Brexit-backer Arron Banks has been dropped from the BBC’s Question Time panel next week – it comes after the broadcaster was criticised following the businessman’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show last Sunday.
In a tweet today, Banks said he had been “bumped” from the BBC’s flagship current affairs panel show despite being tipped to appear on the programme next Thursday.
He wrote: “I’ve been bumped by BBC Question Time, clearly the Andrew Marr interview went too well!”
At the end of last week’s Question Time, host David Dimbleby said: “Next Thursday we’re going to be in Dulwich … the week after we’re in Milford Haven and, believe it or not, at the moment at any rate, Arron Banks is going to be on the panel.”
The BBC refused to comment on why Banks would not be appearing on next Thursday’s programme. A spokesperson said: “Question Time panels are never fully confirmed until broadcast.”
Banks and the pro-Brexit Leave.EU campaign he co-founded face a probe by the National Crime Agency after the Electoral Commission told the unit it suspected the businessman was “not the true source” of £8m of loans split between the Leave.EU campaign and Better for the Country Ltd.
The Electoral Commission says it suspects the money came from Rock Services parent company Rock Holdings, of which Banks is a majority shareholder, which was incorporated on the Isle of Man in 2006.
The commission said: “As it is not a UK entity, and does not carry on business here, Rock Holdings could not lawfully make any donation or be a party to any loan to Leave.EU.”
In the report on its investigation into payments to the two campaigns published last Thursday, the electoral watchdog claimed to have “reasonable grounds to suspect a number of criminal offences”.
In a statement, Banks denied the allegations, saying: “I am confident that a full and frank investigation will finally put an end to the ludicrous allegations levelled against me and my colleagues.
“There is no evidence of any wrongdoing from the companies I own. I am a UK taxpayer and I have never received any foreign donations.
“The Electoral Commission has produced no evidence to the contrary. The Electoral Commission has referred me to the National Crime Agency under intense political pressure from anti-Brexit supporters.”
A report by the Information Commissioner published yesterday revealed that Leave.EU and Banks’ insurance firm Eldon Insurance face a combined £135,000 in fines over breaches of data law.
Banks has denied allegations that Eldon Insurance staff worked on the Leave.EU campaign from the company’s offices following a report in the Observer.
He appeared on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday 4 November, three days after the Electoral Commission said it was referring Banks to the NCA.
Politicians, campaigners and lawyers criticised the BBC for having the Brexit-supporting donor on the show.
Labour peer and remain campaigner Lord Adonis said he had filed a complaint with Ofcom about the decision to interview Banks.
In a Guardian column, he wrote: “The Banks broadcast is far from being an anomaly. The BBC is consistently manipulated by Brexiteers into providing them with false parity in arguments where their views add nothing, represent nobody and are demonstrably and factually wrong.”
Pro-remain lawyer and Good Law Project director Jolyon Maugham tweeted: “How robust Andrew Marr’s questioning is – and he is a good interviewer – is completely beside the point.
“The interview is an invitation to viewers to choose between what the independent regulator has said and what Arron Banks says. That is a false and dangerous equivalence.”
Andrew Marr and BBC Live Political Programmes editor Rob Burley defended the interview:
Here’s the transcript of the interview with Arron Banks by Andrew Marr. As you will read, he is pursued very robustly. https://t.co/genppFzVIQ
— Rob Burley (@RobBurl) November 4, 2018
Theatre not journalism. Not a shred of new fact. Andrew, you wouldn’t know the difference if it crept up your tummy & flossed you https://t.co/oKpf1g7qFs
— Andrew Marr (@AndrewMarr9) November 4, 2018
The BBC said: “There is a strong public interest in an interview with Arron Banks about allegations of funding irregularities in relation to Leave.EU and the 2016 EU referendum.
“The Electoral Commission has laid out concerns about this in public and it is legitimate and editorially justified for Andrew Marr to question Mr Banks robustly about them, which he will do on Sunday morning.”
Picture: Reuters/Simon Dawson