Andrew Neil called out Boris Johnson on BBC One last night for failing to agree to an interview with him despite having asked “for weeks now” for the Prime Minister to sit down with him.
After grilling Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, Neil turned to the camera and told viewers: “It’s not too late,” and that an interview with Johnson was “oven-ready” should he agree to a time and place.
According to the BBC, 2.3m people watched Neil’s interview with Farage from 7pm, and a clip of Neil calling out Johnson, shared on social media, has had 4.8m views.
It also made the front page of some UK papers this morning.
A senior Conservative source has been reported as having confirmed that Johnson will not do the interview, however the party’s press office said this morning he has not officially rejected it.
Well, Corbyn interview got 3.2m viewers. So not that "tired".
The Tories posted it on Facebook. So not "tired" at all.
"Tired" never raised when trying to fix time and date.
This "source" is a "pyramid of piffle"
PS to source: monologue got 4m+ views. So some voter interest. https://t.co/c8NQqZKJgr
— Andrew Neil (@afneil) December 6, 2019
Neil told BBC viewers: “We have been asking him for weeks now to give us a date, a time, a venue. As of now, none has been forthcoming.
“No broadcaster can compel a politician to be interviewed. But 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.
“We have always proceeded in good faith that the leaders would participate. And in every election they have. All of them. Until this one.
“It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say.
“The theme running through our questions is trust – and why at 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.”
He went on: “Questions of trust. Questions we’d like to put to Mr Johnson so you can hear his replies. But we can’t. Because he won’t sit down with us.
“There is no law, no Supreme Court ruling that can force Mr Johnson to participate in a BBC leaders’ 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 it was surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me.”
“It is not too late. We have an interview prepared. Oven-ready, as Mr Johnson likes to say”
Andrew Neil issues a challenge for Boris Johnson to commit to an interview with him, to face questions on why people have “deemed him to be untrustworthy”https://t.co/daHLxEYn4r pic.twitter.com/oQ21uDdtJe
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) December 5, 2019
Meanwhile Labour has written a letter of complaint to the BBC accusing it of “slanted and biased” election coverage.
The party said it had “particular concerns” over the Neil interviews, with leader Jeremy Corbyn having sat down with Neil last week. Johnson is the only leader of a major political party to have snubbed Neil.
The Tory leader was interviewed by Andrew Marr on Sunday following the second London Bridge terror attack and he has taken part in the Question Time leaders’ special on the BBC, as well as an ITV head-to-head with Corbyn.
A second head-to-head between Johnson and the Labour leader is due to take place tonight on the BBC.
Johnson has twice snubbed leaders’ debates on Channel 4 and has now rejected an invitation to be interviewed on ITV Tonight with Julie Etchingham, with a profile of Johnson airing instead.
An ITV spokesperson told Press Gazette: “The ITV News team making the Boris Johnson Tonight film made the original bid for the Prime Minister when the election was called.
“They have contacted his press team on repeated occasions with times and dates offered to film an interview. Boris Johnson’s team have confirmed he will not be taking part.”
In its letter to the BBC, Labour went on: “Despite our concerns about Andrew Neil’s well-known conservative political leanings, we agreed to Jeremy Corbyn’s participation on the clear understanding that Boris Johnson had agreed the same terms: namely, a four-programme debates package, including a Neil interview, designed with legal oversight to ensure fairness, balance and impartiality across the campaign period.
“Instead, the BBC allowed the Conservative leader to pick and choose a platform through which he believed he could present himself more favourably and without the same degree of accountability.
“This clearly broke the agreement the Labour Party made with the BBC in good faith. But despite raising this repeatedly with BBC editorial management, no proposal has been made to redress the imbalance that has been created.
“This imbalance is compounded almost daily by the fact that a significant amount of BBC content, on TV, radio and online, including bulletins, commentary and newspaper reviews, draws on the content and political agenda of the Conservative Party-supporting press.”
In response to the letter, a BBC spokesperson told PA:”The BBC will continue to make its own independent editorial decisions, and is committed to reporting the election campaign fairly, impartially and without fear or favour.”