‘The theme is trust’: Andrew Neil tells Boris Johnson he has ‘oven-ready’ interview in attack on PM for dodging scrutiny

Prime minister would have faced grilling on trust, the NHS and social care, says veteran broadcaster

Jon Sharman
Thursday 05 December 2019 20:39 GMT
Andrew Neil tackles Johnson's refusal to be interviewed by him

As he closed his general election interview with Nigel Farage, Andrew Neil set aside several minutes to shame Boris Johnson for failing to submit to a prime-time grilling of his own.

The veteran political broadcaster told viewers he had planned to hold the prime minister to account on issues of trust, but despite weeks of negotiations by the BBC, Mr Johnson had not agreed to an interview.

“Leaders’ interviews have been a key part of the BBC’s prime-time election coverage for decades. We do them on your behalf to scrutinise and hold to account those who would govern us. That is democracy,” Mr Neil said.

Mr Farage, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon have all sat for tough interviews with Mr Neil this election campaign, but the prime minister has conspicuously avoided that scrutiny.

On Thursday night Mr Neil said he had his interview “oven-ready” for Mr Johnson.

“The theme running through our questions is trust,” the presenter said. “And why, so many times in his career in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy. It is of course relevant to what he is promising us all now.”

Had the PM consented to an interview, Mr Neil added, he could have expected to be asked also about his promises on the NHS – on building hospitals and properly funding the service.

“He vows that the NHS will not be on the table in any trade talks with America – but he vowed to the DUP, his unionist allies in Northern Ireland, that there would never be a border down the Irish Sea,” the broadcaster added.

Other lines of questioning would have included why Mr Johnson’s vaunted plan for reform of the UK’s creaking social care infrastructure had not made it into the Conservative Party manifesto, Mr Neil said.

Lamenting the prime minister’s absence, the broadcaster concluded: “There is no law, no Supreme Court ruling, that can force Mr Johnson to participate in a BBC leader’s 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 if he spent half an hour standing up to me.”

Mr Johnson has refused to admit that he is seeking specifically to avoid the BBC’s attack dog interviewer. Speaking on Thursday he said: ”I’m the first prime minister to have done two, or about to do two, one-on-one leadership debates, several hours’ worth of phone-ins, endless press conferences and interviews with all sorts of BBC people called Andrew.

“I will continue to submit to the interrogation of the media.”

Mr Neil’s attack came as the prime minister ducked out of a separate interview with Julie Etchingham, the host of ITV’s Tonight. Instead, he sat down with This Morning‘s Phil Schofield and Holly Willoughby, and later posed for a selfie.

The BBC has been criticised for failing to secure Mr Johnson’s participation while putting the other party leaders on the spot with tough questions.

In his closing monologue, Mr Neil said it was not too late for the PM to drop in for a face-to-face interview.

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