The BBC will not take forward almost 600 complaints about Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill’s comment on Politics Live about Brexit riots.
O’Neill was a guest on the BBC Two political panel show on 27 September when he spoke about what “ordinary” Leave voters must be thinking about discussions on how to extend the Brexit deadline further.
“I am amazed that there haven’t been riots yet, that’s the most amazing thing to me,” he said.
Asked by guest host Adam Fleming whether he thought there will be riots, O’Neill (pictured) responded: “I think there should be.”
Fleming, the BBC’s Brussels correspondent, replied: “Should be? You’re urging people onto the streets to smash up Vodafone and McDonalds?”
Observer chief leader writer Sonia Sodha, also appearing on the show, asked O’Neill if he was “urging violence”.
Clarifying his statement, O’Neill said: “When I look at the ‘Gilets Jaunes’, who have taken to the streets because Macron messed them around in relation to the eco tax and various other things, what I continually think is why have the British people been so patient?”
After further interjections from Fleming and Sodha, with the host pointing out “we all live in a world where you can’t go and smash up shops”, O’Neill went on: “I’m not talking about smashing up shops.
“There is a fine tradition in this country of radical protest… when people’s voices have been ignored. I think we have reached that level now.”
The BBC confirmed last week that 585 people complained that O’Neill’s comments were offensive or inappropriate.
A number of people took to social media to express their outrage over O’Neill’s comments after the show’s lunchtime broadcast.
Former chief crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal tweeted that O’Neill’s comments were “indefensible” and that he had “crossed the line”.
Labour MP David Lammy, who represents the constituency of Tottenham which was hit by riots in 2011, called O’Neill’s comments “the height of irresponsibility”.
In a response to the complaints, published on Friday, the BBC has now explained why Brexitcast co-host Fleming’s response was sufficient.
“This statement was immediately picked up on and pushed back by Adam Fleming and other guests,” a statement said.
“It was for Mr O’Neill to defend his position and we cannot know what a guest is going to say in advance. These were not views Brendan O’Neill had previously expressed and we had no prior knowledge of them.
“When a guest on live television makes a controversial statement of this sort, all the presenter can do is push back on air and allow other guests to challenge the comment which is exactly what Adam Fleming did.”
The BBC’s final response was very similarly worded to a statement tweeted by Rob Burley, who edits Politics Live, just an hour after the programme finished.
Burley pointed out that people say “unpredictable things” on live TV and that O’Neill had “appeared to backtrack on his comments”.