A prominent Tory MP and Leave campaigner has clashed with a BBC presenter over “bogus” student visa figures.
On BBC’s Newsnight, Conservative MP and Brexiteer Peter Bone under-played the criticism of Theresa May for overseeing inaccurate figures on the number of international students over-staying their visas in the UK, and indicated he thought the BBC was pursuing an agenda.
Latest migration figures show just 4,600 students failed to leave the country when they should have last year, with samples showing 97% left on time.
The official statistics equate to less than a twentieth of previous estimates of 100,000, which led the prime minister to promise to clamp down on the situation when she was Home Secretary.
On the programme, Labour MP and Remain campaigner Neil Coyle accused the Tories of deploying a statistic that was “utter rubbish” for years.
But when Bone was challenged on the Tory position by Barnett, he accused the BBC of trying avoid a “really good news story” on the number of people arriving to live long-term in Britain falling by 81,000 in a year as EU citizens flee Britain ahead of Brexit.
Bone dismissed Barnett’s suggestion the Home Office was using “bogus data”, adding: “Now don’t upset me.”
Barnett continued by asking if it was “concerning” that May argued there was an issue when “we now know the number was tiny”.
He argued he had “never been concerned about students coming to the country and leaving here”, adding: “I can’t be concerned about something I was never concerned about.”
“But your leader has been,” Barnett fired back.
The interview then got even more more uncomfortable when Barnett asked about May’s reputation as Home Secretary, with Bone suggesting the BBC presenter had taken a position against her.
Barnett dismissed the idea: “I’m not here to have views, I’m here to ask questions. I’m trying very hard to get answers.”
When asked whether May was now seen in a “damaging light”, Bone returned to his shrug: “Not at all. I don’t know where you’ve got this idea that there’s this big issue about student numbers.”
Later in the interview, Bone accused Coyle, a Labour Party moderate, of being from the “extreme left”.
Barnett: “If he is the extreme left, what are you?”
Bone: “I’m the centre ground.”