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David Keighley’s BBC Watch: Kuenssberg fires first shot in air war to down Brexit talks

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Britain’s Biggest Deal, BBC2’s programme about the triggering of the Brexit process, had a prime time slot, and was presented by the Corporation’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg. It was thus a shop-window effort.

Impartial, in line with the BBC’s Charter requirements?  No. It was a no-holds-barred attempt to put across how nightmarish the exit process will be.

Since June 24, as News-watch’s report on the Brexit Collection showed, the Corporation has been on a flat-out mission to convey how stupid the British people were in voting ‘out’.

With Article 50 due to be triggered this week, Britain’s Biggest Deal can be seen as a culmination and a summation of those efforts. It ominously presages that for the next two years, as the negotiations unfold, the Corporation – led by Kuenssberg – will be cheering on every effort to undermine them.

Element one was a gross imbalance of speakers who wanted to rake up every conceivable obstacle to the UK departure. Kuenssberg assembled a diverse and impressive cast-list: Tony Blair bellyaching about how important high volume immigration is to the UK economy; Sadiq Khan warning about the dire consequences of leaving the single market; Remainer William (now Lord) Hague intoning that this was the most complex diplomatic task ever undertaken; a West Country baker fearing  major negative impact on his business; EU figures warning of dire consequences, of hard choices, and UK civil servants echoing the same.

Basic programme statistics confirm this gross structural bias. Fifteen of the programme contributors were Remainers, were pro-EU or thought that leaving could not be achieved in the allotted two years. Pitched against them were only five guests who believed otherwise.

In other words, 3:1 in favour of the Remain camp. And no-one from Ukip. Slowly but surely, the party is being air-brushed out.

Remainers spoke 3,700 words; those who were in favour of Brexit only 2,300. That’s a 3:2 imbalance.

Far more important in the equation, however, were the 3,000 or so words spoken by Kuenssberg, her handling of the programme guests, and her decisions on the programme structure.

‘Double, double toil and trouble’ …. springs to mind, and (for once) is here perhaps totally appropriate. No eye of newt and toe of frog in the programme brew, maybe, but a modern-day equivalent: first of all, the Tory Remainer from hell, Anna Soubry; then Blair, Sturgeon and Farron in full anti-Brexit cry, along with EU harpies such as Karel de Grucht and Donald Tusk – and finally, an EU law ‘expert’ from Clifford Chance, one of the few legal practices to come out overtly (and aggressively) in favour of Remain (referred to here by Open Europe – link to pay-walled FT article) .

Their combined oracle-reading was spine-chilling indeed.

Striking, too, throughout was Kuenssberg’s use of language to describe the Brexit process. It was, she posited at the outset, ‘a diplomatic mission from hell, a nightmare’, with political danger ‘all around from Westminster to Scotland’ (on high Dunsinane Hill?).

Then, as the programme unfolded, there was what amounted to a torrent of negative observations and questions:  were we, she pondered, ‘hurtling along a collision course?’; there was ‘a lot more to worry about than herring or cod’; ‘divorce was messy, breaking up is hard to do’; ‘could the whole deal be derailed before it’s even begun?’; and of course:

‘But as everyone knows, divorce isn’t only about cold, hard cash. Even if the money is settled, the deal means disentangling ourselves from the hidden ways that we are bound together.’

Followed soon afterwards by:

‘The lights in Whitehall are burning later than usual, with two new departments to cope. Government lawyers are right now trawling thousands of pieces of legislation to work out what’s next. Enough to make even the most brilliant minds boggle.’

And that was only in the first five minutes.

Also true, it must be acknowledged, is that Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Iain Duncan Smith were included in the programme mix, and between them made some strong points about positive outcomes.

But here, too, as Craig Byers notes in his blog on the programme, another type of bias was on display: Kuenssberg posed much tougher and adversarial questions to them than to the Remain contributors. She suggested, for example, to Lord Hague that this was a diplomatic nightmare. His answer simply and obligingly confirmed it.

In sharp contrast, Brexit minister David Davis was dealing with that ‘nightmare’ and there was hard-edged steeliness from Kuenssberg about looming ‘cliff edges’.

Perhaps the most blatantly biased aspect of the whole farrago was the sight of Kuenssberg brandishing to shoppers a giant cheque for £50 billion, which, she repeatedly posited, could be the cost of Brexit. Rather predictably, they were horrified at the idea, and said so.

The programme can be viewed here. The transcript is on the News-watch website here.

(Image: Cicero Group)

Apply for tickets to our TCW Dinner with David Keighley and former Culture Secretary Rt Hon John Whittingdale OBE MP where they will be considering whether we need to banish the BBC.

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David Keighleyhttp://news-watch.co.uk
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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