BBC invites two right-wing think tanks in a row to spout industry-crushing Brexit policy

Why do the BBC keep treating these ideologues as neutral experts?

Pic: The Adam Smith Institute’s Matthew Lesh branding Sadiq Khan’s manifesto commitment ‘economically illiterate’ last week.

The BBC has come under fire after two right-wing thinks tanks were given a air-time to demand a hard-right Brexit policy – with no left-wing challenge. 

This week it was revealed that ministers are considering cutting tariffs on all imports to zero in the event of a no-deal Brexit – a move that would be almost certain to crush British manufacturing.

Liam Fox – the Trade Secretary – wants to use so-called Henry VIII powers to change the Trade Bill in the event of a no deal Brexit, allowing the government to slash tariffs on all foreign goods.

Manufacturing union the GMB branded it “the ultimate Brexit betrayal”, HuffPost reported.

But on Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, it was left to the National Sheep Association and a ceramic maker to argue against the free-market fundamentalists. No left-wing think tank or union appeared to have been invited.

The IEA was given a formal warning by the Charity Commission this week after publishing a report on Brexit that pushed hard-right policies.

The IEA’s Rebecca Lowe used Radio 4 as a platform to argue that if tariffs were abolished: “There would be more competition, more innovation, there would be lower prices.”

But manufacturing is likely to be obliterated – putting at risk millions of UK jobs.

Tariffs exist to help level the playing field between countries with almost no workers’ rights or a minimum wage (who can make goods very cheaply) and our own.

Ending import tariffs immediately gives those countries a huge trade advantage – helping to create a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of environmental, social and workers’ rights.

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the ‘neoclassical’ Adam Smith Institute was then interviewed by John Humphrys, alongside a ceramic industry spokesperson.

Lesh branded tariffs a ‘tax on consumers’, arguing that if we reduce import tariffs to zero: “We’ll stop making things that can be made cheaper elsewhere.”

Those ‘things’ could be almost everything: most goods can be made cheaper in states that have zero workers’ rights and sweat-shop wages.

Unions say the policy would destroy domestic British industry, flooding the UK with cheap foreign imports. But Lesh was only weakly challenged by John Humphrys.

LFF writer and the Green Party’s South West MEP Molly Scott Cato took to Twitter:

Neither the ASI or IEA disclose their sources of funding, giving them an ‘E’ rating by the Who Funds You? website:

Others hit out at the think tanks’ “constant air time with no challenge”:

The GMB union’s National Research and Policy Officer, Neil Foster, told Left Foot Forward:

“The hard right ideologues like [right-wing economist] Patrick Minford and the shady Institute of Economic Affairs have an agenda which will wipe out most of UK manufacturing as we know it. 

“Their vision is to work hand in hand with Trump’s regime in the USA and drive down standards and regulations. It is clear they have a voice at the heart of Cabinet and it is very worrying that the Prime Minister and her colleagues tolerate this.

“The government’s failure to rule out no deal only emboldens a reckless wing of her party which simply doesn’t care what happens to the potteries industry in Stoke or what’s left of the UK’s steel industry.”

Alfie Stirling, Head of Economics at the New Economics Foundation told LFF:

“The argument that free trade without tariffs benefits everyone, everywhere at all times is one of the biggest fairy tale stories in economics. It is based on the 19th century idea that all countries have a ‘comparative advantage’ in the production of particular goods and services, and free trade allows them to focus on this, and this alone.

“This idea is completely divorced from the real world. The most successful advanced trading economies – such as Japan and Germany – don’t specialise, they diversify. And they do this by protecting the domestic supply chains of their most successful industries through tariffs and other barriers to trade.

“Jolting further towards an extreme ideological position on trade – which no other advanced economy in the world subscribes to – would jeopardise jobs and living standards in every corner of the UK.”

Unite’s Assistant General Secretary Steve Turner added:

“The UK’s steel industry was pushed to the brink because the dumping of cheap Chinese steel, while our tyre industry is fighting for survival in the face of inferior alternatives flooding the market from overseas.”

He said if the deregulators get their way, “whole swathes of British industry could be taken out as cheaper inferior products flood the UK, while at the same time British manufacturers face crippling tariffs.”

Presenter John Humphrys is leaving the BBC this year, it was announced this week.

In the segment, the Radio 4 reporter said: “Our trade policy in the short term is up for grabs and some see benefits in a radical path.”

Only the right’s ‘radical path’ is worth talking about, apparently…

Media Reform Coalition research in 2016 found that critics of Jeremy Corbyn were given twice as much airtime as his supporters, and that issues mobilised by his critics were given much greater prominence.

You can listen from 7:34 this morning.

A BBC spokesperson said:

“The IEA and Adam Smith Institute were both clearly labelled as a free market think tanks and their views were countered by other voices in the piece including David Henig from the European Centre for International Political Economy and by Dr Laura Cohen, chief executive of the British Ceramic Confederation, as well as by a ceramics firm and a farming industry representative. The BBC continues to report Brexit impartially and features a wide range of different perspectives across our news coverage.”

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