Brexit shambles descends into debate farce

You really couldn’t make up the state of British politics at the moment. The monstrous shambles that is Brexit is bad enough. A governing party riven by toxic split. An opposition that should be 20 points ahead in the polls but is excelling itself only in being more useless than the Government.

In recent days there has been talk of a tv debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn but even that can’t be sorted out. At the time of writing, Theresa May’s going to be on the BBC while Corbyn is cosying up to ITV, saying he wants it all over for the I’m a Celebrity final. I mean, really, the biggest substantive difference between the two is over which channel hosts the debate.

Certainly, if it ends up on the BBC, the trajectory of the evening will be markedly downward from Doctor Who to Strictly to the My Brexit’s bigger than Your Brexit despairathon.

It looks as though David Attenborough’s Dynasties will be booted to a later date. In a quiet but lovely corner of the internet, the wonderful Richard Flowers imagined the debate with an Attenborough voiceover:

Here… in the bleak midwinter… we see the skeletal remains of a Prime Minister being picked over by the vultures from her own Party, whilest a lst sheep in a loose collection of flappy organic rags bleats incoherant mantras about a Jobs First Bexit… And all about them, the country dies…

Vince, Nicola Sturgeon and the People’s Vote campaign are all rightly narked that they are being left out. I mean, after all, why wouldn’t they want to show an alternative opinion that might bring in more viewers?

This evening, Sal Brinton and Nick Harvey have written to BBC Chairman Lord Hall to suggest that the debate as currently planned might breach Ofcom rules. I’m not sure about that, because there’s no actual election, but the party is seeing legal advice. Here’s the text of their letter. 

Further to the letter from the Liberal Democrats on the 27th November, you will be aware of reports indicating that the BBC have offered to host a debate between the Prime Minister and the Labour Leader.

We are deeply concerned by these reports, and disappointed that the BBC has failed to communicate with us in regard to any such plans, particularly given the details reported in the Guardian[1] of some apparent proposals for other programmes that could include others beyond the Prime Minister and Labour Leader.

In light of these reports we are now seeking legal opinion on the reported proposed format and the possible exclusion of ourselves from the debate.

As we set out in our previous letter, a head-to-head debate between two leaders committed to Brexit would be entirely unacceptable, fail to provide balance and would be a huge disservice to millions of people who voted to remain in the European Union, and the growing number who want a people’s vote on the Brexit deal. It would be extraordinary for a publicly funded broadcaster to consider excluding such a sizeable viewpoint from a prime-time debate.

We are further concerned that any debate would move from the confines of the draft Brexit deal to broader political issues – the future of public services, the impact on the environment – where the Liberal Democrat position on such matters would be entirely unrepresented.

The BBC editorial guidelines state the need to “aim to give due weight and prominence to all the main strands of argument and to all the main parties”. The Ofcom Broadcasting Code emphasises the need for “due impartiality” and “an appropriately wide range of significant views must be included and given due weight” in such proposed programmes. This is something that could not be achieved in a head-to-head debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May without a Liberal Democrat representative.

The Liberal Democrats are advocating a vote on the Brexit deal, with the public being given an option to remain in the EU – a distinctive view that is not represented by either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. This policy was included in our 2017 General Election manifesto, in contrast to other parties.

The distinctive position the Liberal Democrats offer on Brexit must be considered in arranging any forthcoming debate on the Brexit deal, in which we expect to be included.

We look forward to your response on this matter.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • It’s a good letter from the two of them but I think a joint letter including the Greens, SNP, Plaid, only parties with MPs as well which would exclude the Isolationists would enhance the cause. Other parties can also make their own representations.

  • Presumably, the cross-party ‘People’s Vote’ Campaign (which includes the Lib Dems, of course) will be making strong representations too – and I am sure that Rees-Mogg and his ERG/DUP “chums” will want an opportunity to argue their distinctive viewpoint! It would also be churlish to deny the SNP their own place in any such debate. In any case, it would be clearly ridiculous and undemocratic to have only TM and JC represented – but, in seeking to “give due weight and prominence to all the main strands of argument”, where exactly should the line be drawn?

  • I look forward to the two fantasists arguing about who gets to ride the unicorn. Perhaps they can take turns.

  • Reply to Sean Hagan.

    There are a number of distinctive voices on Brexit now:

    Those who want to get on with it – May
    Those who want to get on with it but want some fantasy world where Corbyn is leader – some Labour
    Those who want a much cleaner and more damaging break – Rees Mogg and chums/UKIP/DUP
    Those who have always wanted a people’s vote – Lib Dems/Green/some Labour
    Those who want a people’s vote and if not a conversation about Scottish independence – SNP
    Those concerned about Ireland/Northern Ireland – DUP and ?
    Those who have changed their minds and now would vote Remain – ?

    I am startled by yet another person not seeing need for Welsh voice. Usual argument is that Wales voted similarly to England as a whole but if anything Welsh voice is now representative of a large section of the country who are polling as would vote differently and would vote Remain.

  • Agree with DJ’s list, and there are “shades of” even within it. So, no HoC majority for May/EU deal, no HoC majority for Leave with No Deal, no HoC majority for Remain (or if there is, risk accusation of ignoring the 2016 Ref) and in any case, the Lab party (leadership anyway) is mainly playing this to get a GE, so as Parliament seems to be incapable of making a decision, obvious answer is another Referendum/PV. QED.

  • In the 2017 election in which the public got a vote, Theresa May opposed having a televised leader’s debate. The lady was not for turning…up.

    In 2018 on the brexit deal on which the public will not get a vote, Theresa May wants a televised leader’s debate.

    If this was pitched as a plotline for “In the thick of it” it would be rejected as too ridiculous.

    The only way this can make sense is if she thinks a dissolution of parliament and a general election being imminent is highly probable and wants a televised debate on much more favourable terms than would be permitted during an election period.

  • Peter Hirst 30th Nov '18 - 2:54pm

    It seems to all depend on the Labour Party and that doesn’t give me much reason for hope. If it can’t get itself together and serve in the nation’s interests, then our politics is doomed to division, distrust and illegitimacy. Without a sizeable vote for any outcome, we must remain in the eu at least for the time being.

  • John Marriott 30th Nov '18 - 4:36pm

    What is the point of having a TV debate on the May ‘deal’? It’s not as if the public has a vote at this stage. But who am I to deny the public its entertainment? If the ‘leaders’ can’t agree between the BBC and ITV, why doesn’t Channel 4 or Sky step forward? I actually like Channel 4 News with all its antipodian reporters and, of course, Jon Snow’s socks! Wouldn’t it be better to wait until after Plan B kicks in before they look at the schedules in better detail? As for missing programmes, hasn’t anyone heard of ‘Catch up’?

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