On 22 Thursday June, the BBC Question Time programme went to Clacton, Essex, a town where 70% of voters in the 2016 Brexit Referendum voted Leave. The programme was named as a Brexit Special, to commemorate the 7th anniversary after the Referendum vote. The audience was made up entirely of people who had voted Leave in 2016. We were told that, as with the country as a whole, 70% of the audience were still in favour of Brexit, 20% had changed their minds, and 10% were unsure.
On the panel was John Redwood, Conservative MP, Anand Menon, Director of UK in a Changing Europe, Ben Habib, ex-Brexit Party MEP, Jenny Chapman, Labour peer, and Alistair Campbell, well-known anti-Brexit activist.
Frustration with the BBC
My reaction to the programme as it was aired was total frustration, that an event of such constitutional significance as Brexit was being dealt with by an entertainment programme with Fiona ‘flashy smile’ Bruce as chair. Most audience members on the programme get around 15 seconds, unless they are favoured by the chair, and the panel members usually get around a minute or two each, often including frequent interruptions.
Brexit is probably the most constitutionally significant event in British history in the last 100 years, after 1914, 1939, and the Iraq War. The BBC provides hours and hours of coverage of snooker, golf, tennis, football, Glastonbury, top of the pops, the weather, and just one hour of unsatisfactory debate of Brexit. The topic merited a proper debate with a serious chair, proposers, opposers, seconds, speeches from the floor and a vote, lasting perhaps four hours.
No one on the panel or in the audience was able to state clearly the over-riding fact that Brexit, the Referendum vote and the 2019 Get Brexit Done General Election campaign were total scams. They were scandalous frauds imposed on the country by a Parliamentary Party (the Tories in case you didn’t know) that sought to extend its time in office by adopting a policy which most of its MPs thought would be contrary to the country’s best interests. A better example of power corrupting would be hard to find.
A minority of Tory MPs had been campaigning for years for the UK to cut its ties with the EU, but they hadn’t persuaded the public nor their fellow MPs. But the threat from UKIP, which would have taken votes from the Tory Party, encouraged the Tory Party to allow an EU Referendum to go ahead. The Referendum question they chose had ridiculously loose and more or less meaningless wording, but carried a promise of enactment if the outcome was more than 50% to vote Leave.
Brexit: constitutional outrage
The Referendum, as designed, was a constitutional outrage in itself. For something as major as leaving the EU after 30 years of membership, two referendums should have been needed, one to establish the principle, the second to confirm the decision based on the terms which had been negotiated. A supermajority should have been required on both occasions. But the Tories wanted to stay in power, so the ends for them justified the mendacious means.
The Leave campaign was a pack of lies, false promises, and sneers against the Remain campaign which would have shamed any fraudster (see West England Bylines, How I Screwed Britain).
The Referendum was followed by three years of absurd debate while the Tory Party tried to decide what Brexit was, and what it should look like. The Europeans and the rest of the world looked on agog that a proud nation would humiliate and damage itself on the world stage in such a chaotic and stupid way, though Putin and Trump were delighted.
Then came the 2019 election, which brought us more of the same deceitful Tory nonsense about global Britain, no downsides, non-existent Social Care plans, forty new hospitals, Levelling Up and Getting Brexit Done, which much of the electorate swallowed whole. An EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement, poorly thought out and greatly to the UK’s disadvantage, was signed, in haste and without scrutiny so that Prime Minister Johnson could announce a great victory in December 2020.
Great victories belong to everyone. This so-called Brexit victory belonged only to the 52% of the electorate who had largely been conned by the fraudulent Tory Party and Leave campaigners who had engineered it. And having won it, they didn’t know what to do with it.
None of this Great Fraud was mentioned in the so-called Question Time Anniversary debate. There was very little passion in the debate, and no accountability for the Tory Party and Leave Liars who, in mendaciously pursuing their own interests, brought all the entirely self-inflicted Brexit damage to the country.
Brexit always was, and remains, a massive, predicted, actual and total disaster, from all angles and in all areas. It has brought only one single benefit to the UK, if that can be called a benefit, and that is control over the numbers and types of legal immigration. Everything else is a downside: more inflation, more cost-of-living crisis, less investment, less trade, less cultural exchange, worse regulations, absence of government in Northern Ireland, schism from the people of Scotland, worse labour shortages, less opportunities to live and work and travel abroad, reduced scientific and educational cooperation etc. etc.
So the BBC programme was a massive frustration and lost opportunity.
Question Time: stand out moments
Three stand-out moments from the programme for me were:
Firstly, Campbell said at the outset that he didn’t blame people for voting Leave, because they were lied to, and the lies continue. This was greeted with a very limited round of applause.
Secondly, Redwood and Habib both said that Brexit was having no impact on the current UK rate of inflation and cost of living crisis. This confirms that the Brexiters continue to lie about their project. The impact Brexit is having on UK inflation and cost of living is obvious, as recently confirmed by serious people and organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank, Mark Carney, the previous governor of the Bank of England, and by a recent study from the LSE. Even the present BoE governor, Andrew Bailey, has said Brexit has had an impact. The impact (as described by Menon) is through the fall in the value of the pound, making imports dearer, the skills shortages in the labour market pushing up prices, the red tape and paperwork associated with importing and exporting goods to and from Europe adding to costs and causing many small businesses to fail, and investments to fall. (Also, not mentioned on the programme, is that the current interest rate rises are making the cost of living crisis and people’s hardship much worse, unnecessarily so, given that most of the inflation is supply-side driven, i.e. Ukraine, Covid, Brexit, not demand-side driven).
Thirdly, one audience member said that she voted for Brexit to regain UK sovereignty. This elicited a generous round of applause from the audience. But no panel member picked up on this. Is unrestrained sovereignty always a good thing? Germany had sovereignty in 1914 and 1939 when it unleashed world wars which killed approaching 50 million people worldwide. Russia had sovereignty when it invaded Ukraine. The European Union has brought peace, security and well-being in Europe by asking nations to pool some of their sovereignty for the greater good. This has generally worked, and continues to work for the majority of the European continent.
The BBC Question Time format was an entirely unsuitable format for a serious debate about Brexit. When are we going to see a BBC Question Time Programme with an audience entirely of Remainers? The BBC have not told us.
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