The BBC risks undermining Brexit and damaging the UK’s reputation with its “pessimistic and skewed” coverage, MPs have warned.
More than 70 MPs from across the political spectrum have written to Lord Hall, the director-general of the BBC, accusing the corporation of portraying the UK as a “xenophobic” nation that regrets the vote to leave the EU.
They say that the corporation has failed to “break out of pre-referendum pessimism” and accept the “economic good news” the UK has enjoyed since the referendum.
The letter comes after months of mounting anger in the Conservative Party about the corporation’s coverage of Brexit in the wake of the EU referendum.
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Tory MPs argue that while the corporation’s coverage during the referendum itself was even-handed it has since become “partisan” and anti-Brexit.
It came as Theresa May announced that the UK will trigger Brexit next Wednesday, meaning that Britain will leave the EU in March 2019. She said: “[My objectives] include getting a good free trade deal, putting issues like continuing working together on issues like security at the core of what we are doing. “We are going out there, negotiating hard, delivering on what people voted for.”
In their letter the MPs put the corporation on notice that its future will be in doubt if politicians and the public no longer see it as an “impartial broker” that they can trust.
The signatories include several Tory MPs who voted for Britain to stay in the European Union amid concerns about the economic impact of Brexit but are “delighted” that the forecasts have been proved wrong.
The letter says: “It particularly pains us to see how so much of the economic good news we’ve had since June has been skewed by BBC coverage which seems unable to break out of pre-referendum pessimism and accept new facts.
“Some of the signatories of this letter shared many of the concerns about the economic impact of Brexit, but all are delighted to find forecasts of immediate economic harm were at best misplaced. So-called ‘despite Brexit’ reporting may be expected of a partisan press, but licence fee-payers have the right to expect better.”
The letter adds that “BBC bias can have a substantial effect on national debate. We fear that, by misrepresenting our country either as xenophobic or regretful of the Leave vote, the BBC will undermine our efforts to carve out a new, global role for this country.”
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The row between Conservative MPs and the BBC over Brexit is the latest in a series of clashes. During the 2015 election campaign, senior Conservatives said that they were “furious at the BBC’s coverage” and accused it of an “unforgivable Labour bias”.
Tory MPs have become increasingly critical of the BBC since the referendum. In October last year Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, hit out at the corporation’s “infuriating” and “shamelessly anti-Brexit coverage”.
A total of 72 MPs have signed the letter including 60 Tory MPs, three Labour MPs, eight DUP MPs and Douglas Carswell, Ukip’s only MP.
Prominent Conservatives who have signed the letter include Iain Duncan Smith, the former Work and Pensions Secretary, and Owen Paterson, the former Environment Secretary.
The letter opens by highlighting the Royal Charter, which formally enshrines the corporation’s duty to be impartial in its news coverage.
MPs say that the corporation has “fallen far short of this high standard” in its Brexit coverage since the referendum. “If politicians and the public don’t view it as an impartial broker, then the future of the BBC will be in doubt,” they say.
The BBC has also failed to represent the views of those who voted to Leave the European Union and want to make a success of it, “weakening” its bond with the 52 per cent who backed Brexit.
“In particular, the Corporation’s focus on ‘regretful’ Leave voters, despite there being no polling shift towards Remain since the referendum, has led some to believe it is putting its preconceptions before the facts,” the letter says. The corporation is also reporting the “posturing and private opinions” of EU leaders over issues such as a potential Brexit divorce bill as “fact”, the letter says.
Julian Knight, a former BBC journalist who is now an MP and helped organise the letter, said: “The next two years present the biggest journalistic challenge to the BBC of our lifetimes and it simply has to get this right.
“I am really worried that if it continues to go down the road it has been it will alienate itself from 52 per cent of the voting public and many of those like me who wanted remain but accept the decision and just want what is best for our country. ”
He also warned that the BBC should do more to hold the SNP to account, adding that it could “do with dwelling a bit more on its own title”.
A BBC spokewoman said: “The BBC is covering the political and financial events following the referendum vote in a responsible and impartial way. The BBC is also one of the great exports of this country and makes a significant contribution to the UK creative sector.” Jean Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commission, yesterday suggested that Britain will be treated so harshly over Brexit that no other countries will want to leave the EU.
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