BBC refuses to allow Boris Johnson on Andrew Marr show unless he agrees to Andrew Neil interview

Stand-off with public-service broadcaster comes just hours after Downing Street went to war with Channel 4 over its ice sculpture

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Friday 29 November 2019 13:45
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Boris Johnson refuses to commit to BBC interview with Andrew Neil

The BBC has refused to allow Boris Johnson to appear on its Andrew Marr programme unless he also agrees to be grilled by Andrew Neil.

No 10 had attempted to defuse the growing controversy over the prime minister’s refusal to appear before the BBC’s most-aggressive interviewer by offering to appear on the rival show, on Sunday morning.

But a well-placed BBC source told The Independent: “The BBC has refused the Conservatives’ offer to put the prime minister on the Andrew Marr programme until he agrees a date for Andrew Neil.”

The extraordinary row with the BBC comes just hours after Downing Street went to war with Channel 4 over its decision to put an ice sculpture in Mr Johnson’s place when he boycotted its climate change debate.

In interviews on Friday, the prime minister again faced accusations he was “running scared” of Mr Neil, who badly wounded Jeremy Corbyn in a hard-hitting interview on Tuesday.

He again failed to say he would appear, instead arguing he was “submitting happily” to many other questions at a press conference focusing on the post-Brexit economy.

Mr Neil has already interrogated the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon as well as Mr Corbyn and interviews with Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leader, and the Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage are scheduled for next Wednesday and Thursday.

The Conservatives have continued to argue the party is “in discussions” with the BBC over an appearance before Mr Neil, but have been unable to explain the hold-up.

Mr Johnson appears to have embarked on a blitz of other media appearances, in order to answer the charge that is evading scrutiny over his election plans.

But he has run into trouble, most recently when he was confronted over his attack on single mothers for their “ill-raised, ignorant, aggressive and illegitimate” children.

A single mother said her children had “suffered the stigma” of such comments, asking the prime minister: “Why are you happy to criticise people like me when you refuse to discuss your family?”

He also prompted widespread ridicule after claiming he has never told a lie during his political career – despite once being sacked by ex-Tory leader Michael Howard for lying about an affair.

And, last week, Mr Johnson was told he had “personally contributed” to rampant racism in Britain after saying Muslim women wearing the veil looked like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Labour has seized on the stand-off, warning that the prime minister is “playing the BBC” by delaying an appearance at least until the deadline for postal votes has passed.

“All political parties understood that there would be a sequence of interviews with each leader,” said John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, adding. “I think this is a matter of honour.”

Mr Johnson believed he and “his Bullingdon Club friends” were above public scrutiny, Mr McDonnell claimed.

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