The nagging question has persisted for almost a year now: why did the BBC stand down a Panorama investigation into illegal behaviour by the two main Leave campaigns during the 2016 EU referendum campaign? Why was the Observer’s Carole Cadwalladr treated so dismissively by the Corporation, not just in that appearance on The Andy Marr Show™, but in the way they wanted to stage a confrontation on the Radio 4 Today programme?
Arron Banks - disreputable liar
As Nick Cohen said at the time, on the BBC’s response to those meetings between the Leave EU people and the Russian ambassador, “All the Today program would do was try to set up a staged confrontation between Cadwalladr and a propagandist for Brexit. It would not report on the emails as news; nor did it use its vast resources, hundreds of times larger than those of The Observer, to investigate”.
Now we know. Channel 4 News has joined up the dots and done the investigation that the Corporation declined to do. And what stopped the Beeb doing its job was down to two people, the first of which was the deeply untrustworthy Arron Banks.
Robbie Gibb - cover-up
As their report tells, “Arron Banks repeatedly lied to cover-up his Brexit campaign’s effort to attract far-right extremists … Leave EU paid for Facebook adverts targeted at supporters of the National Front, the BNP, Britain First and the EDL … But when the BBC asked for a response to a story they planned to run, Mr Banks sent a barrage of emails in an attempt to get the story dropped”. That was the Panorama exposé - that ultimately wasn’t.
Carole Cadwalladr - evidence dismissed
There was more. “Leaked emails, seen by Channel 4 News, show Mr Banks insisted the BBC’s accusation were ‘wholly wrong’ - despite his own staff telling him the story was true … One Leave EU employee told him: ‘Those are our ads, we have targeted those groups since the beginning of the campaign as they gain most traction.’”
Then we get to the main event. “Mr Banks told the BBC: ‘It’s wholly wrong to say we have targeted extreme right parties… your report needs to reflect this or it will be biased and if we have to we will take whatever legal action we need’ … Andy Wigmore, Leave EU’s Head of Communications, even appealed to the head of BBC Westminster, Robbie Gibb, in a further attempt to prevent the story from being run”.
Shahmir Sanni - viciously outed
And so we come to the second of those two people, Robbie Gibb. Whenever the smoke clears away from all the spin and obfuscation, it always reveals one individual - Robbie Gibb. We knew from MP and now former Tory Nick Boles that Gibb is a hard-line Brexiteer who has wielded disproportionate influence at 10 Downing Street. The Channel 4 revelations show that he wielded that influence at the BBC, too.
Andy Wigmore - Banks' boot boy
We know that after the Channel 4 report told “In a series of late night emails to Mr Gibb, Mr Banks described the story as a ‘smear campaign’ and threatened to make a formal complaint … Afterwards, Mr Banks emailed another Leave.EU director, saying: ‘I don’t think they will Run it after all that lot . You will have a busy week next week since Robbie will react by giving us massive exposure.’” Pro-Brexit Gibb scratches his pals’ backs.
Perhaps this is rushing to conclusions? Er, no. “In his book about the referendum campaign, Arron Banks recounted the incident, claiming: ‘Robbie Gibb is being quite helpful and says he’s trying to hose it down.’” Gibb did indeed scratch Banks’ back.
He also went from the BBC to 10 Downing Street, and that move, together with the information revealed by the Channel 4 News report, sheds new light on claims that Theresa May, or someone on her behalf, blocked an investigation into Arron Banks - and the reasons why the Met have been apparently dragging their feet over investigating criminal wrongdoing by both Leave EU and Vote Leave.
Then there is the reaction to the whistleblowing of Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sanni, which ended up with yet another of those close to Theresa May - Stephen Parkinson - viciously outing Sanni before the latter had the chance to come out to his own family. Parkinson was also heavily implicated in Vote Leave’s lawbreaking.
How far back do Theresa May and Robbie Gibb go? And how far did the Gibb virus spread at the BBC before he departed? Does he still wield influence over the Corporation? Some media observers have made their own minds up already. And it’s not looking good.
For starters, there appears to be more that the Beeb has covered up, as Jolyon Maugham has noted. “I am also aware that the BBC started and then dropped a piece of investigatory journalism into collusion between Vote Leave and Darren Grimes. I have the emails in which they say exactly that”. But Grimes gets invites to do punditry.
James O’Brien summarised “Theresa May’s inner circle contains the bloke who wrote the Mail’s ‘Steel of The New Iron Lady’ splash, a former BBC boss who reportedly helped Arron Banks cover up LeaveEU’s courtship of fascists & an ex Vote Leave staffer who outed his young, Muslim ex to cover up law-breaking”.
And Ian Dunt could only marvel at the “Astonishing story. Robbie Gibb was head of BBC Westminster & is currently head of communication in No10. This is how Aaron Banks talked about him after the BBC killed the report: ‘Robbie is being quite helpful and says he’s trying to hose it down.’” To which one Labour MP had a question to ask.
Jess Phillips was that MP. “When will we stop being appalled and act? There needs to be an independent enquiry. Our democracy cannot be bought, it means nothing if fear and favour can play any part”. But it appears to be too late. British democracy is the finest that money can buy. And it appears that the various Leave campaigns have bought it.
Worse, we can now see that there was a cover-up, not just of the misbehaviour by Vote Leave, but also that of Arron Banks and his pals. When Peter Jukes of Byline Media said, after the Panorama climbdown, “There should be an internal inquiry into this at the BBC. In some ways it's as significant as #Savile”, he was right in more ways than he knew.
So no-one should be surprised that former Beeb staffer Paola Buonadonna has concluded “So Robbie Gibb is trending - again. @Channel4News is alleging that when head of BBC pol progs he wasn’t just working informally for the Tories (they put a ring on it in 2017) but for Arron Banks and therefore http://Leave.eu … The Beeb did a #Saville on Brexit, basically”. That, it seems, they did. So now we need answers - and action.
An independent inquiry into the can of worms that Channel 4 News has opened has to be opened - like now. And the vote which was tampered with so flagrantly should be annulled. The crooks and shysters should have no part in this country’s electoral process. And nor should they wield influence at our national broadcaster. That is all.
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