Monday, 18 April 2016

Down Your Farm, with Mark Mardell

The World at One'Twitter feed has been busy promoting part of yesterday's The World This WeekendThree plugs, all with the same message - "Brexit: UK's EU Commissioner warns subsidies for farmers could be cut if Britain leaves" - plus a link, have gone out within the past 24 hours.

Of course, they could have sent three out with the same picture of cows and the same link but with the message: "Brexit: UK's Farming Minister says idea government would cut farming subsidies if Britain left EU is 'for the birds'". But they didn't. 

The programme contained interviews with Lord Hill from the EU Commission (Remain) and UK farming minister - and MP for Sue - George Eustice (Leave), plus two farmers, one inclining (strongly) towards Leave, the other inclining (less strongly, even despite Mark Mardell's coaxing) towards Remain.

The programme's introduction laid out the main theme:
Mark Mardell: The Prime Minister has warned farmers they face huge risks if we leave the European Union. Speaking on this programme, the UK's European Commissioner Lord Hill agrees:
Lord Hill: The logic of the Treasury's position is obviously to look for savings wherever they can make them, so why wouldn't you want to look extremely hard in the area of farming?
Mark Mardell: So what do they think down on the farm?
Farmer 1: If we're not careful we'll get left behind. I really do believe that our future can be better outside of the EU.
Farmer 2: One of the reasons we joined the Common Market was a level playing field. If we come back out of the Common Market I think it might get a bit hilly.
Mark Mardell: I'll be getting a response from Leave campaigner and farms minister George Eustice.

The two main interviews weren't as sharply different in spirit as those on Friday's World at One, where the pro-Leave guest got a much tougher ride, but there was a difference in treatment - and it tilted in the same direction again, with the pro-Leave guest (George Eustice) being interrupted more, being contradicted more, being asked fewer open questions and receiving no 'helpful' questions (however carefully 'disguised').

Please judge for yourselves though from the list of questions put by Mardell to each of his guests:

To Lord Hill:
  • I asked him what could happen to farming subsidies.
  • Well, would they lead to cuts in support? I mean, why do you say that?
  • Doesn't this go to the very heart of the argument? That's what happens in democracies. We elect governments to make choices. At the moment this isn't a choice that's available to a British government.
  • You've talked about the trade barriers, trade deals, after we left - if we did. The Prime Minister said there might be 70% tariffs on some beef subsidies. Isn't that exactly what opponents call 'Project Fear'?
  • But they [Leave supporters] are individuals. They're not a political party. So they're going to have different ideas of what  might happen and also on what should happen. That's perfectly natural, isn't it?
  • You're there at the heart of Brussels. What sort of deal do you think we could get on trade? 
To George Eustice
  • You heard Lord Hill there. He said that there would be cuts to subsidies if we left.
  • (interrupting) But that figure [the £350 million we pay into the EU each week] isn't right, is it?
  • But the Prime Minister is warning that subsidies could be cut by a future government.
  • (interrupting) But he [David Cameron] may not be there. Do you think that they will? You know the Treasury.
  • Well, in 2005 the Treasury said 'Our vision for agriculture within the next 10-15 years is to be internationally competitive without relying on subsidy and protection'. That's an ideological position, isn't it?...which many Conservatives will back.
  • But Business for Britain...who are not 20-year-old economists...They say there'll be a range of options but they talk about "leaving caps, weaning us off subsidies". "It might be alarming but it could be successful". Getting rid of subsidies, they suggest, could be a really successful policy.
  • Lord Hill makes a broader point that the political reality, never mind the economic pressures, the political reality is they wouldn't give us a very good deal. 


  1. I just don't think this consistently Remain-helpful approach by the BBC is acceptable. They highlight the Project Fear claim in the news headlines, which immediately gives it authority. A Leave response is sometimes thrown in at the end of the headlines but not always. They then often get experts in (often from EU-funded think tanks and the like) to back up the claim, or just make it all sound thoroughly confusing (which is another pro-Remain strategy).

    Why aren't we getting proper studio debates between Remain and Leave spokespeople where Leave spokespeople can immediately counter these ridiculous claims? Such debates are far more appropriate for a Referendum campaign rather than the BBC setting itself up as the arbiter of claims.

  2. Old MacDonald had a farm, EU, EU , oh!
    And on that farm he had a grant, from the EU, EU oh!
    With an oink-oink here and a big grant there,
    Here a grant, there a grant,
    Everywhere the farmers plant.
    Old MacDonald had a farm, EU, EU Oh!

    And there the BBC did come EU-EU oh
    All 20 miles from central Lon-don EU-EU oh
    With a Mardell here and a Mardell there
    All very biased and never fair,
    Old MacDonald had a farm EU-EU oh!

  3. The Prime Minister said there might be 70% tariffs on some beef subsidies.

    Tariffs on subsidies? Either that's a slip or the EU is even more insane than I thought.

    Well, in 2005 the Treasury said 'Our vision for agriculture within the next 10-15 years is to be internationally competitive without relying on subsidy and protection' That's an ideological position, isn't it?.

    So is the EU.