Jess Brammar: Journalist who faced attacks over Brexit tweets set for top BBC news role

Former editor of Huffpost UK is expected to oversee the BBC’s domestic and international news channels

Holly Bancroft
Thursday 09 September 2021 21:13

A former deputy editor of Newsnight and editor of HuffPost UK is set to become the BBC’s executive news editor, The Independent understands.

The proposed appointment of Jess Brammar has been mired in controversy after No 10 ally and BBC board member Sir Robbie Gibb reportedly tried to stop her from being hired.

Sources told The Financial Times that Sir Robbie, former communications director to Theresa May, had warned the BBC’s director of news Fran Unsworth in a text message that the government’s “fragile trust in the BBC will be shattered” if the appointment went ahead.

However a BBC source told The Independent that Brammar had been offered the role overseeing the BBC’s domestic and international news channels.

The Times is also reporting that a formal announcement anticipated “quite soon”.

Ms Brammar’s appointment had been questioned in some quarters over a series of now-deleted tweets that were critical of Boris Johnson and Brexit.

She compared Brexit to the television drama Better Call Saul “but less funny or interesting or enjoyable” and accused Mr Johnson of lying in a television interview.

She also clashed with Kemi Badenoch last year, after the Treasury minister described The Independent’s Nadine White – then working for Ms Brammar at the HuffPost – as “creepy and bizarre” for asking questions about a Covid vaccination video. Ms Badenoch also posted screenshots of Ms White’s emails on Twitter.

Ms Brammar criticised the minister, saying: “If any member of the public were to tweet out emails sent to their work address, accompanied by a slew of false allegations, they would expect a swift call from HR.”

In a briefing to the Mail on Sunday, a government source said Ms Brammar’s appointment called into question the commitment to impartiality and diversity of opinion made by current director-general of the BBC, Tim Davie.

A source told the newspaper: “Up until this point, everyone has give Tim Davie the benefit of the doubt. This is now raising questions about how committed he really is to improving impartiality.”

However, a BBC source said last month they were growing increasingly alarmed by the campaign against Ms Brammar by government allies and the right-wing press.

They told The Times: “What’s next, is the government of the day going to express an opinion on the next political editor of the BBC, or the next presenter of the Today programme or Newsnight? It’s disturbing.”

They added: “The BBC is now in a no-win situation. If the BBC doesn’t appoint her, then it looks weak, callow, and partial because it’s giving in to the government of the day about something so minor. If it does appoint her, it will be a massive culture war issue.”

It was reported on Monday that the BBC’s director of news will leave the corporation in January.

Ms Unsworth said in a statement: “After more than 40 years with the BBC, I have decided that the time is right for me to hand on the job of leading the world’s best news organisation.

“I have had a ringside seat at some momentous events, including the Falklands war, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, wars in the Middle East, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11 and countless general elections. It has been a great privilege.”

She continued: “The BBC is free of commercial and proprietorial pressure. Our bosses are the audiences we serve. I am honoured to have been a part of it.

“I leave BBC News in the hands of an incredibly strong team which is committed to remaining at the forefront of the world’s journalism.”

In her most recent interview, Ms Unsworth was asked about the row over Ms Brammar’s appointment.

She insisted that BBC management had sole responsibility for appointments in “an independent process which is free from any corporate interest”, adding that BBC News must “withstand any kind of pressure that comes from anywhere”.

The BBC declined to comment.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments