Sunday, November 17, 2019
Home BBC Watch The wagging finger of Nick Robinson

The wagging finger of Nick Robinson

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NICK Robinson’s Panorama, ‘Britain’s Brexit Crisis’, opened with these words from the BBC man:

This is the story of how something that was supposed to be gloriously simple turned out to be a nightmare.

And these were the words with which it ended:

What is crystal clear three years after the referendum is that Brexit was never going to be simple. It was always going to involve difficult trade-offs, it had to be based on some sort of deal with the EU. The time for talk about having our cake and eating it is over. What our politicians owe us now is honesty – about that and the challenge ahead.

From the use of the mocking phrase ‘gloriously simple’ and the allusion to Boris Johnson’s famous ‘having our cake and eating it’ quote, it’s pretty clear who Nick Robinson is mainly wagging his finger at here when calling for honesty from our politicians: he’s berating leading Brexit campaigners, especially Johnson.

That said, the bulk of this fascinating documentary will probably have left viewers wagging their fingers at plenty of others, not least the hapless Mrs May and her disorderly government.

The featured voices on the UK side were: David Davis, George Bridges, Philip Hammond, Gavin Barwell, Sir Keir Starmer, Arlene Foster, Stewart Jackson, David Lidington, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey and Julian Smith. The featured voices on the EU side were: Francois Hollande, Michel Barnier, Frans Timmermans, Martin Selmayr and Simon Coveney. The latter all sang from the same hymn sheet, the former not quite so much:

Nick Robinson: They weren’t the only ones who didn’t know what was going on. Theresa May and her officials had finally come up with a detailed Brexit plan but key ministers were kept in the dark until the eve of a crucial Cabinet meeting.

Stewart Jackson: On the Thursday afternoon, we are sitting around in David Davis’s office in the department and the phone goes, he puts it on speaker and it’s Boris Johnson who has just got his pack. This is the Foreign Secretary who’s just got the 120-page agenda for the Cabinet the following day, and he is absolutely going ballistic, he is apoplectic. And he says, ‘Have you seen this?! It is effing bullshit, David.’

Robinson: As the Cabinet gathered at the Prime Minister’s country residence, her team told journalists any ministers who resigned would lose their government cars and would have to take a taxi home.

David Davis: What a small-minded attitude! And I just thought to myself, ‘Hmm, I know Jacob Rees-Mogg has got an antique Bentley and if I call up and tell him to put on his chauffeur’s cap, he will come and collect me and I can drive up through the assorted TV cameras, probably wind the window down, and say, ‘It’s such a bore to take one’s own car.’

In Nick Robinson’s presentation at least, the EU side looked like tactical geniuses, forever disappointed and saddened by the emotion-driven ineptness of their friends in the UK. I strongly suspect the EU side will have particularly enjoyed this programme. And that, I think, is where the problem lies, bias-wise, with what otherwise was a genuinely interesting programme. Despite the range of voices, we were still being ‘steered’.

Look at the closing segment, for example, and see how the bit quoted earlier in the post is led up to.

Nick Robinson begins with, in his words, those tough-talking, threat-issuing Brits, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. He then gives us two oh-so-reasonable-sounding, ‘UK-loving’ EU voices (Martin Selmayr, the EU’s eminence grise during this period, earlier in the programme called himself ‘Martin, the friend of Britain’ in response to Nick Robinson’s invitation). Nick also tells us that the EU will be waiting for us, implying that the EU are oh-so-formidable. And Nick leads Michel Barnier towards a closing ‘warning’ to the UK against ‘no deal’, before himself taking aim at Boris Johnson and demanding honesty from UK politicians (though not, you’ll note, EU politicians):

Robinson: Britain is about to see another changing of the guard. Both potential Prime Ministers are talking tough and say they will use the threat of no-deal to make the EU think again.

Simon Coveney (Irish foreign minister): This is an issue that requires political compromise based on reality and on the facts that present themselves, which are detailed and difficult. This is not something that should be decided upon on the basis of emotion, which is, unfortunately, where some people have gone with the Brexit debate, and that is my appeal from Ireland, you know, as your closest neighbour and closest friend, make a decision based on the facts.

Robinson: Whoever the new Prime Minister is, the EU will be waiting for them.

Michel Barnier (EU chief Brexit negotiator): So why this document is so important, and I recognise it is not so easy to read, 600 pages, because we have put it together with the UK, not against the UK, but with the UK, the legal answers to each and every point of uncertainty created by the Brexit. That is why this document is the only way to leave the EU in an orderly manner.

Robinson: And if we just left, if we just tore up the membership card?

Barnier: The UK will have to face the consequences.

Robinson: What is crystal clear three years after the referendum is that Brexit was never going to be simple. It was always going to involve difficult trade-offs, it had to be based on some sort of deal with the EU. The time for talk about having our cake and eating it is over. What our politicians owe us now is honesty – about that and the challenge ahead. [Closing credits roll].

Impartial? I don’t think so.

*hat tip to Andrew at News-watch for the transcript.

This was first published on Is the BBC Biased on July 27, 2019, and is republished by kind permission.

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Craig Byers
Craig Byers is a blogger about the BBC, focusing on the issue of BBC bias while living in Britain's finest traditional seaside resort: Morecambe (the one with the Eric Morecambe statue).

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