Patrick Mercer: The sorry story of the BBC, Brexit bias and the EU’s turmoil

TWENTY years ago I left the Army, worked for the BBC and then got elected to Parliament all in the space of a couple of years. It showed me how people are really influenced.

Has the BBC's coverage of Brexit been impartial?
Has the BBC's coverage of Brexit been impartial?

At the military end of the graph, a thousand or so soldiers would do exactly what I said (or so I thought) while at the political end, 80,000 or so voters misguidedly believed that I could get things done.

But it was in the scruffy, 
stuffy offices of Radio 4’s 
Today programme where there were no adjutants – and no
whips – that real power was wielded.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

After my first broadcasts
my email and phone line 
were alive – chief executives, directors, generals, judges and ministers – wanting to bend my ear so that, in turn, I could bend opinions.

And with that power came a critical, self-imposed, responsibility for impartiality.

Journalism and journalists, especially with the advent of social media, now have an even greater duty to be impartial.

Without balance, they cease to be interpreters of news and start to be propagandists.

But I believe that Brexit has widely corrupted this, especially (but not exclusively) through the mouths of the taxpayer-funded BBC.

But is my comment balanced? Well, consider these instances. A few days ago the data was released which showed that the UK’s economic growth
had slowed from 0.6 per cent 
in the previous quarter to 
0.2 per cent.

As Philip Hammond came on the BBC’s news to be toasted, I expected our Remainer Chancellor to take cover behind the fact that it was all Brexit’s fault.

But not a bit of it: it was the journo who had it in for the will of the British people 
whilst poor old Eeyore talked about a world business downturn, retrenchment 
in the Chinese manufacturing sector and a host of other 
factors and how the British economy was performing ‘robustly’.

Then, on Monday, Honda announced that it was closing its Swindon plant with the loss of up to 3,500 British jobs, the full reasons for which would be explained later.

Without waiting for that explanation, the BBC decided – slam-dunk – that the whole thing was due to Brexit.

Yet, the vice president of Honda Europe said: “This is not a Brexit-related issue.”

Similarly, one of the people who is going to have to pick up the pieces in the long term is North Swindon’s MP who said “they are clear this is due to global trends and not Brexit as all European market production will consolidate in Japan by 2022”.

I should have mentioned, in the interests of impartiality of course, that Justin Tomlinson MP voted for Brexit – as did 55 per cent of his constituents.

But what would a man who lives in Swindon, was chosen to represent the people of Swindon and feels the throbbing pulse of Swindon every day know about it?

Certainly not as much as a clutch of Zone One keypad bashers it seems.

It’s not just the BBC, of course. Last week The Times published two articles which looked good for Mrs May and Brexit generally. First, Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, had suggested that there might be flexibility on the Northern Irish backstop. Secondly, President Donald Trump was making encouraging noises about future US/UK trading arrangements.

Yet no headlines here: they were positioned together, deep in the paper on a less-read, left hand page!

I could give a litany of other examples but you get the message. If Remain is believed by some to epitomise the progressive rectitude of our sophisticated capital city whilst Leave represents the outdated, bigoted views of the Midlands and North, it is easy to see
where the sympathies of most
of our London-based media will lie.

If one of this gilded tribe showed Eurosceptic tendencies at a dinner party, imagine the splutterings over the kale casserole.

It is also interesting to see how much of the media suggests that Remainers’ reasoning is based on economics and Leavers’ on sovereignty. But wasn’t it the Euro’s near collapse and then the economic crippling of Greece, Italy and Cyprus that so emboldened the Eurosceptics?

In rallying voters to Brexit’s flag, these markers of the bankruptcy of the EU’s credo mattered just as much as the later immigration crisis.

Now let’s see how our media presents the next, impending Eurozone catastrophe. Across the EU, industrial production fell a disastrous 4.2 per cent in
the last 12 months with Germany taking a hit of 3.9 per cent, Italy 5.5 per cent and Spain a whopping 6.7 per cent. That same downturn propelled the gilets jaunes and hamstrung President Macron, yet there has been very little attention by the British media to the rioters’ strident placards – most call for “Frexit”.

Our own turmoil may
have blinded Britain to
what’s happening in Europe. 
But, as the drama deepens, Britain will recall why she 
voted to leave: even the BBC won’t be able to talk their way 
out of that one.

Patrick Mercer is a former soldier. 
He was Tory MP for Newark from 
2001 to 2014.