Two Eurosceptic Cabinet ministers have launched attacks on the BBC and other media organisations over perceived failure to provide favourable coverage on Brexit.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said some news outlets would rather see “Britain fail than see Brexit succeed” in response to concern from Tory MP Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) that negative media coverage was undermining efforts to secure trade deals outside the EU.
Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom also weighed in, saying there were fears that Brexit coverage was not balanced.
However some MPs leapt to the broadcaster’s defence, with Labour veteran Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) branding Fox’s intervention as a “silly attack” on the BBC.
Fox, speaking during international trade questions in the Commons, said: “It does appear that some elements of our media would rather see Britain fail than see Brexit succeed.
“I cannot recall a single time in recent times when I have seen good economic news that the BBC didn’t describe as ‘despite Brexit’.”
Fox also took a swipe at others when responding to a question about global trade deals, saying “the usual suspects will describe it as ‘despite Brexit'”.
Later, Leadsom, responding to concern from Tory MP Matthew Offord (Hendon), said: “I think what we all want to see is balance in reporting, and to giving as much time to the opportunities of leaving the EU as is given to the other side of the argument.
“I think a number of people have expressed concerns that the balance isn’t there and I think all of us across this House would wish to see that addressed very closely.”
She previously called for broadcasters to be “a bit patriotic” about Brexit during an interview with BBC Newsnight.
Downing Street distanced itself from Fox’s comments.
Asked if Theresa May agreed with her International Trade Secretary, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Ministers and MPs and others will all have their views.
“It’s a matter for newspapers, broadcasters and others to determine the tone and content of their own coverage.”
He added: “The Prime Minister has always been clear on the need to have a free press and free media in this country.”
Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael compared Fox to “Donald Trump without the perma-tan” as he accused him of trying to shift attention from his own department’s record.
He said: “A Government minister attacking the media in this way is a dangerous and misplaced intervention.
“Mr Fox should get on with the work of Government rather than trying to deflect from the failings of his department.
“It is extraordinary that Mr Fox feels it is appropriate to attack the media. He looks like Donald Trump without the perma-tan.”
Conservative former minister Ed Vaizey described himself as a “huge supporter” of BBC News.
He told a Commons debate on Brexit and global trade: “Those people who question the BBC’s patriotism or declare that the BBC is somehow biased in this debate are absurd.”
He added those who level claims of bias against the BBC “have simply lost the argument”.