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Analysis

BBC lets Brexiters’ Swiss border untruths go unchecked

by Denis MacShane | 01.02.2019

Hardline Tory Brexiters must be called out on their inaccurate claims about the Swiss border. Dominic Raab was once again on the BBC Today programme this week (listen from 1:35) telling Nick Robinson that Switzerland offered a model for a frontier in Northern Ireland that “wouldn’t require infrastructure at the border”. The former Brexit secretary argued that “practice around the world including on the Swiss border shows it can be done”.

This is sheer nonsense, but once again went unchecked without any correction.

The hard-Brexit lobby have been claiming for some time that Swiss border crossing arrangements are in some way a model for Ireland. Daniel Hannan made the same claim last year on Newsnight as have Owen Paterson and other Tory anti-Europeans in different BBC interviews.

On LBC this week Eddie Mair allowed a caller to assert “there are no borders in Switzerland”, again without telling the man he was talking rubbish.

After Raab’s absurd but unchecked claim there was an explosion on Twitter, with people who lived in Switzerland or crossed the frontier from France or Germany to work there on a daily basis sending in photos of major border posts as big as those between the United States and Canada.

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The photos on Twitter show queues of lorries and cars. To be sure, most cars are just waved through. 320,000 EU citizens living in France, Germany or Italy close to Switzerland cross the frontiers every day to work. They hang a little pass on their rearview mirror and are waved through.

There are inspection lanes for lorries, and also for the cars the Swiss border and customs officials want to check. There are often armed police and sometimes on the Swiss-French border there might be French soldiers with rifles who have been stationed there since the wave of terrorist attacks in recent years.

It is illegal to bring into Switzerland more than a kilo of meat or four chickens bought in a supermarket in a neighbouring EU country. Fines are regularly dished out for anyone who brings in more than a bottle or two of wine into Switzerland from lower-priced France.

Anyone who lives or works in Switzerland knows about this, as the pictures and comments posted on Twitter after Robinson’s failure to correct Raab’s untrue statement revealed.

Perhaps it is understandable that presenters like Robinson and Mair do not challenge Brexiters on this. They are, after all, not trade experts. And there is sometimes such a torrent of misinformation coming from the likes of Raab that an interviewer cannot interrupt at every false point – they are trying to produce programming that is at least somewhat coherent and enjoyable.

But untruths about the Swiss border have been pumped out by Brexiters for months now. Journalists and their editors have a responsibility to clamp down on this line. Not to do so helps the Brexiters push their line that a chaotic “no deal” would somehow be fine. It won’t. It will be chaotic and broadcasters’ audiences won’t thank them for allowing it to unfold.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

16 Responses to “BBC lets Brexiters’ Swiss border untruths go unchecked”

  • The BBC is far too complicit with giving the Brexit bunch an easy ride, with the exception yesterday of Emma Barnet in her discussion with Lord Digby Jones, who was doing a good impression of Boris Johnson.
    I am looking forward to the day they ask Patrick Minford to go on the Question Time Panel at the same time as a real Trade Expert versed in WTO rules. I think he should have an opportunity to explain why an approach that would ‘virtually eliminate Manufacturing in the UK’ is no big deal.

  • It begs the question why the BBC pay people like Robinson and Humphrys a journalists wage, when they are no more than announcers or link men, simply allowing guests to say what they want and then introduce the next one. Last week I heard Humphrys interviewing a hard Brexiter, Andrew Brigden I believe, and allow him to state that our departure was not an example of us reneging on an international treaty since we’d only joined the EU because we knew that article 50 was available as a way out.

  • Besides the fact that the BBC has now become little different to Tass, one of the problems is that many journalists are ignorant of the details of the EU, WTO and international trade so they are unable to ask intelligent questions or pick up on the mendacity of brexiteers and challenge them. This was already evident during the referendum when the lies and misinformation of brexiteers went unchallenged. I’m assuming that they haven’t been instructed by their controllers to adopt a pro-brexit stance, which I doubt.

    Independence for Gibraltar!

  • The usually excellent Mark Mardell on WATO today let a Brexiter assert without challenge that we trade on WTO rules with non-EU countries. On the very day that EU-Japan agreement covering 30% of global GDP entered into force, not to mention the 60 odd countries already under such deals with EU. All without trashng our environmental, workers’ and consumer protections. Beat that Fox!

  • The BBC needs to stop MPs spouting confusing and erroneous information about Brexit. it is a complicated subject and not helped by interviewers adopting a servile attitude. I thought that the earpiece gave them access to vast amounts of corrective information, or is it only for on-air jokes?
    May I suggest that if you want to see how MPs can be corrected in a professional manner by an interviewer then look no further than Adam Boulton on Sky News. He is polite but makes sure that the truth is told. He seems very keen on the use of the word ” disingenuous” when talking to politicians. I would be rather more robust, but you know what he means.

  • Having crossed in and out of Switzerland hundreds of times over the past 30 years I can assure Robinson , Humphreys, the BBC and Raab that the Swiss borders are anything but open. And I have to point out to your own journalist that he should check his facts too!! The only cars that get waved through at ALL Swiss checkpoints are those with the motorway “Vignette” which all Swiss and all foreign cars passing through the country have to display on their windscreens. Nothing to do with people border crossing for work. And on the Italian borders the Polizia di Finanza are omnipresent to stop and check cars at will. So what a load of horse manure , Mr Raab – and shame on the BBC journalists /presenters for not fact checking !

  • Try listening to Campbell and Burden on Radio 5 Breakfast. They encourage the public to phone in and allow them to spout incorrect ‘information’ without a challenge. It is like a radio version of the Mail and Express.
    I believe Channel 4 News gives the best coverage with informed presenters such as Jon Snow, Matt Frei, Kathy Newman and Krishnan Guru-Murphy, There is also Gary Gibbon and Michael Crick (who challenged Johnson live on air about Turkish immigrants to the U.K.- making him run for cover). The BBC is nowhere near this standard of excellent journalism. Question Time is terrible with the shallow and ineffective chairing of F Bruce. Last week she allow Braverman four long comments and interjections at the start of the programme before Sonia Sodha had one opportunity to comment. It was a Winchester which voted convincingly to remain but you would never have thought it from the animosity of the audience towards a second vote. Bruce allowed one bloke to say (unchallenged) that if the U.K. refused to pay thr EU 39bn it would soon make ‘them’ come round to giving Britain what it wanted. A cake and eat it comment, not challenged.

  • For years the BBC has seen its duty to show impartiality as meaning it gives equal credence and equal time to crackpot ideas as compared with experts. This was particularly evident in the Brexit debate. where the BBC didn’t properly challenge even the simplest lies like the £350 million/week for the NHS.
    It’s not just in Brexit; in subjects like Climate Change and they seemed to give time and equal credence to Climate change deniers as to the overwhelming scientific evidence.
    The BBC have encouraged the adversarial system of politics, giving too much time to the “major parties” who have the power in our undemocratic first past the post system and meaning that the sensible approaches of the LibDems, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru are largely ignored in favour of the tribal debates between Tories and Labour.

  • As remarked in one of the comments, the BBC is now little better than TASS when it comes to letting Brexit lies go unchallenged. I’ve always identified as an Irish European but implicitly trusted the BBC as most Irish people once did. Since Brexit, that trust has evaporated. I no longer watch or listen to BBC News, instead turning to RTE and Good Morning Europe. Just two recent examples of how low the BBC has sunk. My wife accidentally put BBC 10.00 News on last Wednesday to see Katya Adler trying to prize open cracks in EU solidarity towards Ireland. Pure trashy propaganda, not journalism. The lowest point was last Saturday when John Humphrys, the BBC’s Brexit cheerleader-in-chief, suggested to Helen McEntee, our Europe minister, that Ireland rejoin the UK (!) Ms McEntee calmly tore Humphrys apart. I detest paying the licence fee under duress as this part of Ireland is still under English rule, but maybe for not much longer. A hard Brexit will lead to a United Ireland, which I will certainly vote for in any Brexit scenario. With the passing of England’s last colony in Ireland at least Irish Europeans will have something to thank the Brexit BBC for!

    James Clarke
    Belfast, Ireland

  • The Swiss border is seriously difficult. I was meeting a group of 8 at the multinational Basel/Mulhouse airport, on the French side. Two people were missing so another person ,who knew them to see, offered to go back in to find them from French side to Swiss side. Trying to return, he got stuck, as his wife had his passport on the other side of a glass door. He was forced to go right around the airport through all checks etc. Which delayed the group for half an hour, even though the border authorities on the Swiss side could see both people and their passports within a metre of each other. So don’t tell me it’s not a border!

  • Just an observation but I am pretty sure that the queue seen here is from Germany part of EU into Switzerland not EU so not a good example for NI into Republic of Ireland part of EU. I live within 15 Km of both German Swiss borders and French Swiss borders and cross regularly occasionally meet what could be called a hard border going from EU side to Swiss but in over 10 years not seen what could be called hard borders from Swiss to EU side in fact until the last couple of years not seen anyone on EU side, but now some the French sides have had soldiers because of various state of emergencies. So as we are talking about hard borders from non EU to EU for Ireland not the other way as UK has ruled out putting up hard borders for entry into UK, I think Swiss example is a reasonable one.

  • @James Clarke
    Perhaps this is a wee bit unfair to Mr Humphries in that what he did by putting the suggestion (actually made by a brexiter) ‘that Ireland rejoin the UK (!)’ was to give Ms McEntee the opportunity to demolish it (not him) , which she duly and decisively did, no doubt to the joy of many listeners, and which she would not have been able to do if he had not asked that particular question.

    When interviewers ask hard questions of politicians they are like railwaymen who hit wheels with a hammer to test for trueness – whether they are cracked or not – by the sound they make.

    The best way to lance the boil of doubts about the impartiality of BBC interviewers is TO ASK them what THEIR views are.
    I recall a few years back Mr Humphries on the R4 Today programme interviewing an official of the MCC on the subject of some controversy in the world of cricket. As the EU is right up there with the MCC as an Institution of National Importance, this must be a useful comparison. The official was not being forthcoming so Humpries to draw him out said something like ‘Come on, you must have some view on this. Speaking as a man what do you really think?’ The official, a professional and a loyal servant of the MCC ignored him. But he could have said, ‘ok I will talk to you on air man to man but I expect you to do the same’. As an attempt to draw the interviewee out the question failed but it did establish that Mr Humphries thought, and presumably still does, that it is OK for someone to give their own personal view as man or woman and citizen, even when on air in their professional capacity – which he and his BBC colleagues are. A person on air on the BBC being interviewed can therefore be confident that they will get a straightforward candid reply when they say, ‘Well I think such-and-such, but what do YOU think, Mr/s BBC Interviewer?’

    Everybody knows that broadcasting personnel are people and citizens as well as professional broadcasters and that they have and indeed ought to have personal opinions on things like EU membership. It would be much healthier if they were open and up front about them, than if they feel they have to hide behind a fiction of impartiality.

  • Blind EU fanatics are the “anti-Europeans”. The EU themselves agreed that technology could be used instead of infrastructure at the border. Only later they decided it was impossible so they could use the claim as negotiating stick.

    If you think the BBC is giving Brexiteers an easy ride you a clearly an EU extremist.

    I have driven over the Swiss border many times. I’ve never been stopped or seen any border control staff.