FT editor: UK government fought ‘incredibly inept’ Brexit campaign

Lionel barber
Financial Times editor Lionel Barber Getty Images

Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, has criticised the UK government’s “incredibly inept” campaign to remain in the European Union.

Speaking at the FT Weekend Live Festival in London on Saturday, Barber was succinct in his views on former Prime Minister David Cameron and his colleagues’ contribution to the referendum.

“The government fought an incredibly inept campaign. [It was] Project Fear, the Daily Mail was absolutely right,” said Barber, who oversaw the FT’s proactively pro-remain position in the run-up to the 23 June vote.

The editor is line for top French honour, the Legion d’Honneur, for his “positive role in the European debate.” But he made clear: “The FT, we accept the result, we lost, we’ve got to move on.”

Barber turns fire on the BBC.

He added that the BBC did not do enough to “provide context” for the debate.

The editor criticised the corporation “and others” for failing “to nail” the Leave campaign’s myth that the NHS would benefit from a £350 million funding boost if Britain left the EU.

Barber said he agreed with Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford University, who suggested in a Guardian comment piece that the BBC gave “equal airtime to unequal arguments.”

In particular, he was unhappy about the prominence given to Brexit campaigner and former Cameron advisor Steve Hilton. Barber pointed out that Hilton does not live in the UK. “They [the BBC] went over backwards to balance opinion,” he added.

Barber shared the stage with former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger and both agreed that BBC News director James Harding faced a “thankless” task during the referendum.

Rusbridger was more philosophical about the BBC’s coverage, arguing that the broadcaster “did its best to remain impartial.”

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