LONDON — The BBC on Thursday launched an unprecedented attack on Boris Johnson, accusing him of avoiding scrutiny.
BBC presenter Andrew Neil spoke directly to camera as he gave a three-minute speech, criticizing U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson for refusing to be interviewed.
Leader interviews are traditionally held during election campaigns to “scrutinize and hold to account those who will govern us. That is democracy,” Neil said. “We’ve always proceeded in good faith that the leaders would participate, and at every election they have. All of them. Until this one.”
“[Johnson] won’t sit down with us. There is no law, no Supreme Court ruling, that can force Mr Johnson to participate in a BBC leaders’ interview. But the prime minister of our nation will, at times, have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. So we’re surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me,” Neil said.
Borrowing a phrase Johnson has used to describe his Brexit deal, Neil said he had an interview “oven-ready,” and rattled off a series of “questions of trust” he would ask Johnson, including whether his promises on the country’s health service, Brexit, austerity and a trade deal with the U.S. can be believed.
“It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say”
Andrew Neil issues a challenge for Boris Johnson to commit to an interview with him, to face questions on why people have “deemed him to be untrustworthy”https://t.co/daHLxEYn4r pic.twitter.com/oQ21uDdtJe
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 5, 2019
“Critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy,” Neil said of the prime minister.
The BBC has come under increasing scrutiny in the years following the divisive Brexit referendum, and received a record 24,000 complaints in just two weeks of the election campaign, with supporters of both sides accusing it of bias.
Neil told viewers the BBC had been pressing Johnson for “weeks” to set a time for an interview. All the other major party leaders — Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party’s Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage of the Brexit Party — have sat down for a half-hour grilling with Neil.
The strongly-worded statement overshadowed Neil’s interview with Farage, which was aired immediately beforehand.
In the interview, Farage criticized the four MEPs who quit the Brexit Party earlier Thursday and argued they had links with the Tory party. “One is the sister of a Cabinet minister, another has a boyfriend working for that Cabinet minister, and another is a personal friend of Boris Johnson,” he said.
UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS
Farage said he would refuse to vote for the Brexit deal when it came before the European Parliament. He argued that immigration was a “massive burden” on the U.K. and said “people’s quality of life is diminishing directly as a result,” blaming immigrants for congestion on the roads and the London Underground network.
But he defended his party’s values, saying: “Any attempt to paint the Brexit Party into being a right-wing political party that would harbor anybody with extreme views is completely and utterly wrong.”
Sign up for free to POLITICO’s UK 2019 Election Sprint newsletter and catch up with our daily snapshot of key moments in the run up to the U.K.’s December 12 general election and immediately afterwards.