Boris Johnson's Threat To Abolish TV Licences 'Music To US Trade Negotiators' Ears'

PM says he is 'certainly looking at' scrapping licence fee as fears mount BBC could be on the table in US-UK trade talks.

Boris Johnson is “looking at” abolishing all TV licences, signalling the BBC could face a new threat from a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.

Speaking on the campaign trail in Tyne and Wear’s Washington, the Tory leader cast doubt on whether the publicly-funded broadcaster “still makes sense in the long-term” without TV licence fees.

It underlines the fact the prime minister could be eyeing up radical changes to the UK’s media landscape as he prepares to enter negotiations with Donald Trump over post-Brexit trade if he wins Thursday’s election.

In a document published by the US Chamber of Commerce, reported on by HuffPost UK, American firms made clear they did not want any “culture carve out” for the BBC.

The USCC’s submission to the US administration said Johnson should be ready to “liberalise media and entertainment services” in the UK, meaning they would want all media organisations opened up to US advertising and production businesses.

Asked whether a Tory government would abolish TV licence fees for everybody, Johnson did not give a direct commitment.

Boris Johnson answers questions during a visit to Fergusons Transport in Washington, Tyne & Wear.
Boris Johnson answers questions during a visit to Fergusons Transport in Washington, Tyne & Wear.
PA Wire/PA Images

It comes after the government has clashed with campaigners over people over 75 paying for TV licences. The BBC has said that from June 2020 only people receiving pension credits will receive a free licence.

He said: “Well, I don’t think at this late stage in the campaign I’m going to make an unfunded spending commitment like that, but what I certainly think is that the BBC should cough up and pay for the licences for the over-75s as they promised to do.

“But at this stage we are not planning to get rid of all TV licence fees, though I am certainly looking at it.”

Labour peer Stewart Wood said Johnson’s statement would be “music to Washington’s ears” with lobbyists pushing for “an end to special treatment” for the BBC.

Johnson added: “You have to ask yourself whether that kind of approach to funding a TV, a media organisation still makes sense in the long term given the way other organisations manage to fund themselves – that’s all I will say.

“I think that the system of funding by what is effectively a general tax, isn’t it, everybody has a TV, it bears reflection – let me put it that way.

“How long can you justify a system whereby everybody who has a TV has to pay to fund a particular set of TV and radio channels? That is the question.”

It is the second time the Conservatives have attacked media firms, with Tory sources threatening to review Channel 4′s broadcasting remit after bosses decided to replace Johnson with a melting ice sculpture during its climate change debate.

Channel 4 is a publicly-owned not-for-profit broadcaster but its revenue comes entirely from advertising, not licence fees. Its licence runs out in 2024.


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