Watchdog condemns Sun’s misleading ‘Queen Backs Brexit’ headline

The Sun's front page splash on 9th March. [Twitter]

Britain’s press regulator ruled Wednesday (18 May) that The Sun newspaper was “misleading” in suggesting that Queen Elizabeth II backs leaving the EU in next month’s referendum – although the tabloid stood by its story.

The top-selling newspaper sparked a rare complaint from Buckingham Palace with its front-page headline “Queen backs Brexit” on March 9, which challenged the monarch’s long-held position of political neutrality.

In a ruling, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) said the claim that the monarch wanted Britain to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum was not supported by the accompanying story suggesting she had expressed concerns about the bloc in 2011.

“The headline – both in print and online – was not supported by the text and was significantly misleading,” the IPSO regulator concluded.

“The headline contained a serious and unsupported allegation that the queen had fundamentally breached her constitutional obligations in the context of a vitally important national debate.”

As ordered by IPSO, The Sun ran a small headline at the bottom of its front page reporting the regulator’s ruling.

However, the newspaper’s editor in chief, Tony Gallagher, said: “I don’t accept that we made an error at all. We made a judgment that the headline was right and that it was backed up by the story.”

He told BBC radio: “I don’t think, were I doing this again tomorrow, I would act in any way differently whatsoever.

“Given what I know about the detail of the sourcing and given what I know about the detail of the conversation, frankly, we would be better packing up and going home as journalists if we didn’t actually put these things in the public domain.”

The journalist who wrote the story, political editor Tom Newton-Dunn, also was quick to point out only the complaint about the headline – not the text of his story – had been upheld.

Citing an anonymous senior source, the tabloid had reported that the queen told then deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, a fervent pro-European, during a lunch in 2011 that the EU was “heading in the wrong direction”.

The paper also claimed that she told lawmakers “with quite some venom and emotion” that “she did not understand Europe”.

Clegg said he had “no recollection” of the incident and said the report was “nonsense”.

The IPSO ruling said: “The print headline went much further than referring to a claim about what the queen might think.”

  • 23 June: UK referendum on leaving or remaining in the EU.
  • 2017: UK holds rotating presidency of the European Council in second-half of the year.

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