Monday, 11 June 2012

Osborne denies coming to secret deal with Murdochs over BskyB at lunch in Swiss ski chalet

George Osborne today denied attending a private meeting with the Murdochs in a Swiss ski resort months before the 2010 general election amid allegations that a deal had been done over the family's plans to take full control of BSkyB.
The Chancellor told the Leveson Inquiry he had met Rupert and James Murdoch, as well as Rebekah Brooks, in a chalet in Davos at the World Economic Forum but it had been the previous year.
It comes after newspaper reports suggesting a pact was made in January 2010 over News Corporation's plans for BSkyB.

No secret pact: Mr Osborne denied that a meeting with the Murdochs, him and David Cameron to seal election backing never happened  

Asked if he had attended a 'private meeting' at Davos in January 2010, he replied: 'No, it's not true.'
He added that he and David Cameron saw the controversial £8 billion BSkyB takeover bid by the News Corp as a 'political inconvenience' that was always going to cause them trouble

The Chancellor also told the Leveson Inquiry that Gordon Brown was a  'fantasist' if he thought the Tories had bowed to News Corp on the issue.
'That is complete nonsense and the facts simply don’t bear it out,' he said, 'It was going to cause us trouble one way or the other.

Big Day: The Chancellor pictured arriving at the Royal Courts of Justice to appear after former Prime Minister Gordon Brown 
'You have to be a real fantasist to believe that come these events we had knowingly allowed Vince Cable to be secretly recorded, we knowingly told the Telegraph not to publish that information.
'That information then emerges in the middle of the afternoon and we then, all part of this cunning plan, put Mr Hunt in charge.
'It doesn't stack up.'
He continued: 'I regarded the whole thing as a political inconvenience. 
'I didn’t have a strong view about its merits because as far as I could see it was just going to cause us trouble one way or the other. It was either going to offend if it was rejected it was going to offend another group of people we didn’t want to have bad relations with. I regarded it all as a political inconvenience.'
Mr Osborne said he and David Cameron spent the 2009 Davos meeting 'gently' trying to turn the conversation to domestic politics and the looming general election but Rupert Murdoch was more interested in international economics.
He said: 'There was a meeting in 2009 in a chalet with Rupert Murdoch, James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks.
'As part of the Davos conference people rent hotels and chalets. It was not particularly unusual it was in a chalet.'
The lunch focused on the global financial crisis, he added.
'I remember David Cameron and I seeking to try to bring the conversation gently to domestic politics and what the Conservative Party was doing to put itself in a position to win a general election.

Claims: Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, leaving the Leveson Inquiry and his wife Sarah today said the Tories had done a deal with News Corp, which Mr Osborne said was nonsense

'But Rupert Murdoch was more keen to talk about the international economic situation.
'I don't think this was a crucial encounter.'
Mr Osborne told the Inquiry one of James Murdoch's 'bugbears' was the BBC and he raised it repeatedly.
'There was an issue that he was concerned about, that was the BBC and the licence fee,' he said.

Controversy: Leveson heard that Mr Osborne had fought to save Vince Cable's job despite his going to war with Murdoch comments 

'It was more of a complaint that we had in this country a taxpayer-funded state broadcaster.
'I made it clear to him then that we were not going to change that.'
He added: 'He raised that on a number of occasions.
'That was a bugbear of his.'
George Osborne had been ordered to face questions at the Leveson Inquiry today over his role in the Government’s handling of the Murdoch empire’s attempted BSkyB takeover.
The Chancellor had been expected to give only a written statement, but the inquiry into Press ethics has asked to cross-examine him.
Speaking about taking Vince Cable off the BSkyB decision and handing it to Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt he said it was for the good of the Coalition, which he said at a meeting with the Prime Minister on the day it happened.
'The principle concern of the meeting was this was not something that should lead to the resignation of Dr Cable. I didn’t think it merited his resignation and frankly I also had concerns about the impact of his resignation on the Coalition,' he said.
'I was looking for a solution that did not lead to a wider Cabinet reshuffle, which is not something we felt just before Christmas something we wanted to see. And also we thought Dr Cable was doing a good job as Business Secretary.'
On the same day he texted Jeremy Hunt who was worried the Government were going to mess up the bid, saying 'I hope you like the solution.'
Asked about the ‘solution’ element, Mr Osborne said: ‘First of all, I thought he would like the fact he was taking on additional ministerial responsibilities. The solution refers to the problem we had with Dr Cable’s remarks and that had obviously caused a political storm that day.'

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