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BBC producers have been forced to defend a Brexit-supporting pastor in the face of the emergent #vicargate conspiracy theory, which asserts the broadcaster planted a paid actor into its panel debate to voice support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s European Union withdrawal deal.
The person at the center of the controversy, Lynn Hayter, first raised viewers’ suspicions on Wednesday for her eccentricity when she appeared alongside other members of the public on the BBC’s flagship Newsnight show wearing a clerical collar and passionately defend May’s deal.
"The reason they are sitting there is that they know far more about what's going on then we do. I've been a Conservative all my life and I back Prime Minister May."— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 26, 2018
Lynn is sold on the government's Brexit plan#newsnight | @maitlis | @nadhimzahawi pic.twitter.com/cP2gMearTv
May’s Brexit deal, which was approved by the E.U. last week, faces its biggest hurdle in a British parliamentary vote in December. Lawmakers and the public are divided on the deal. It’s very uncertain how the vote will go and May is trying to promote her plan.
Hayter described herself as a lifelong conservative. While arguing with other panelists over Britain’s looming exit from the European Union, she implored viewers to “have faith in the government.”
Curious viewers, however, quickly discovered that she was the pro-Trump internet-ordained pastor of Seeds for Wealth Ministries, a fringe evangelical religious group promising “financial freedom in Christ.”
Hayter, it also turns out, regularly picks up work as an extra using her middle name Marina and has taken up minor roles on the BBC’s Eastenders soap opera and was even in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.
The news exploded on Twitter and allegations of a BBC conspiracy emerged, dubbed #vicargate, in particular among those on the left, that the state-owned organization had hired Hayter to push May’s deal to the public.
Lies lies lies.— Tom Pride (@ThomasPride) November 29, 2018
She is a paid actor. It is her job. She is not an ordained pastor - she is a right-wing, Trump supporting fantasist who calls herself a pastor.
Using an actor posing as a member of the public to support the government is a RESIGNING matter.https://t.co/y0gS2PkTQB https://t.co/cpbB30IM62
The fact that a fake vicar was extolling the benefits of Brexit on Newsnight really sums the whole thing up. It is a fraud, from start to finish...— Mr Ethical (@nw_nicholas) November 29, 2018
Wow. This newsnight fake vicar thing is pretty bad.— Milo The Mole (@milo1234) November 29, 2018
I mean? What on earth?
Is ANYTHING on the pro-Brexit side of the argument not a lie?
Interesting to see if newsnight claim they were duped.... seems dodgy given actress worked for BBC on many occasions.... very strange.
Oh this takes the biscuit. First 'fake' news, now a 'fake' Vicar? One very fake Vicar supporting another very fake Vicars daughter.— Momentum S.Somerset #Votes4Sixteens (@momentumyeovil) November 29, 2018
Remember the Newsnight “Vicar” who supported Theresa May’s Brexit deal? She’s a BBC ACTOR. https://t.co/Qz6QE0ku8R via @EvolvePolitics
“Reverend Lynn” is in fact Marina Hayter. She has played numerous roles including Peasant Woman, quizzical librarian and shocked neighbour but no vicars until her starring role as Brexit deal fan girl on #Newsnight. #BBC #BrexitAgreement pic.twitter.com/vqMT1Ams3B— Antonia Frances (@antoniafrances) November 29, 2018
The conspiracy theory was even pushed by Andrew Adonis, a politician from the opposition Labour Party.
The scandal at Newsnight - Brexiter pretending to be a vicar, defended by @maitlis - is dragging BBC News even further down— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) November 29, 2018
Brexit has put all our national institutions on trial. The BBC is faring worse than any except the Conservative party and the Cabinet
In a statement published online on Thursday evening, the broadcaster denied the claims outright.
Claims that Lynn appeared on #newsnight as a paid actor are false. Lynn is a pastor and was a genuine participant of our Brexit debate. She carries out work as an extra using her middle name but this is not relevant to the capacity in which she appeared. #VicarGate— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) November 29, 2018
In a comment made to reporters, the BBC insisted that Hayter was provided by an agency which selects representative focus groups. Despite this, the conspiracy theory continued to spread online into Friday.
David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.