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11th May 2023

BBC editor admits: We were told not to interrogate Vote Leave’s £350m Brexit bus campaign

Jack Peat

The revelations have come to light in his new book, ‘Why Is This Lying Bastard Lying To Me?’

A former BBC News chief has admitted that he was told not to interrogate Vote Leave’s claim that leaving the European Union would hand £350 million a week to the NHS.

The spurious claim, which became infamous after being emblazoned across a big red bus during the campaign trail, was deemed a “clear misuse of official statistics” by fact-checkers in the aftermath of the referendum.

Not only did the UK never pay the EU £350 million a week, but there has also been no dividend since Brexit for the health service that can be attributed to the country’s exit from the union.

While this much has been evident to most news publications, editors at the BBC, it has been revealed, were told to steer well clear of it.

A new book penned by Rob Burley, formerly the BBC’s editor of live political programmes, claims that he was ordered not to interrogate the claim by Sir Robbie Gibb, who is a former Downing Street director of communications.

Gibb was reportedly “horrified” by the idea of putting the controversial claim under the microscope in the aftermath of the vote because he didn’t want to make the broadcaster look like sore losers after the referendum result.

“All that was done, [Robbie] told me. It was time to move on,” Burley said. “He thought that anything that looked back at the referendum would look to voters like an attempt to rerun it. It risked giving the impression that the BBC couldn’t accept the outcome and wanted to discredit the result.”

Defending his stance, Gibb said the inflated £350 million figure “was not a lie at all”, adding that it is “just campaigning”.

He added that George Osborne’s claim that leaving the EU would cost every family £4,300 was based on “bizarre” Treasury modelling that was politically motivated and that BBC editors spent weeks during the campaign interrogating the £350 million claim on multiple occasions.

Burley acknowledged that Gibb was entitled to share his editorial view but ultimately ignored the instruction.

“Holding the Brexiteers to account for their claims was, and remains, completely justifiable journalistically,” he said.

“It’s not an attempt to rerun the referendum but to test the claims made in the campaign. It’s the same principle as judging a general election-winning government against their manifesto promises once they’re in power.”

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