Sir Keir Starmer has been forced to withdraw accusations he made that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been critical of BBC journalists over their coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Labour leader used Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday to incorrectly accuse Mr Johnson of slandering the broadcaster’s journalists who are risking their lives to report the conflict.
But Mr Johnson strongly denied criticising the BBC over its war coverage, insisting he said “nothing of the kind” at a meeting of Conservative MPs.
Last night the leader of the Conservatives Oliver Dowden demanded the Labour leader retract his comments and apologise to the Prime Minister.
Earlier today (Thursday), Sir Keir said he would indeed now withdraw the claims following updated information from the Government.
At a private meeting of Conservative MPs on Tuesday, the Prime Minister was said to have attacked the BBC and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby for criticising his Rwanda asylum plan, claiming they had been “less vociferous” about condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sir Keir, raising a point of order, told the Commons:
“The Prime Minister’s comments on Tuesday night to his backbenchers were briefed to journalists by a spokesperson.
“Those comments were reasonably interpreted by several media outlets, including the Daily Telegraph, as being criticisms of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the BBC for their comments and coverage of Ukraine. Government ministers were out on broadcast rounds yesterday morning and they didn’t seek to correct that interpretation.
“But since then the Government has corrected the record and said the Prime Minister’s comments only referred to the archbishop and not the BBC, so I’m more than happy to echo that correction and withdraw my comments of yesterday.”
During PMQs on Wednesday, Sir Keir had incorrectly said:
“The Prime Minister also accused the BBC of not being critical enough of Putin.
“Would the Prime Minister have the guts to say that to the face of (BBC reporters) Clive Myrie, Lyse Doucet and Steve Rosenberg, who have all risked their lives day in, day out, on the frontline in Russia and Ukraine uncovering Putin’s barbarism?”
The Prime Minister responded:
“I said nothing of the kind and I have the highest admiration – as a former journalist – for what journalists do. I think they do an outstanding job.
“I think he should withdraw what he just said – it has absolutely no basis or foundation in truth.”
Sir Keir said the Prime Minister would “slander decent people in a private room, let the slander spread without the backbone to repeat it in public”.
Mr Johnson replied by denying he had attacked the BBC over its coverage of Ukraine, adding of Sir Keir:
“He must be out of his tiny mind.”
Photo credits: Photo of Boris Johnson by Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.
Photo of Sir Keir Starmer licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.