Why is BBC so often ignoring option of People’s Vote?

by Luke Lythgoe | 19.09.2018

The BBC is slowly beginning to recognise that Brexit is not a binary debate between Theresa May’s hard Brexit and the even harder Mogg-Johnson variety. But our national broadcaster still gives far too little attention to the third way: a People’s Vote on whatever the prime minister brings back from Brussels – with the option to stay.

With both May’s miserable Chequers proposal and Brexiters’ dream of crashing out with no deal polling poorly compared to a People’s Vote, it should be receiving at least equal billing. In fact, the BBC often still fails to challenge extreme pro-Brexit viewpoints going and sometimes overlooks the People’s Vote entirely. Here are four recent examples.

Smitten with Minford

A report last week from the pro-Brexit “Economists for Free Trade”, arguing that crashing out of the EU with no deal was “nothing to fear”, got wide coverage thanks to support from Boris Johnson. The BBC didn’t initially find an economist to tear it apart, even though the report was based on extreme assumptions and its main author, Patrick Minford, is a maverick whose theories are widely rejected by his peers. Only later was the article updated to add quotes from chancellor Philip Hammond saying Minford was “widely out of line” with other economic models.

A Wetherspoons Brexit

Also last week, with headlines dominated by the Bank of England governor warning of the dire economic consequences of no-deal Brexit, BBC Breakfast got Wetherspoons chairman Tim Martin to give his opposing point of view: “If we don’t have a deal and embrace free trade, prices will go down in the shops.” While Martin’s opinion has a place in the debate, his unconventional analysis went unchallenged and therefore came across as having equal standing to that of the Bank.

People’s Vote missing from Brexit lexicon

Many of the BBC’s Brexit articles are accompanied by its “guide to Brexit jargon”. Conspicuous in their absence from the list of 63 Brexit terms are “People’s Vote”, “final say”, “second referendum” and “Remain”. There’s little to suggest Brexit is anything but an inevitable policy to be thrashed out by factions of the Tory party. What’s more, the top six options shown to readers are all possible Brexit outcomes – none of them covering “no Brexit”.

Rees-Mogg’s Irish border ploy

The European Research Group’s unviable blueprint for an open Irish border also got an easy ride from the BBC. Its coverage tended to report the idea without much critical analysis, relying on quotes from the likes of the CBI calling the report “superficial”. And at no point did the BBC point out that one way to keep the border open was to stop Brexit, and that people could be given the option to do this in a public vote.

With Brexit reaching crunch point, positions entrenching and no obvious breakthroughs, a People’s Vote is looking more likely. The nation’s broadcaster needs to give much more attention to this in its reporting.

InFacts has approached the BBC for comment on these points. At time of publication we had received no reply.

This is the latest series of articles on the BBC’s poor Brexit coverage. You can read some of the others here, here and here.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

17 Responses to “Why is BBC so often ignoring option of People’s Vote?”

  • I have often noted how the BBC invariably says that we WILL be leaving the EU next March, when the truth is simply that we are due to leave then. It ignores any possibility that Parliament and/or the country may decide to defer or reverse the 2016 decision.

  • As Kamal Ahmed may already have recognised, the BBC’s assumption that an issue can be presented impartially by setting two opposing points of view against each other does not necessarily achieve clarity or comprehensiveness. What is required is impartial critical analysis by the BBC itself.

  • At the risk of repeating myself, the BBC does not seem to have the heavyweight interviewers able to challenge the claims of the extreme Brexiteers. The BBC feebly relies on the opinions of yet another “expert” for balance, leaving the listener/viewer stuck between two possible but contradictory truths.
    For a lesson on how to challenge without becoming belligerent may I recommend Adam Boulton of Sky News, a true heavyweight (in more ways than one)? He does not let “false” claims go by unchallenged and is well able to present counter-examples. Perhaps it is because he does not have a licence fee to protect?

  • The Brexit Broadcasting Corporation has way too many Oxbridge types on its shows and news channels and they mainly studied Politics Philosophy and Economics and they don’t weant to upset the government for fear of their funding via the TV licence fee coming under pressure. They need a big shake out.

  • It’s time John Humphrys was replaced.

    He regularly interviews Brexiteers and never gives them a hard time or challenges patently obvious distortions of the truth.

    Conversely, he’ll wheel out the same old tired and disproven arguments against Pro EU guests, continuously interrupting them and preventing them from getting a valid point across.

  • The greasy Farage was on the beeb an hour or so ago wiping the floor with the newsreader; just listen carefully to the verbiage that slips out of his mouth like effluent but with a smirking confidence and really one can only decide the bbc is not trustworthy anymore.

  • The BBC is still at it today. Apparently, May has told the EU not to demand the unacceptable! The story gives the impression that she is in the driving seat when we all know she is not. There is now a short lukewarm paragraph saying what the People’s Vote is but that is it. Never has there been a bigger cock up in British political history than Brexit.
    I feel that the outcome will be a huge shake up in British politics- new parties, PR and a proper written constitution. It is hard to see why Brexit which cuts across every sector of life should be made into a party political issue. Brexit has brought British politics to its knees and radical change is needed.

  • On BBC R5L this morning (19/09/18), there was a radio phone-in on Brexit, specifically the People’s Vote or referendum on the final terms Mrs. May and her team finally cobble together. The host Nicky Campbell kept calling it a ”second referendum’ which implies a re-run of the issues in 2016 (it won’t be as we know considerably more now than we did then) and allowed angry Brexiters to shout about it being anti-democratic.

    This is a massive oversight by the BBC. It allows supporters of Brexit to continue rehashing the same old 2016 arguments without actually considering the fact that they should also consider themselves better informed. Providing they’ve actually listened that is!

  • In the last 8 months or so I have been watching BBC News at 6 pm then switched to Channel 4 for their News at 7. There were times which I though that the News were from different…Countries!. At BBC Breakfast In the morning they always managed to find some obscure company somewhere in the north that were doing well, because of the fall in the £, they never really looked at the Economy as a whole . Occasionally only on Newsnight there was some more balanced news! As a consequence in the last few weeks I have stopped watching BBC News. Wouldn’t be a good idea if a lot of people did that? I also I participated in the March last Summer and considering that roughly 100.000 thousand people could arguably be a good number, I thought didn’t 16,141,241 PEOPLE VOTED ……TO REMAIN?

  • Sadly, the BBC is institutionally, psychologically and pathologically incapable of admitting error. It has taken literally decades for it finally to concede that its previous practice of routinely having a climate change denier alongside a climate change scientist is both specious and a flawed “balance”.

    Alas it took years of complaints about the BBC repeatedly wheeling out the scientifically illiterate Nigel Lawson before they finally admitted the false dichotomy that they have been responsible for allowing.

    There has to be a question now about how dominated is the BBC at senior editorial level by pro-UKIP/Tory Brexiteers. Where did May’s head of Comms come from? The BBC. Johnson’s former Comms director when London Mayor? The BBC. The Editor of the Today programme? An acknowledged Tory. Where is there an equivalent liberal or left-wing equivalent of Andrew Neill?

    Any suggestion that the BBC is a nest of “lefties” is becoming more ludicrous by the day.

  • The unbalanced reporting and poor journalism are a symptom of the BBC terrified of losing their license fee or having it reduced. Yes-I also watch Channel 4, Sky but also Euronews and France 24 to get the views from across the Channel/Manche

  • I’d hesitate to say that the BBC have an active pro-Brexit bias (if nothing else, one would imagine that most of their staff demographic is likely to be anti-Brexit), but their constant emphasis on “WHEN WE leave” the EU is, unintentionally, biased. Not only should that “when” be “if”, but they should be saying “the UK”, not “we”, which, apart from being populist (in the same way as mothers in modern news reports are always “mums”, as if modern audiences no longer understood words with multiple syllables), suggests a unity that is not reflected in reality and plays into Brexiter narratives of Britain versus nasty foreigners. They also give far too much coverage to Johnson and Rees-Mogg et al., despite the fact that they represent no political party, government or state involved in the negotiations, but only themselves. Put simply, the BBC is not biased in favour of Brexit, it is biased in favour of exciting news stories, simple narratives, dumbing down and high viewer figures. Unfortunately for the country, ‘Sensible person says Brexit is ill-advised’ is less “sexy” as a news story than ‘Rees-Mogg bites dog’…

  • The conduct of the BBC is nothing less than disgraceful where Brexit is concerned. Before the vote there should have been documentaries in prime time explaining the EU, how it formed, why it formed, how we became part of it, and how we have benefited or suffered from membership various ways, and what could be done from within the EU to address grievances. There should have been an explanation of what would be affected by a decision to leave.

    None of that was done. In fact nothing like that is ever really done except in that Mr Attenborough’s programmes have seemed to have an effect on the National conscience as regards plastic in the sea.

    I hate to admit it but the idea of the BBC is great, however, it does not live up to its ideals. Maybe it’s time to go. Before Brexit I would have fought its corner and when Labour was in power, ministers were held to account and grilled weekly by Paxman and Humphries. A failed Labour minister of the calibre of Chris Grayling would, long since, have been driven from power, yet this example of failure is given a pass, and permitted to blame everyone but himself. The buck certainly doesn’t stop with him.
    Moreover the BBC nowadays is finishing itself off with twee and patriotic offerings of English gardens and coasts, with nightly multiple offerings of”‘Great British” this or that.
    We have as a nation, disappeared up our own backside, and perhaps we deserve to be excluded from the EU.

    If the EU took that tack, owing to our obviously contrarian and irrational behaviour, I reckon we’d be suing in The Hague to get back in. They’d be fools to let us, actually.

  • Reading the comments here I have come to the conclusion that I have been totally wrong about the BBC for the last 2 years. I was very strongly of the opinion that it was very remain biased!
    With the somewhat demented rantings on this site about BBC leave bias it must now be the case that is actually being unbiased. Let’s get it straight , there has been a vote to leave and the so called peoples vote is just another tactic to overturn the original result. If that was achieved there would be political turmoil in this country for many years to come resulting in us leaving anyway.
    For gods sake please get on board and argue for the best deal to leave. Certainly once we are out you could make the case for re-joining. Although the EU would have to be considerably reformed for us to consider it.

  • Peter,

    Most sensible comment thus far,
    Fact is political careers and reputations are on the line here, not the laymans.
    Should we leave, and given TM’s speech today we most probably are going to do so, are we all going to up sticks, give up and move to France? Of course not.
    It’s now time to concede to the democratic decision (not popular but true) start damage limitation and form and effictive opposition post Brexit without the likes of Blair “helping” our cause.

  • Peter,
    I don’t share David’s rather generous view of your comment.
    The bias of the BBC is self evident by their uncritical analysis of the Government line. A good example of this that has been trotted out by both ministers and advocates of Brexit is the comment that trade is accelerating more quickly with developing nations than with the EU. The implication is that why should we worry about our trade with EU when all these other nations that are banging on our door to trade with us and keen to offer us exciting and growing deals. This point was made last night on Question Time by Camilla Tominey from the Telegraph. Thankfully, Nazir Afzal who was another panellist pointed out that Mrs May’s trade deal amongst some African countries was equivalent to winning a deal with a community the size of Leeds. To be a bit clearer since our trade with the EU accounts for 50% it can’t possibly grow at the same rate as a country that currently only accounts for 1%. The smaller country may have a growth rate of 10% per year, but that would only amount to 1.1% of the total after a year. This playing fast and loose with statistics is got away with on a daily basis and lapped up by the people who are only looking at headline numbers. This is typical of the half truths I see from Brexit advocates. I don’t feel any desire to just go along with Brexit for the benefit of career politicians who see no problem in deceiving the public and being silent about the complicity of the BBC.
    The burden of proof is with you to demonstrate the anti Brexit bias of the BBC. The only place I see it is in some of the satirical comedy, where I can only assume Government ministers aren’t listening.