Boris Johnson has said the BBC “will be around for a long time to come” after Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries questioned whether it will still exist in a decade.
The Prime Minister said it was a “great national institution” at a time when relations between the broadcaster and the Government have been strained.
His comments came after a testy exchange on BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today programme, during which presenter Nick Robinson told the Prime Minister to “stop talking”.
The Prime Minister was asked about the future of the BBC during an interview with rival broadcaster GB News.
“The BBC has been around for a very long time, it’s a great national institution, I’ve no doubt that it will be around for a long time to come,” Mr Johnson said.
The Prime Minister conducted a series of broadcast interviews on the eve of his Conservative Party conference speech.
On Today, Robinson pointedly said it was the Prime Minister’s first appearance on the programme for two years.
During the interview, Mr Johnson was interrupted during a lengthy answer by Robinson, who told him: “Prime Minister, stop talking, we are going to have questions and answers, not where you merely talk, if you wouldn’t mind.”
At the end of the interview, the Prime Minister said: “It’s very kind of you to let me talk … I thought that was the point of inviting me on your show.”
Tory chairman Oliver Dowden, a former culture secretary, told a conference fringe event: “It’s right that politicians are scrutinised and held to account. I think sometimes politicians do have the right to finish a sentence when they are answering a question.”
Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said – with a smile on his face – that it was an “attractive idea” to offer clemency to people who did not pay the licence fee, to ease the burden on magistrates’ courts.
In response to a question from Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, he said: “It’s an attractive idea, I can see why at a Conservative Party fringe you would try to draw me into contentious territory.”
The latest developments came after Ms Dorries took aim at the BBC’s “elitist” approach and “lack of impartiality”.
She admitted “I don’t know” if the broadcaster will even survive in 10 years’ time in the face of competition from new players such as Netflix.
The new Culture Secretary insisted she did not want a “war” with the broadcaster but suggested it would have to set out how it will change before the next licence fee settlement, which covers the five years from April 2022.
Ms Dorries highlighted a series of issues she had with the broadcaster, including a lack of working-class diversity and perceived political bias.
“It’s about recognising that access and lack of impartiality are part of your problem,” she said.
She said there was a “groupthink” at the corporation which “excludes working-class backgrounds”.
“North West, North East, Yorkshire – if you have got a regional accent in the BBC it doesn’t go down particularly well,” she said.
“They talk about lots to do with diversity but they don’t talk about kids from working-class backgrounds and that’s got to change.”
Asked how to address that, she said: “It’s not about quotas, it’s just about having a more fair approach and a less elitist and a less snobbish approach as to who works for you.”
The BBC’s annual report shows more than than 60% of staff went to state-run schools, with 11.5% from a fee-paying school.
Some 8.4% went to “other” schools, 4.2% preferred not to say and there was no data for 15.3% of staff.
Among the 80% of staff who gave details of their background, 48.3% had “professional” parents, 20.2% were “working class” or from “lower socio-economic” groups and 8.8% were from an “intermediate” family.