Boris Johnson not looking to scrap TV licence fee ‘at this stage’
Boris Johnson does not want to scrap “all licence fees” at this stage, Downing Street said as the Prime Minister faced a Tory backlash over a “vendetta” against the BBC.
Conservative MP Huw Merriman warned his own party against “picking a potentially unpopular fight” with the broadcaster.
Mr Merriman, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the BBC, said it “should not be a target” after reports suggested the Conservative Party was considering widespread changes including scrapping the licence fee.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “I would point you to what the Prime Minister has said on this before, which was ‘at this stage we are not planning to get rid of all licence fees though I am certainly looking at it’.”
Asked whether the broadcaster would be told to shut down local radio stations, the spokesman said: “How the BBC is run is a matter for the BBC.”
In a column in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Merriman wrote the Conservatives did not mention tinkering with the BBC in their election manifesto.
Mr Merriman said: “It feels as if senior government aides are now ramping up an unedifying vendetta against this much-admired corporation.
“This culminated in a bizarre promise this weekend to ‘whack’ the BBC with a suggestion it should ‘be slimmed down and put on subscription’.”
Former Cabinet minister Damian Green said: “Destroying the BBC wasn’t in our manifesto and would be cultural vandalism. ‘Vote Tory and close Radio 2’. Really?”
According to a Sunday Times report, Downing Street is considering replacing the TV licence fee with a subscription model, forcing the sale of most BBC radio stations, cutting the number of television stations and reducing the amount of online content.
The Government is already consulting on proposals to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and ministers have suggested it could be abolished altogether when the BBC’s charter comes up for renewal in 2027.
A senior source told the newspaper: “We are having a consultation and we will whack it. It has to be a subscription model. ”
Mr Merriman said the BBC has an “80% approval rating from the same public which elected this government”.
He added that given some people had voted Conservative for the first time, “it begs the question as to why we are picking such a potentially unpopular fight”.
He wrote: “The BBC should not be a target.
“It not only brings us together at home but helps maintain our influence on the world stage.
“If the BBC ends up in decline, if a much-loved and revered institution is devalued and if the costs go up, it will be this Government which will stand accused by the very people who we will be relying on to support us at the next election.”