Saturday 20 February 2016


Lots of people will be systematically monitoring the BBC's coverage of the EU referendum. 

I bit off rather more that I could chew on Wednesday when I thought it might be a good idea to monitor the BBC News Channel for a few hours each night (between certain set times) for a week, but the process proved far too time-consuming. So I abandoned ship.

Still, I thought I'd share with you my notes on all the interviews on the subject between 4 and 8 pm on Wednesday evening, as they strike me as being quite revealing. You'll find transcriptions of all the questions put by the BBC and summaries of the answers given.

The interviewees here are overwhelmingly pro-EU.

17.09-17.14 Interviewee: JOHN BRUTON, former Taoiseach and EU ambassador to the UN
BBC Interviewer: SIMON MCCOY

"These concessions that David Cameron says he's won. Are they good for Ireland and the wider EU?"
Mr Bruton says some of the proposals would slow down the EU law-making process and that might work against Britain's interests. People in the EU are also puzzled because the UK is doing so well as things stands.
"Do you believe the UK would still be a global player if it was outside the EU?"
Mr Bruton says the UK will always be the UK but the EU is the UK's biggest market. If it leaves the UK if will still have to abide by EU rules but won't have any say in those rules. It currently does have such a say. "Leave the EU and the UK loses that say".
"You wrote a paper I think on what would happen if the UK left the EU, just how complicated a process it would be. What, for example, would Ireland have to do initially to make that work?"
Mr Bruton says it will be immensely complicated. The one precedent, Greenland, took 6 years to work out a new arrangement. If the UK left it would try and do that in just 2 years. What model would it take, Switzerland or Norway? Both have to follow EU rules without having any say in them. Or would it be like Canada where it wouldn't have any guarantee that the City would be able to sell its services into the rest of Europe. There are so many uncertainties that would arise if the UK decides to leave that investment decisions would be held back. Britain should think again, take a lead and consider that what happens on the continent effects Britain.
"Very quickly. You know the argument against: the belief that the EU is undemocratic, that it's powers should be curbed. I mean, is there any sense in that argument for you?"
Mr Bruton says that just isn't true. The EU is fully democratic. The Commission can only propose. The EU is a democratic arrangement for governing global issues which individual countries cannot tackle on their own in this complicated world.

17.20-17.24 Interviewee: FRANCES O'GRADY, TUC 
BBC Interviewer: SIMON MCCOY

"Let's return now to the Prime Minister's last minute efforts to gather support for his EU reforms ahead of a crunch summit in Brussels tomorrow.  The General Secretary of the TUC has made the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to tell him that strengthening EU protection for workers and creating more decent jobs are essential to convincing working people in the UK to remain in the EU....And was he sympathetic to that?"
Ms O'Grady says she thinks he was. He's the son of a steel worker.
"Did he express any concern to you about the way the referendum might go here?"
Ms O'Grady says everyone's watching it very closely and her jobs is to point out that there has to be something in it for workers. Most people are worried about bread and butter issues and how Europe can deliver better jobs and stronger rights for working people. A Brexit would put many core rights under threat. Our holiday rights, our maternity leave, equal pay, etc, all come from Europe.
"So, I mean, we're going to be hearing from the CBI later. You would agree with them that how it works for business is absolutely crucial?"
Ms O'Grady says there's a very real threat to investment and trade and good jobs from Brexit. More is needed though on wages, zero hours, security etc.

17.35-17.38 Interviewee: PAUL DRECHSLER, CBI
BBC Interviewer: SIMON MCCOY

"We can talk to the boss of the CBI who joins me now, as you can see, and that is Paul Drechsler. And I'm just wondering Mr Drechsler what is you view about the concessions the Prime Minister seems to have got? Are they enough do you think to persuade business - which may not need total persuasion - but to agree with business (sic) at this stage?"
Mr Drechsler says 21 business federations across Europe came together today to encourage the PM to focus on competitiveness. All countries have a stake in a better Europe.
"You know the criticism is that the CBI represents big business, that business is actually as divided as the rest of the UK at the moment?"
Mr Drechsler says the CBI has a very diverse base across the UK (195,000 member firms, 100 FTSE 100 companies).
"If we're talking about trade, if you look at Switzerland - not a member of the EU but a member of EFTA. Is that a compromise that would work for business in the UK?"
Mr Drechsler says we have benefited significantly over the years we've been in the EU. All households have benefited. Other models have alternative consequences. Switzerland and Norway have to follow all the EU regulations. If we came out it might take 10-15 years to negotiate the trade deals just to get back into business again with the EU.
"David Cameron told you and others in business to make your voices heard. Is there a danger that that sounds like you're dictating to the British public?"
Mr Drechsler says this is a very important decision for the next generation of this country and beyond. Business's contribution is to help people understand the consequences for the economy, investment and jobs.

17.38-17.41 Interviewee: TOMAS PROUZA, Czech State Secretary for European Affairs 
BBC Interviewer: SIMON MCCOY

"Well, joining me now via webcam from Prague is the Czech Republic's Secretary for European Affairs, that's Tomas Prouza. Do you think that David Cameron has got the concessions he wanted and that everyone in Europe is not necessarily happy about it but accepts it's the price they will have to pay?"
Mr Prouza says he hopes so. He wants the UK to stay in. There's a lot of hard work still to be done. We can live with the agreement though it doesn't make us happy. The EU is stronger with the UK in it.
"I know one of the issues you are concerned about is the proposal that immigrants should only be allowed to claim welfare benefits after they've been in the UK for four years. You in fact sent a tweet to David Cameron's account, didn't you, showing Czech fighters from the Second World War. Now that's pretty intemperate. It was obviously something you were very concerned about?"
Mr Prouza says that tweet's a year old and things have changed when there was talk about direct ds
"So would you be happy for any change to the benefits system to be retroactive? To affect those from the Czech Republic who are already here?"
Mr Prouza says that's one of the conditions we are calling for. It would be unfair to change the rules for those already here.
"You're heading for this summit, two day summit in Brussels, Behind closed doors, when you're all together, do you regard this as a distraction you could do without? There are big issues that Europe  has to tackle. Or is this now No.1 on the agenda because we're now getting to that crunch moment?"
Mr Prouza says that it is No 1. It can be tackled once and for all and David Cameron can then start campaigning for it. All the other issues will stay around for many months. so this is the priority

19:10-19:14 Interviewee: IMKE HENKEL, 

"Now, the German perspective on this is always very important. What is the latest view there of what Mr Cameron is trying to do?"
Ms Henkel says Angela Merkel is very supportive and believes it's vital for the EU that Britain stays in the EU. Mr Tusk and Mr Juncker also want Britain to stay within the EU. For Mrs Merkel this is about the EU as an international force and if Britain leaves the the EU would be significantly weakened.
"But Chancellor Merkel is very strong isn't she on the idea that it is still in the end about greater integration, whether Britain goes or Britain stays?"
Ms Henkel says it's still about greater integration for the Eurozone but the relationship between non-Eurozone and Eurozone countries that Mr Cameron wants renegotiated is being resisted more by France than Germany. For the survival of the euro and the Eurozone further integration is probably necessary but that doesn't have to include Britain.
"What are the big issues that are seen in terms of the future of Europe as far as Chancellor Merkel is concerned? I mean, you mentioned the euro but, of course, there are masses of other issues, big ones - immigration, relations with Russia for example?"
Ms Henkel says yes, Russia is very crucial. Mr Putin would be overjoyed if Britain left the EU. Britain could potentially contribute a lot in terms of defence and foreign policy. If Britain left the EU that wouldn't be there and that would play into the hands of Putin. But the refugee crisis is also crucial, along with Syria and Greece. Some wonder why we're talking about minor issues because Britain isn't quite satisfied how it's treated.

19.14-19.16 Interviewee: JAMES FORSYTH, Spectator 

"Well, there we heard Britain almost a bit of a side issue perhaps when you look at some of these other big things. Nevertheless, for this country a major one. Can we just talk for a moment about what happens, what would happen if the Prime Minister has to walk away saying "I didn't get what I want" in 48 hours time or so. What I'm really asking you James is 'Is there a plan B?'"
Mr Forsyth says the government could push it back by two weeks and still get a deal in time for a June referendum, before the next migrant crisis in the summer. It will be a major embarrassment for David Cameron if he can't get a deal at this summit.
"We turn to another matter. We saw at the end of Ben Wright's report, some time earlier, Boris Johnson cycling around in Downing Street, refusing to answer questions. What do you think his position is? Is he clearly moving one way or the other?"
Mr Forsyth says it's been assumed that Boris will probably back 'in', but his words today have cast some doubt on that. He's flirted with 'out' for so long that if he doesn't support it now he could provoke a lot of anger on the Right.
"But his leadership ambitions are still there to be considered?"
Mr Forsyth says the general view is that an 'Out' candidate will win a leadership race.

19.35-19.39 Interviewee: KRZYSZTOF SZCZERSKI, Polish Secretary of State 
BBC Interviewer: STEPHEN SACKUR ('Hardtalk' extract)

Mr Szczerski says we should not harm the free movement of people. That's basic to the EU. Any concessions to Britain should be specific to Britain.
"So you want it written into any agreement that this cannot be a model for other member states to impose new limitations on benefits?"
Mr Szczerski agrees. It should also be tailored for newcomers.
"Ah well, that's a crucial point. Are you saying that all of these limitations on benefits, including in-work benefits and re-arrangement of child benefit - none of this can apply to Polish citizens or other EU citizens who are already in the UK?"
Mr Szczerski says yes, because they're already contributing to the system by their work, helping Britain to grow.
"So that means more than a million Poles, for example, who are believed to be in this country today, none of this will apply to them, as far as you're concerned?"
Mr Szczerski says yes, it's a principle. Retroactive measures would be against the principle of EU legislation.
"A final detailed point on this and then we'll get to the bigger picture, but as a point of detail: The British government appears to believe that some EU workers come to Britain because they're attracted by the level of benefits, including child benefit for all those who have children. So the message from the British government is that child benefit will no longer be given as it is to British citizens but will be tailored to the cost of living in the home country of EU migrant workers. Is that acceptable to Poland?"
Mr Szczerski says in general, yes, but there are many questions about organising this system. We'd prefer all Poles to come back and work in Poland but we are obliged to stand by the rights of those who choice to stay in Britain - and in every country.
"You made that point very powerfully. I'm just, specifically on child benefit, are you saying that you will ultimately accept that downsizing of child benefit payments for Polish workers in the UK? You'll accept it?"
Mr Szczerski says it depends on the formula.
"You see, you used the phrase earlier - which is important to any negotiation - you said, 'There are red lines that we will not cross.' As things stand right now, just hours before the talks in Brussels, are there red lines that frankly you will not cross which means there could be no deal?"
Mr Szczerski says yes, there could be no deal.
"So as far as you're concerned David Cameron has to make some concessions which he has not made so far?"
Mr Szczerski says the deal is not done yet, that's the message.

19.39-19.41 Clips from earlier interviews: PAUL DRECHSLER (CBI) & FRANCES O'GRADY (TUC)


  1. I wonder how the BBC would have covered the Peasants Revolt back in 1381?

    "That was the official spokesman for the Royal Court, Lord Gaunt speaking earlier today. Next we will be going live to the Archbishop of Canterbury, but I just want to let you know before that, that we have coming up soon an interview with the Lord Mayor of London..and we will be speaking to two prominent landowners - the Dukes of Norfolk and Northumberland who will no doubt be giving us their forthright views on the recent actions of the peasants, serfs and villeins. We also hope to hear later from the Holy Roman Empire and the Vatican on their view of developments."

    In other words, not a peasant in sight, and never thinking to ask whether these people might have a vested interest in putting down the peasants!

  2. Nice work, Craig. Probably exhausting as well

    That last bit with Sackur about child benefits might be impartial-ish, though. It's hard to tell, but you could really look at his line of questioning either way: pointing out how the deal is thin gruel because it affects only future immigrants, or trying to show how Cameron was successful on this and got real change while upsetting the EU mandarins by not making any concessions in return.


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