Complaint submitted on November 18th
This complaint relates to several Brexit related broadcasts that appeared on BBC Scotland.
Good Morning Scotland, Nov 1st.
Presenter Gary Robertson tells listeners the ‘People’s Vote’ Campaign is “calling for another vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union…”
This is demonstrably false. The ‘People’s Vote’ campaign is not calling for another vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union. It is seeking a vote on the final Brexit deal.
Reporting Scotland, Nov 7th. Sally McNair tells viewers: “MSPs have demanded a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.”
The item followed a vote in the Scottish Parliament earlier that day. The motion did not ‘demand a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union’. It asked MSPs to: “… support a public vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal.”
Politics Scotland, Oct 21st.
Host Gordon Brewer states that a failure of Theresa May to secure support for her Withdrawal Bill will lead to a “Hard Brexit”. This is false. May has always argued that a rejection of the Withdrawal Bill will result in a No Deal. Hard Brexit and No Deal are not the same thing.
Reporting Scotland, Nov 9th.
Andrew Kerr states that a No Deal is also known as a “Hard Brexit”. This is false. A ‘No Deal’ is not the same as a ‘Hard Brexit’. [See clip above]
Radio Scotland phone-in, Nov 15th.
Kaye Adams falsely described a No Deal as a Hard Brexit. This is false.
A ‘No Deal’ is worse than a ‘Hard Brexit’. Hard Brexit is the leaving of the EU with a deal but with no membership of the Single Market & Customs Union. No Deal is exactly as it sounds … literally leaving the EU with no deal and falling back on World Trade Organisation accords.
The BBC itself makes clear the difference between No Deal and a Hard Brexit. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-44858385
In all of the above cases, viewers have been misled. An acknowledgement, apology and correction should be issued.
Response from Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs received 28 Nov.
Thank you for being in touch about a number of programmes on various dates. I deal with your points in order.
Your view of what the People’s Vote campaign is arguing for is at variance with what our political editor told Gary Robertson after the introduction on 1st November’s Good Morning Scotland – namely, that he had spoken to the organisers of the campaign launch that day and they had told him that their preference would be a choice between, on the one hand, the terms and details which emerge as the Brexit plan and, on the other, staying in the EU.
Brian Taylor further explained that there were those broadly in support of the People’s Vote who feel that the choice should be between the terms and Parliament thinking again. This may explain why the People’s Vote website is not clear as to what the vote would actually be about. You therefore appear to have a firmer idea of what the People’s Vote is about than those seeking to organise it.
I would add here that in her video played at the October march in favour of a people’s vote, the First Minister said: “Let me say this loudly and clearly, if the issue comes before the House of Commons, SNP MPs will support a People’s Vote which includes the option to remain in the EU.” Speaking on stage in Parliament Square at the end of the march, Joanna Cherry QC MP (SNP) said: “Scotland is looking at being taken out of the EU against her will and I am very, very proud to say that when we know what the Brexit deal looks like, we will support a People’s Vote that includes the option to Remain.”
You correctly quoted Sally McNair as saying: “MSPs have demanded a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.” That is a fair summary of what happened. Our political editor explained that the idea was to have a second referendum – a “public vote” – on the terms of Brexit rather than the original vote which was on the principle.
On what was said on Politics Scotland on 21st October, you say that “Hard Brexit and No Deal are not the same thing”. That is a point of view, not a fact. The same applies to your gloss on programmes on 9th and 15th November.
Further, you argue that the BBC makes clear the difference between No Deal and a Hard Brexit. The online page to which you make reference suggests there are four Brexit options – Leave with a deal; Leave without a deal; Stay in the EU; and Hold another referendum. The online story says that those arguing for leaving without a deal are “the so-called ‘hard brexiteers’.” You seem to suggest that the BBC has established a distinction between no deal and hard Brexit which is not borne out by what they say.
Follow up complaint submitted Nov 30th.
The process requires that I request BBC Scotland reconsider its initial reply.
On the broadcast by Gary Robertson, the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs [DHNCA] cites Nicola Sturgeon and a member of the People’s Vote campaign group in order to defend the broadcast. I would remind the DHNCA that the broadcast specifically refers to the campaign and not individuals. The official campaign is clear and unambiguous about its demand, which is for a vote on the final deal.
On the comment from Sally Magnusson on Reporting Scotland, there was no Holyrood vote on whether to hold another referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
On the multiple claims that No Deal and Hard Brexit are one and the same, I would submit the following from BBC political correspondent Eleanor Garnier, published on July 27th 2018, as further proof that this is not the case.
Hard Brexit has been defined repeatedly by other BBC reporters.
This image of a tweet from Nick Eardley makes clear that a Hard Brexit is the leaving of the Single Market and Customs Union and *not* a No Deal.
Response received from the Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs on Dec 17th
Thank you for being in touch again about various programmes.
I have nothing to add to what I have previously said, save that, of the terms “no deal” and “hard Brexit”, “no deal” can be construed, and has been construed, as a form of “hard Brexit” by some, and as mutually exclusive by others.
Complaint passed to ECU on Dec 24th
I wish to move this complaint on to the next stage. The complaint is simple enough. BBC Scotland is insisting that a Hard Brexit and a No Deal are one and the same. I contend that they have always been different and have provided evidence that the BBC itself acknowledges this.
There have always been three possible Brexit scenarios.
- Soft Brexit
- Hard Brexit
- No Deal
There is no strict definition of either but it has been established for some time that all three are quite different. See this video produced in July by Eleanor Garnier.
Let’s adopt some common sense and honesty in dealing with complaint such as these. BBC Scotland has erred. If you defend its erring then it will not change. Moreover, people will be misled on an issue of significant national importance.
Response from ECU received Jan 22nd
Reference to a People’s Vote
Reporting Scotland, 7 November JH/1900005
Sally McNair (sic) tells viewers: “MSPs have demanded a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.”.. The motion did not ‘demand a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union’. It asked MSPs to: “… support a public vote on the final terms of the Brexit deal.”
The item was introduced by Sally Magnusson as follows:
SM: MSPs have demanded a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The Holyrood vote was pressed by the Liberal Democrats who said Britain needed to find a way out of what they called the chaos of Brexit. But tonight
the UK government is standing firm. I’m joined from Holyrood by our political editor, Brian Taylor. Brian, tell us more.
BT: The idea here is that there should be a second referendum on the terms of Brexit rather than the original vote which was of course upon the principle”
After more of an introduction a clip of Tavish Scott MSP, the proposer of the amendment in support of a People’s Vote was played. He said:
Nobody voted for the current chaos. They’re entitled to have a final say on that deal whenever London and Brussels conclude it.
I think it is quite clear from this exchange that the proposed vote would concern the terms of the Brexit deal currently being put to the parliament in Westminster. I also consider, since the Brexit negotiation concerns the future relationship of the UK with the EU that it was not misleading to describe this vote as being in favour of a further referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
I am therefore not upholding this part of your complaint as a breach of editorial standards.
Good Morning Scotland, 1 November, JH/1900006
Presenter Gary Robertson tells listeners the ‘People’s Vote’ Campaign is “calling for another vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union…” This is demonstrably false.
The bulletin was introduced by Mr Robertson as follows:
A campaign group calling for another vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union is launching its official bid to rally support in Scotland today.
Two clips were played, one of Bob Geldof of the People’s Vote campaign, another of Nigel Farage. Mr Robertson then asked Brian Taylor:
Are the organisers clear on what sort of question they want to ask the public?
In his reply Mr Taylor said this was not defined but:
They say their preference would be a choice between the terms which emerge – so we have to wait to hold such a vote, you have to wait for the detailed terms of departure, the Brexit terms, whatever emerges from the final round of negotiations to become clear – and they say they would pit that against staying in the European Union.
The People’s Vote campaign website says “It is important in the democratic process for the public to have the final say in the deal”. But it isn’t specific about what choice might be put to voters in such a referendum. Brian Taylor, on inquiry, was given guidance by the organisers of the campaign as to their preference – remaining in Europe – and referred to it in his report. That being so I do not think it is misleading to suggest that the group was calling for another vote on whether the UK should leave the European Union or remain in it.
No Deal and Hard Brexit
You draw a distinction in your email between No Deal and a Hard Brexit. The terms are not synonymous but it is important to be clear about the distinction between them.
An article by UK in a Changing Europe, an independent research group at Kings College London describes Hard Brexit in the following terms.
An agreement where the UK would leave not only the EU but also the EU’s Single Market (of which non-EU countries are also members) and the EU Customs Union (of which non-EU countries are also members).
A No Deal situation could be described as departure from the European Union, the Single Market and the Customs Union without formal arrangements for the future relationship. This would mean that WTO rules governing trade would apply.
As regards the rules governing trade, the outcome of a No Deal would be the same as in a Hard Brexit because in both cases trade with the EU would revert to that of a Third Country under WTO rules. No Deal would also mean reverting to international agreements governing other aspects of the UK’s relationships with other countries, which supporters of a Hard Brexit advocate. So while a No Deal situation might occur because of a failure by the UK Parliament to adopt an alternative acceptable to the EU, the outcome could be the same as a Hard Brexit.
Turning to your complaints on this matter:
Sunday Politics Scotland, 21 October JH/1900007
Host Gordon Brewer states that a failure of Theresa May to secure support for her Withdrawal Bill will lead to a “Hard Brexit”. This is false. May has always argued that a rejection of the Withdrawal Bill will result in a No Deal.
I have reviewed this item. In fact Gordon Brewer said in a question to Douglas Ross MP
Now if you were to vote, because of the reasons you’ve explained, against the Withdrawal Bill that could mean a Hard Brexit.
You will see that you have not correctly quoted Mr Brewer, and following my analysis it certainly could be said that a Hard Brexit could follow from the voting down of the Withdrawal Bill. I am therefore not upholding this complaint.
Reporting Scotland, 9 November JH/1900008
Andrew Kerr states that a No Deal is also known as a “Hard Brexit”. This is false. A ‘No Deal’ is not the same as a ‘Hard Brexit’.
Reviewing the relevant item in the programme I note this report covered a speech by the First Minister at the British-Irish Council meeting on the Isle of Man where she criticised the deal with the EU negotiated by the UK government and advocated alternative approaches. Andrew Kerr was asked to explain these comments and put them in context. In answer he said:
Nicola Sturgeon was saying it was not inevitable if MPs don’t vote for that Brexit deal that we will crash out without a deal, a Hard Brexit as it is known. She was saying that other options could come up; her preferred options actually of the single market or in this Customs union.
This was a very condensed answer and it would have been better if, following the analysis above, Mr Kerr had described Hard Brexit as being the result of a No Deal scenario. However I do not consider that a viewer would have been materially misled as to why Nicola Sturgeon considered other options were preferable and why No Deal was not, in her view, inevitable. I am therefore not upholding this complaint.
Radio Scotland, Phone-in, 15 November JH/1900009
Kaye Adams falsely described a No Deal as a Hard Brexit.
Reviewing the programme, Ms Adams made two references to Hard Brexit in response to callers. In the first she said:
What is Hard Brexit? You mean No Deal…which Professor Emilia Hadfield says will undoubtedly cause short term chaos.
In the next she said:
You’d be happy to come out with No Deal (pause) Hard Brexit.
Reviewing these comments it is clear that in the first case Ms Adams did distinguish between Hard Brexit and No Deal, by reference to the possible disturbance resulting from an absence of agreements between the EU and the UK in the case of No Deal in the short term. In the second although her meaning is not entirely clear I understand her to say that a No Deal, which the caller had stated he could accept, would amount to a Hard Brexit. I do not regard either of these remarks as misleading. I am therefore not upholding this complaint.