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BBC lets Phones4U founder off the hook

by Hugo Dixon | 05.04.2016

The BBC’s Today Programme this morning interviewed self-made billionaire John Caudwell, who explained why he was pushing for the UK to leave the EU. But presenter Joe Lynam gave Caudwell too easy a ride, allowing him to make spurious claims about security, Britain’s budget contributions and trade with the rest of the world. Without adequate challenge, the mobile magnate was let off the hook.

We “have a security risk as a result of the immigration policies of Europe and of European passports coming into the UK”

Caudwell acknowledged, under questioning, that Britain was not part of the border-free Schengen area, and we check the passports of everybody who comes into the UK from the continent. But he then said: “We have no control of the issuance of European passports in other countries.” Caudwell didn’t spell out why this would put our security at risk. Perhaps he is suggesting, as others have, that a “jihadi sleeper” would be smuggled into Schengen pretending to be a refugee, lie low for years waiting for a passport, and then come to Britain to blow us up. InFacts has already shown why this supposed plot is fanciful.

“We suffer an £8 bn loss to Europe, a net loss”

Caudwell implies we’d save that sum if we quit the EU because we’d no longer pay into its budget. Forget for a moment that a better figure for our net contribution is £6.3 billion. Losing full access to the EU’s single market, which accounts for nearly half our trade, would hit the economy and taxes, so the UK’s budget deficit would rise, not shrink. In other words, we would have less money to spend, not more. The interviewer failed to make this point.

To be fair, Lynam did point out that Norway and Switzerland, which are not in the EU, still have to make financial contributions. But Caudwell was allowed to get away with saying that “the contribution would be a lot less than we pay”. While it’s true that the Swiss contribute less, Norwegians pay about about the same net amount as the Brits – around £100 per person per year.

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“Being a free country to trade with every country in the world…. that’s a good thing”

Caudwell said the economy would benefit if we quit the EU, because we’d be free to “set trading philosophies and policies with other countries”. The Phones4U founder was forced to admit that Britain can already trade with other countries. But the Today Programme should have also pointed out that, if we quit, we would lose access to most of the EU’s existing 50-plus trade deals and that it wouldn’t be easy to cut new ones.

The Today Programme did, at least, acknowledge that John Caudwell no longer runs Phones4U – he sold it, after which the firm went bust. Lynam also got the entrepreneur to acknowledge that he was personally so rich that he wouldn’t be affected whether Britain votes to remain or leave. But maybe it’s time to hang up on those Brexit myths.

Neither John Caudwell nor the BBC responded to requests for comment before publication.

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

Edited by Jack Schickler