It is ironic that the BBC, the broadcaster that has done the most to advance the Brexit cause and continues to do so every day on its Today programme, should be the first out of the blocks in offering to host a debate on Theresa May’s Brexit agreement.
Unfortunately, their failure to challenge the Prime Minister’s chosen format, other than to include audience questions, leaves them failing in their duty to provide balanced coverage.
The idea that we should have a debate between a Prime Minister who was once a Remainer, but is now leading us out of the EU on terms that makes us ‘rule-takers, not rule-makers’, and a Labour Leader, who at heart is a Leaver, and whose main preoccupation is in getting a better Brexit deal (if that were even possible), is risible.
Where are those arguing for us to stay in the EU in this format? For that matter, where are those advocating a ‘No Deal’ Brexit? The Brexit Broadcasting Corporation continues to form in limiting choices and restricting arguments. Surely such this proposed debate is contrary to their charter.
Corbyn of course is playing hard to get. According to the Guardian, he is happy to take part in a debate that keeps the format as a head-to-head debate and excludes third parties, such as those proposing a second referendum. Of course he is. Such a format helps him to maintain the illusion that he is in opposition, when in fact he is sitting on the fence and, in many cases, actually aiding and abetting the Tories in their ambitions to leave the EU.
Corbyn also apparently prefers to debate on ITV, presumably because this format does not involve audience participation and so limits the potential to challenge the Labour Leader on his pro-Brexit stance. He argues that he is keen to watch the final of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! and that holding the debate on the same channel, just before that event, will guarantee a large and diverse audience. Personally, if that happens, I will be watching David Attenborough’s Dynasties on BBC1.
Is it perverse of me at this point to draw attention to an incident during the last Labour leadership contest when Corbyn was presented with a picture of Ant and Dec and was unable to identify them? I am pleased that he has caught up with his popular culture since then.
More significantly, Corbyn is also reputedly keen to use a Brexit debate to talk about wider issues such as the economy, education and the health service. If that were allowed to happen then both channels would be even more in breach of their guidelines in not producing balanced programming. Surely they would be forced to include other parties?
More to the point, the fact that the Labour leader is even considering such an approach underlines his central argument that the best alternative to May’s Brexit deal is a General Election. You cannot have a single issue election. May tried it in 2017 and failed miserably. In fact Ted Heath tried it in 1974 with similar results.
The only feasible way to test public opinion on our future in Europe is through a referendum and, unlike the BBC and ITV, such a plebiscite should give us the choice of remaining in the European Union.