Liam Fox is the latest Brexiteer to tell media how to cover Brexit

Written by David Singleton on 6 July 2017 in Diary

It turns out that Andrea Leadsom is not the only cabinet minister to have an issue with a free press.

After Andrea Leadsom was widely ridiculed for calling on broadcasters to be "a bit patriotic" in their Brexit coverage, another senior Brexiteer has followed in her footsteps.

Speaking in the Commons, Liam Fox suggested that the BBC should strike a more positive tone when reporting on Brexit.

The international trade secretary was responding to a question from the Conservative MP Nigel Evans about negative coverage of Brexit in the media.

Fox, a fierce eurosceptic, said: "It does appear that some elements of our media would rather see Britain fail than Brexit succeed."

He added: "I cannot recall a single time in recent times when I have seen good economic news that the BBC did not describe as ‘despite Brexit’."

The comment was immediately criticised, with the former Tory adviser and ex-Daily Mail political editor James Chapman among those speaking out.

Chapman, recently an adviser to Brexit secretary David Davis, said his "friend" Dr Fox was "entirely wrong".

He also told Sky News: "I’d expect nothing better from Andrea Leadsom, who in my experience in the Cabinet is the dimmest bulb, let’s be honest. But I really think Number 10 has to get a grip on this. We cannot have ministers dictating to broadcasters how they should cover the subject of the day."

Downing Street refused to back Fox’s suggestion. Asked if Theresa May agreed with the international trade secretary’s comment, the prime minister’s spokesman signalled that the answer was no.

He 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.

"The prime minister has always been clear on the need to have a free press and free media in this country."

Leadsom caused controversy last month with similar comments to Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis. She told the BBC journalist: "It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic. The country took a decision, this government is determined to deliver on that decision."

When Maitlis asked Leadsom if she was accusing broadcasters of being unpatriotic, the Tory MP replied: "I’m not accusing you of anything, Emily. I’m simply saying we all need to pull together as a country."

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said at the time: "This is a sinister threat to the free media. How dare Andrea Leadsom tell the press what they should think. This isn’t a George Orwell book. She needs to apologise for these comments and realise what she said was frankly stupid."

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