Last week in TCW David Keighley reported on the attempted ambush of former Tory minister Peter Lilley by Today presenter John Humphrys and the BBC’s ‘reality check’ correspondent Chris Morris.

Lord Lilley had had the temerity to write a report suggesting that life outside the EU could be prosperous and free.

Keighley wrote: ‘In the BBC’s world that, of course, is a thought crime. So Lilley was subjected first to a Humphrys grilling of the type reserved for those in the Corporation’s rogues’ gallery. But for the editorial team that was not enough. Next came a spot of BBC-style reality checking from Morris who claimed, in essence, that the Lilley report was pie in the sky fantasy.’

Last evening Lord Lilley appeared on the Radio 4 PM programme for a bout with presenter Evan Davis.

Evan’s introduction immediately stopped me in my tracks. When he said that the programme has attempted to get to the bottom of a key issue in the Brexit debate ‘by examining Brexiteer claims about trade and borders’, the thought immediately arose, ‘And what about Remainer claims? Have you examined those?’

And when Evan cited Anand Menon as ‘an expert . . . from King’s College, London’, my eyebrows took a distinctly ‘Fiona Bruce’ turn towards the universe beyond us. Peter Lilley was absolutely right to raise questions about Professor Menon in response.

The whole interview is a clash between two people who think they’re right, as per their ‘experience’.

One is a politician, the other a BBC presenter. And the BBC presenter’s side is the one with the larger bully pulpit.

So here’s the transcript:

Evan Davis: Now, on two occasions in three weeks we’ve attempted on this programme to get to the bottom of a key issue in the Brexit debate by examining Brexiteer claims about trade and borders. Many Brexiteers think that the worries about border controls in Ireland, or between Dover and Calais, are overblown and that we can cleanly leave the EU, the Single Market and the Customs Union and still easily trade without too much fuss at the borders. Well, last week we used an expert called Anand Menon, from King’s College, London, to critique the views on trade and borders of a Brexiteer, Lord Lilley – Peter Lilley – who’d been on the Today programme that morning. Professor Menon disagreed with a lot that Peter Lilley had said. Well, Lord Lilley felt that the Brexiteer case was stronger than implied, and he has joined us now to make that case. Cos I thought on the programme I thought we’d been pretty fair because we’d acknowledged…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Pretty fair?! (laughing) Grotesque! You didn’t mention that the professor is not a Professor of Trade or Economics. He’s Professor of European Politics. He has very strong views on Europe, to which he’s entitled. He’s a Remain campaigner effectively, but you didn’t label him as such. You labelled me as a Brexiteer…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) No, no, he’s not a Remain campaigner. I’m sorry, he’s an academic worker. He’s an academic worker.

Peter Lilley: He’s an academic worker! Come off it! Name me a single thing he’s ever said in support of a Brexit.

Evan Davis: Right. Can I just…the first point which I wanted to…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Actually no, no. I think this whole business raises an important issue. I’m very flattered that the BBC thinks it needs to deploy four people to debunk my pamphlet: John Humphrys; then someone labelled ‘a reality correspondent’…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) Chris Morris, yeah, yeah.

Peter Lilley: Presumably you’re not ‘an unreality correspondent’? What you’re (indecipherable) you’re detached from reality? This man is deemed to have a special grasp of reality which other people don’t. Then you had you; and then you had this professor. Now, very kindly, you’re having me back in. But four-to-one seems a little odd. And none of you mentioned a single myth, quoted a single myth, from my document, which is available at GlobalBritain.org, for those who want actually to find out what I said.

Evan Davis: I really want to pin you down, because I didn’t think you disagreed with Chris Morris. Most experts and businesses disagree with the way you’ve made your argument…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) That is simply untrue.

Evan Davis: That is untrue, is it? OK. Through my experience I…Look…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Hang on, hang on! Let me give my experience here because you’ve had yours four times. If you’d read my paper, if Chris Mason had read my papers…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) Chris Morris.

Peter Lilley: Chris Morris, sorry…he would have found that I quote a trade organisation representing 19,000 customs, logistics and freight companies across Europe which said all the ingredients to ensure a smooth exit process of the UK from the EU, and which allow almost frictionless trade after the exit, are readily available. I went to their conference to learn more and talk to people. I sent a draft of my paper to four of the people I met. They came back with comments I incorporated. That’s what I call ‘reality checking’…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) OK, no, let’s, no, well that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s important, but it is MY experience – and it may be that I’m more in the ambit less of the trade experts and more in those of the EU experts who are are maybe not so much on trade – but I have to say most of them…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) You will admit you were wrong…?

Evan Davis: (speaking over) No, I don’t admit…Let’s go to the next one…

Peter Lilley: (speaking over)…in stating that.this organisation has…

Evan Davis: (speaking over) …Let’s go to the next one…

Peter Lilley: (speaking over)… OK. You’re not going to escape from that one, are you?

Evan Davis: No, I’m not, because I don’t…we’re not going to resolve it. So you say experts are on your side…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) I’m saying…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) I say my experience is different.

Peter Lilley: This trade association published it, thought that this paper…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) That’s good, that’s fine, and you’ve made that point. Let’s go onto another one, because there was a very specific factual thing that you said, and lots of others have said, which is we trade with the US under WTO rules…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Yes. That’s not in this document.

Evan Davis: No, but it was said in that interview and was…and it had infuriated some people…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Well, yes. I’m very happy to talk about that. I’m writing something about it now…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) Can I just ask? Do you acknowledge that actually there are a lot of, if you like, side deals that also govern trade…?

Peter Lilley: (interrupting)…(indecipherable) of WTO. There are lots of side deals. I’m writing something about it at the moment…

Evan Davis: (speaking over) So, other deals, other deals…

Peter Lilley: (speaking over)…discussing, separate from what’s in this document. And…

Evan Davis: (speaking over) Right. It was said on the Today programme…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) For instance, the EU has 97 such deals with Russia.

Evan Davis: Correct. So the point is very few countries literally trade under WTO rules. And you acknowledge that one?

Peter Lilley: Yes.

Evan Davis: OK, that was a good one…Erm, do you also acknowledge, cos this I think is an interesting one, that if we had a no deal Brexit there would be borders, or there would be a likely requirement for borders, both in Ireland and a bigger border, more significant border, in Dover-Calais?

Peter Lilley: No. I quote Her Majesty’s Customs and Revenue CEO, who has given evidence to countless select committees. who said there are no circumstances in which Britain…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) But we would put a border.

Peter Lilley: Hang on! We wouldn’t need to erect infrastructure or have checks at the border. So the only issue is whether the EU has to. Now, the ERG…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) But he…he…

Peter Lilley: …has published a separate document which has shown that even under EU rules it should be possible not to have checks or infrastructure at the border. They’ve been and discussed it for two hours with Mr Barnier. They got a letter back saying it’s very helpful…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) Just to be clear about what Jon Thompson said. He thinks you can’t apply normal arrangement at the border and he has no idea whether the European Union would try and apply normal arrangements because there’s…

Peter Lilley: (interrupting) Well, he’s not responsible for the European Union…

Evan Davis: (speaking over) No, no…

Peter Lilley: I’m putting him on the British positive side…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) On the British side. So there might be a border, a European border, or there might be…the Europeans might feel it’s annoying to have no border in…

Peter Lilley: Well, there’ll be a border. The question is whether the checks require infrastructure at the border. Nearly 100 per cent of customs declarations are made electronically and actually checked in a computer in Salford but…so that is what would happen to the bulk of them. Now, you may have to checks some animals. We already check 100 per cent of animals coming from GB to EU (indecipherable), very visually and…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) Can I get to a bigger question, Peter Lilley, about whether…Do you…cos a lot of people think the BBC, you know, has put up a politician against an expert and treats them like they’re the same, and the public are left bamboozled and don’t realise that the expert is the person they should be listening to, not the politician…

Peter Lilley: (speaking over) Well, hang on!

Evan Davis: (speaking over) Do you…? I’m not (indecipherable)…

Peter Lilley: I was responsible for Customs and Excise. I’ve been Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I helped negotiate the Uruguayan Round, which set up the WTO. Admittedly for two years you haven’t had me on the Today programme because you think that expertise is irrelevant, but carry on!…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) No, no, I’m just wondering what you, how you, think in public debate how the public should decide who to listen to?

Peter Lilley: Well, they certainly shouldn’t take the advice of BBC reality correspondents. That we’ve ascertained…

Evan Davis: (interrupting) No, we haven’t ascertained that (laughing).

Peter Lilley: They don’t even read the documents they criticise. He didn’t…he clearly hadn’t read the document, otherwise he wouldn’t have said that about ‘most customs officers not having this view’ when the trade association that’s mentioned has come out and said we can have frictionless, almost frictionless, borders.

Evan Davis: I’d love to continue this. We’re literally out of time. Peter Lilley, thank you for coming in, and I’m glad you had your chance to get your own back on us. Erm, let’s get the weather…

A version of this article was first published on Is the BBC Biased on November 26, 2018 and is republished with kind permission.

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