by Ian Cooper (Visting Fellow, DCU Brexit Institute)
If you want to keep up with Brexit news, but find you have limited reading time, try listening to podcasts.
There are already a number of podcasts exclusively devoted to Brexit. The oldest (A Diet of Brussels, with 200+ episodes) has been around since May 8, 2015, the day after David Cameron’s Conservatives won a parliamentary majority, the event which made it inevitable that there would be a referendum on Brexit. Many more sprang up after the referendum, and they have chronicled the various twists in the Brexit story – the triggering of Article 50, the subsequent UK election and the resulting hung parliament, and the ongoing negotiations with the EU.
These podcasts come in a variety of formats – news, analysis, lectures, interviews, debates – from diverse sources. Some are slickly produced by established media outlets, and others are independent operations done on a shoestring. Most of the participants are journalists, but they also include academics and other assorted “Brexperts.”
On the whole, these podcasts are strikingly wonkish, unafraid to delve into the minutiae of parliamentary procedure and policy detail. Put simply, they dare to be boring.
While most of them purport to be neutral, they lean – on balance – anti-Brexit, with one exception (Chopper’s Brexit Podcast). This may reflect the prevailing pro-Remain opinion among the majority of political and media elites. Then again, it may also reflect the fact that, to paraphrase Stephen Colbert, reality has a well-known pro-Remain bias.
The makers of these podcasts, all of which are free, should be thanked for providing a public service. This said, the reader wants recommendations. Here is a listener’s guide to some of the best.
Best All-Round Podcast
Brexit Means… (The Guardian)
Format: News, interviews, analysis
The Guardian was the first major news outlet to have a Brexit podcast, separate from its regular Politics Weekly podcast. It is the best all-round Brexit podcast, as it gives the listener a digest of Brexit-related news, interviews and analysis. Usefully, they also included Theresa May’s Lancaster House speech in its entirety as a podcast episode (though not the more recent Florence speech). Like its newspaper namesake, the podcast leans Remain, as evidenced by its largely critical stance on the May government’s competence, and its relentless exposure of the intractability of the problems raised by Brexit. Even so, it is not uncritical of the EU, as was seen in an August discussion about fish, which showed that even pro-Remainers can agree that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is a pretty bad policy. If you only subscribe to one Brexit podcast, it should be this one.
Best Pro-Leave Podcast
Chopper’s Brexit Podcast (The Telegraph)
Format: News, Interviews
Coming to you “from the Red Lion pub in the heart of Westminster,” this is (it must be confessed) the most enjoyable Brexit-related podcast to listen to, despite its fairly blatant pro-Leave bias. Like it or not, nowadays the key debates are not Leave vs. Remain but amongst the Leavers themselves, over negotiating strategy and what flavour of Brexit is to be preferred. This podcast is snappily edited and fast-paced, a digest of Brexit-related news and chummy interviews with political insiders. The interviewees are mostly Tory/Brexiteer, but with some variety, such as an enlightening debate last July between two Labour MPs, a Remainer (Rupa Huq) and a Corbynite favouring “Lexit” (Kelvin Hopkins). Good coverage of UK parliamentary politics, less so of EU matters. If you only listened to this one podcast, you would have the impression not only that leaving the EU is a good idea, but also that the Brexit process is going just swimmingly.
Best Policy Analysis Podcast
Brexit Unspun (Financial Times)
Format: Policy Analysis
There are only 12 episodes of this podcast, produced between May and July 2017, all of which are quite short (10-15 minutes). Even if they are slightly out of date, it is worthwhile going back to listen to them in their entirety (about 2.5 hours total), as each gives a pithy analysis of a particular Brexit-related policy question. The episode on Euratom, for example, is much more informative than the much longer Brexitcast episode on the same subject. In their excellent episode on the NHS, with surgical precision they debunk the notion that the UK will have an extra 350 million pounds a week to spend, point out that EU migrants in the UK are younger and healthier than the population at large (and very much so in comparison to the British nationals living in the EU, who would put enormous strain on the NHS if they were to come home), analyse how disastrous it would be for NHS staffing if immigration were restricted, and explain the likely effect of the UK losing the European Medicines Agency and access to EU funds for medical research – all in the space of 11 minutes.
Best Interview Podcast
Brexit Podcast (independent)
Format: Long-form Interviews
Each episode of Brexit Podcast typically features a long discussion with a single interviewee. The virtue of this podcast is that the interviewers let the guest speak at length. This is also something of a vice, as they do not really engage in a debate with their guests. Each guest, like the Remainer hero Gina Miller, or the Leaver economist Patrick Minford, are given a platform to air their views, largely unchallenged. Nevertheless, with this format the industrious podcasters have amassed a large body of work, more than 100 episodes. Truth be told, they are not always scintillating. However, listeners who peruse the vast archive are bound to find something to pique their interest.
Other Notable Podcasts
A Diet of Brussels (independent)
Format: Mini-lectures, Interviews
This is the longest-running Brexit podcast, with over 200 episodes, produced by a political scientist (Simon Usherwood, University of Surrey). Most of these were produced in the 13-month period between the May 2015 election and the Brexit referendum, with the evident goal of informing the electorate prior to the vote. For the most part, each episode is a five-minute mini-lecture in response to a specific Brexit-related question. Unavoidably, many of these pre-referendum episodes have been overtaken by events. Since the referendum, new episodes are still produced occasionally, such as a very good recent discussion about Northern Ireland (recorded on the fly in an airport lounge). A laudable effort.
Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed (BBC Radio 4)
Format: Radio Series
This was a radio series on Brexit produced last February by Chris Morris (the journalist, not the satirist). Each episode purports to address one Brexit-related question, e.g. “Who are we negotiating with?” As serious analysis, alas, it does not succeed. Also, it is laden with goofy jokes and sound effects. On the plus side, it is blessedly short – just 12 minutes per episode.
Brexitcast (BBC Radio 5)
Format: News, Interviews, Banter
This regular podcast features Brexit-related news and interviews. The hosts proudly “geek out,” immersing themselves in detailed policy discussion, which is all to the good. Unfortunately there is a lot of unnecessary jokey banter. For example, when Estonia assumed the Council presidency they invited Lembit Opik (himself of Estonian extraction) to sing the national anthem and quiz the hosts about that country. The listener will decide whether such antics are amusing or tiresome.
Last Week in Brexit (Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce)
Format: Informed chat
This podcast is a free-form policy chat about the latest developments in the Brexit saga. While the three hosts are knowledgeable and affable, the production as a whole could benefit from a bit more structure and editing.
Format: Chat and interviews
Leans: Very pro-remain
Refreshingly non-neutral podcast, featuring free-wheeling and frequently profane chat among a group of ardent Remainers, with occasional interviews with guests who are also ardent Remainers. Their motto is “Own the Remoan.”
Are there any that we have missed? Please feel free to send us further suggestions or other comments, at email@example.com.