johnson. It may be impossible to completely eliminate the personal associations while humans remain in the decision-making loop, but we can at least remove as much avoidable contamination by other policy areas as possible.

    A General Election would also fall foul of the deficiencies in our outdated electoral system. If more than one candidate of either the Leave or Remain side were to stand in any constituency, they would risk splitting the vote between them. In a largest-minority system such as ours, this risks allowing their opponent to win even though strongly opposed by the majority.
    Or if only one candidate from each side is to be selected, by what obscure backroom dealings are those champions to be selected? And what of those voters who support one candidate’s stance on Brexit, but entirely align with the other candidate’s policies on everything else?

  • The problem with the 2nd referendum idea is that even if leave won again we still have a majority in parliament who do not want to accept that result.

    Politicians are more than capable of coming to deals in constituencies so that there is a clear choice between leave and remain. Again as I stated before, the only other choice is to leave with no deal.

  • Te BBC needs to publish an immediate correction, and run another article giving the proper facts. Otherwise its inaccuracies will be quoted by others

  • Last weekend the main story on BBC radio bulletins was May writing her letter to Tory MPs. By that time the date of the second PV March (23 March) had been announced but it did not get one mention. Quite unbelievable.
    Also, on the BBC website where they have a Brexit jargon buster they refuse point blank to have a definition/explanation of the term ‘People’s Vote’.

    To Peter
    There was no need to call a referendum in 2010. Cameron called it because he thought he could shut up the EU rebels in his party. Cash, Redwood etc. A quarrel in the Tory Party has resulted in the country being taken to the brink of disaster. 7000 jobs going in Swindon – Honda are pulling out because of the uncertainty of trading conditions. How on earth can you even mention a no deal Brexit?

  • Peter – as I recall the question on the ballot paper was “do you think the UK should remain a member of the EU”. No mention was made of HOW we leave, if such was the result (as it turned out). May has, completely arbitrarily, decided that the vote means NO membership of the customs union or the single market (for which Thatcher was mostly responsible). If we leave without some sort of framework in place to support business and commerce in general (so say nothing of ex-pats rights), the result will be a massive upheaval of our economy. I am certain that whether we leave or not, the present (almost) full employment will start to deteriorate to the point that, if there is no deal, we’ll see unemployment reaching Thatchers levels during the 80s. Is that what you want ? In all the excitement, I’ve yet to hear a cogent reason for leaving the EU – just hysterical screaming about dictating to us, bullying, etc. Yet no other EU country has chosen to leave, although many dislike the Euro – which is completely different matter. Do you think the EU has “got it in for us” ? Or maybe it’s because this country suffers under a massive inferiority complex. Of one thing I’m sure, Cameron’s decision has resulted in a very, very unpleasant GB (I don’t think it will remain UK for very much longer).

  • Let’s get it straight – we voted to leave! Article 50 was the agreed EU notification of a country leaving the EU in 2 years with no mention of having to leave with a deal. If no deal can be agreed with the government and the EU we leave without a deal – simples!
    True our economy will have to change to reflect the changing relationship with Europe and yes there will no doubt be great upheaval for some industries. Business will adapt and in the medium to long term I have no doubt that we will prosper (unlike the naysayers on this site that are completely negative in the hope that will scare the great unwashed into supporting remaining in the EU).
    I don’t think the EU has necessarily got it in for us, but they are desperate to protect the project and the status quo. This will be their undoing as surely they can’t be blind to the political changes going on throughout Europe that I genuinely believe will bring down the EU altogether. Change or die is the lesson they need to learn – but I fear that Juncker, Verstappen, Barnier etc are all deaf, dumb and blind.
    Oh and I certainly don’t feel inferior as I still believe our model of democracy is far superior to that created by the EU.

  • Peter, you say “our model of democracy…”, Do you mean our model of a lack of democracy? We have not had an election won with the support of
    over 5O% of the electorate in 150 years. Normally it is 33% of the electorate. Tony Blair managed 25%

  • Them’s the rules and if people don’t want to vote that is their choice.

    Are you telling me that all these other Countrys with PR systems get a 100% turnout? I don’t want a system where we end up with multiple party coalitions and a lack of policy implementation. The beauty of first past the post is that we (generally) get a one party government who are held accountable for manifesto implementation. If those policies prove to be unpopular to the majority then come the next election they will be voted out. The problem we have at the moment is dishonest politicians who have no intention of following their parties manifesto pledges (on brexit in particular) and I am quite confident that when the electorate have a future say these individuals will be out on their collective ear!