Tory MPs turn on Boris Johnson over plot to 'destroy the BBC'

'This would smash the BBC and turn it from being a universal broadcaster to one that would just work for its subscribers,' warns Tory MP

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Monday 17 February 2020 09:41 GMT
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Former BBC head warns of consequences of change to licence fee

Boris Johnson is facing a mounting backlash from Tory MPs after reports the BBC’s licence fee model could be scrapped were described as “cultural vandalism”.

Hitting out at suggestions No 10 could compel the broadcaster to downsize and adopt a Netflix-style subscription service, Conservative backbenchers urged the prime minister against pursuing an “unedifying vendetta”.

It comes amid escalating tensions between Downing Street and the BBC, with ministers boycotting the broadcaster’s flagship Today programme and a post-election consultation on decriminalising non-payment of the licence fee underway.

Damian Green, who served as Theresa May’s de facto deputy prime minister, said: “Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto and would be cultural vandalism. ’Vote Tory and close Radio 2?’. Really?”

Huw Merriman, another Conservative MP who is also chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC, also warned that the corporation should “not be a target”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said “it feels as if senior government aides are now ramping up an unedifying vendetta against this much-admired corporation.

“This culminated in a bizarre promise this weekend to ‘whack’ the BBC with a suggestion it should ’slimed down and put on subscription”.

A third Tory MP Damian Collins, a former chair of the Commons culture committee, added: “No surprise that no-one has put their name to this destructive idea.

“This would smash the BBC and turn it from being a universal broadcaster to one that would just work for its subscribers. The biggest losers would be the UK’s nations and regions.”

No 10 had signalled a new onslaught on the broadcaster, with The Sunday Times quoting a senior source as saying that the BBC could be forced to sell off most of its radio stations in a “massive pruning back” of its activities.

The source told the paper that Mr Johnson was “really strident” on the need for serious reform, and they said there would be a consultation on replacing the licence fee with a subscription model, adding: “We will whack it.”

Appearing on Sunday, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that while there was a consultation under way into decriminalising non-payments of the licence fee, there were no “preordained” decisions on future funding models.

“I would be pretty cautious of some unattributed comments,” he insisted on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “There is a consultation out there. It is just a consultation at this stage. There are no further decisions made at all.

“The BBC is a much loved national treasure. We all want it to be a huge success. But everybody, including the BBC themselves, recognises that in a changing world the BBC itself will have to change.”

Last week the chairman of the BBC, Sir David Clementi, hit back at No 10 over threats to the corporation’s licence fee, warning the prime minister not “to rush to short-term decisions” that could have significant consequences.

“No other brand resonates around the world like the BBC,” he said. “No other national asset has the potential to serve Britain so powerfully – uniting us as one nation at home, and representing global Britain abroad.

“The BBC is a great national asset; a diminished BBC is a weakened United Kingdom.”

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