Newsnight is a programme I have watched for years, with a great deal of respect for the quality of its journalism. I was therefore flattered to be asked to appear on it, even though I knew I was likely to be in for a grilling.
The invitation came at about 6pm on the evening of the show, when a courteous man from the production team called. The pre-interview lasted ten minutes, during which time he also asked my views on Brexit, in particular the backstop.
I candidly shared my views fully aware that, in doing so, I would be forearming him for the actual interview. That mattered little to me. I have studied at some length the EU, very nearly all aspects of Brexit and the withdrawal agreement, so I was confident in my being able to address any googlies that might be bowled at me.
I got to the BBC just after 10pm, had some makeup hurriedly applied and was then ushered into the studio to meet Emily Maitlis and my fellow panellists. She could not have been nicer, greeting me with a broad smile and warmly shaking my hand. Simon Hoare, a fellow Tory MP panellist, was equally warm and remained so throughout the show and after.
It would be easy for me to contrast the warmth of Maitlis’s greeting with her treatment of me thereafter. I could go on about the rough time she gave me – which she did. I could complain about her anti-Brexit credentials. But, in terms of fairness, I have no criticism of her. She gave me no harder a time than she did any of the other panellists.
The only part of the interview about which I have a complaint is when she claimed, based on comments I had previously made, that I was a proponent of a no-deal Brexit for ulterior motives. She claimed I had set aside £182m so that when sterling and the property markets dropped my company could buy properties cheaply while everyone else went bust. This was and is wholly wrong.
Quite apart from the fact that my company does not currently have
£182m set aside, her suggestion is illogical. I am on the record umpteen times as saying that I do not believe the UK economy would be adversely affected by a WTO Brexit. I said the same to her. However, if the markets acted irrationally and fell, then of course my company would seek to buy properties.
But no one should go bust, and indeed markets should have no cause to fall. If I believed that people would go bust, I certainly would not advocate buying UK property – to do so would be financially illiterate and self-harming. The properties would become vacant, their values would continue to drop and my company would lose its shirt.