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Wed 3 March 2021

Sam Bright reports on how the Prime Minister’s former top advisors met with Tim Davie on the day of a Brexit vote that threatened to break international law

Two of the Prime Minister’s closest advisors held a private meeting with the new director general of the BBC on the day that MPs voted on controversial Brexit legislation, Byline Times can reveal.

Newly-released records show that Boris Johnson’s now-former chief aide Dominic Cummings and director of communications Lee Cain met with the BBC’s Tim Davie on 14 September “to discuss the Prime Minister’s priorities”.

On the same day, MPs were due to debate and vote on proposals, made by the Government, to breach international law in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Internal Market Bill, which was later neutered by the Government, was condemned by every living former Prime Minister.

In the days following his promotion to the top job at the BBC, Davie used his new platform to warn his journalists from expressing their “personal agendas”

The law was designed to give the Government power to override the Northern Ireland Protocol, an element of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement signed by the UK on 24 January 2020, in order to maintain the same trading rules in Northern Ireland as the rest of the UK.

The vote passed in the House of Commons, though not without much rancour from opposition MPs – accusing the Government of failing once again to respect the rule of law. Indeed, in the Summer of 2019, Johnson attempted to prorogue (shut down) Parliament in order to curtail scrutiny of the proposed Withdrawal Agreement he had negotiated with the EU – a move that was ruled to be unlawful by the Supreme Court.

So, in short, the Internal Market Bill proposed violating the Withdrawal Agreement – an international treaty that Johnson had attempted to push through Parliament by acting unlawfully.

The minutes of the meeting between Cummings, Cain and Davie are not publicly available. When Byline Times pressed the Government to release minutes of a previous rendezvous between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and right-wing media supremo Rebekah Brooks, the Treasury said that no record existed.

It’s understood that the Internal Market Bill was not discussed at the meeting, though neither the BBC nor the Government would go on the record to formally confirm or deny this point.

Cain and Cummings, who have both subsequently been relieved of their Downing Street duties, are primarily Brexit operatives – both having graduated from senior positions in the Vote Leave campaign to become Johnson’s Government henchmen.

Cummings in particular was seen to be the source of many of the Government’s anti-democratic instincts, epitomised by his stubborn refusal to appear before a committee of MPs investigating the dissemination of fake news during the EU Referendum campaign. Cummings still remains in contempt of Parliament.

For his part, Tim Davie formally assumed the director general role on 1 September, less than two weeks before his meeting with Cain and Cummings. Prior to his appointment, Davie had served in several management roles at the national broadcaster – despite not having any editorial experience.

Davie also boasts past links to the Conservative Party – namely that he stood as a councillor for the party in 1993 and 1994, and was deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservatives in the 1990s.

The BBC’s Tim Davie at a Foreign Office event in 2014. Photo: FCO

In the days following his promotion to the top job at the BBC, Davie used his new platform to warn his journalists from expressing their “personal agendas”.

“If you want to be an opinionated columnist or a partisan campaigner on social media then that is a valid choice, but you should not be working at the BBC,” he said. Managers subsequently informed BBC staff that they would not be allowed to participate in gay pride marches, under new rules implemented by Davie – only for this policy to be reversed after a social media backlash.

And Davie is not the only new BBC executive with ties to the Conservative Party. Former Goldman Sachs banker Richard Sharp is set to be appointed as the BBC’s chairman, following his nomination by the Government. Sharp has donated more than £400,000 to the Conservatives since 2001, and was Rishi Sunak’s mentor during his time at Goldman Sachs.

Davie has appealed to staff to be assiduously impartial in their work. This appeal would undoubtedly carry more validity if the BBC’s board of directors didn’t increasingly resemble a Conservative reunion party.

“The Prime Minister’s special advisers have regular meetings with a range of individuals including the media,” a Government spokesperson told Byline Times. “The Government is open and transparent in publishing these meetings with senior media executives.”

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