#Vicargate: Eccentric pro-Brexit panelist sparks BBC conspiracy theory

BTW

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.

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.

The conspiracy theory was even pushed by Andrew Adonis, a politician from the opposition Labour Party.

In a statement published online on Thursday evening, the broadcaster denied the claims outright.

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

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.