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Brexit press has repeatedly run distorted migrant stories

by Luke Lythgoe | 20.06.2016

The Daily Mail, Mail Online, Express, Telegraph and Sun have published so many false stories about migrants during the referendum campaign that it looks like they don’t care to give voters the truth about this most emotive of topics.

There have been inaccurate stories about the number of EU migrants coming to Britain, distorted articles about the impact of migrants on the NHS, false pieces saying a US spy chief warned open borders let ISIL into Britain and many other misleading articles.

Below are some of the most egregious.

Migrant flows

Daily Telegraph Grand Canyon story

1. “The extra EU migrants the ONS has found down the back of a sofa are six Newcastles”

The Daily Telegraph, 13 May 2016

The Telegraph added five years’ worth of short-term EU visitors to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) estimate of long-term migrants. Short-term visitors are defined as those who come for less than a year, while long-term ones are defined as those who stay for longer. To add the two numbers together for five years in a row is nonsense since short-term visitors leave within a year. The Express ran a similar, inaccurate story.

2. “We’re from Europe – Let us in!”

Daily Mail, June 16, front-page splash

The Daily Mail detailed a Metropolitan police operation which found a group of migrants stowing away in the back of a lorry. It published a correction the following day, acknowledging that “the migrants told police they were from Iraq and Kuwait”. A similar story in The Sun has also been corrected.

3. “Now EU wants asylum control”

Express, March 8, front page splash

The sub-head read: “Madness as Brussels plots to tell us who can come and stay in our country.” This is false. There was no Brussels plot “to tell us who can come and stay in our country”, just leaked plans to reform the EU’s asylum system – something from which the UK has an opt-out.

Migrant impact on jobs, NHS and schools

Sun jobs

4. “Brits just not fair: 4 in 5 British jobs went to foreign nationals”

The Sun, May 19, front page splash

The figure of 414,000 from which the “4 in 5” statistic is derived does not refer to new hires. It refers to the net increase in jobs – in other words, new hires minus people who switch jobs, retire, stop working and so on. The proportion of new hires filled by non-UK born workers in 2014 was about 17.5%, according to London School of Economics’ Jonathan Wadsworth. What’s more, non-UK born workers includes not just foreign nationals but UK nationals born abroad, such as Boris Johnson.

5. “Report shows the NHS is nearly at breaking point as massive influx of EU migrants forces doctors to take on 1.5 million extra patients in just three years”

Mail Online, April 3, website

This “report” – completely unsourced in the original article – turned out to be a Vote Leave dossier. It provided no evidence that EU migrants are responsible for the NHS being at “breaking point”. The 1.5 million “extra patients” figure relates to the rise in GP registrations from all sources, including increasing life expectancy and migration from outside the EU. The Mail Online corrected the article.

6. “Soaring cost of teaching migrant children”

Express, May 16, front page splash

The article claimed 700,000 “migrant” children were costing British schools £3.2 billion per year. But the ONS data the report was based on included children born in the UK but whose parents are EEA* nationals, as well as children with one British parent and one from another EEA country – for example Nigel Farage’s children with his German wife. The Times ran an inaccurate headline for a similar story but promptly amended it after being contacted by InFacts.

Terrorism, crime and border controls

Telegraph Isil borders
7. “Open borders let Isil into Britain, warns US spy chief”

Telegraph, April 27, front page

US Director of Intelligence James Clapper did not say open borders had let terrorist sleeper cells into Britain. Answering two separate questions (here, around 30 mins), he suggested there were Islamic State cells in the UK and then said IS had “taken advantage to some extent of the migrant crisis in Europe”. The UK is not part of the EU’s border-free Schengen Area, so linking the two points is seriously misleading. Similar headlines appeared on the Mail Online and the Express website. The Mail Online has corrected its article but so far neither The Telegraph nor the Express have

8. “Britain could stop ten times more terror suspects from entering the country if it leaves the EU, justice minister says as he blasts EU rules for allowing terrorists to ‘waltz into Britain’”

Mail Online, March 30, website

Dominic Raab, the pro-Brexit justice minister, never said this. He said that, since 2010, the UK has refused entry at its borders to 67,000 non-EU citizens compared to 6,000 EU citizens (listen from 24:15). But the non-EU citizens stopped were not mainly, let alone all, terror suspects or security threats. Raab’s statistics compared apples with oranges. The Mail Online has corrected its article.

9. “More than 700 offences are being committed by EU migrants every week, official figures suggest”

Telegraph, February 17, website

The National Police Chiefs’ Council figures on which these “700 offences” are based were clearly described as “NOT conviction data”. Rather they refer to criminal notifications, which include other things like appeals and breaches of court orders. Similar articles appeared in The Daily Mail and Express. All three have been corrected.

10. “Queen backs Brexit”

Sun - Queen Backs Brexit

The press has published inaccurate articles on other stories relevant to the referendum, not just migration. The most notorious is The Sun’s front-page headline saying “Queen backs Brexit”, which was corrected after Buckingham Palace complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

The Times, which is backing Britain staying in the EU, has also run a couple of inaccurate front-page stories about an EU army. The most recent on May 27 – “EU army plans kept secret from voters” – was followed up on the Mail Online and Express websites.

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When the papers have published false stories, InFacts has often complained. Sometimes they have corrected their articles. When they have not, we too have reported them to IPSO. In total, we have reported 20 misleading articles to IPSO, of which five have so far been corrected. Each complaint has been detailed in two dossiers, the “hateful 8” and “sinful 6“.

But even when corrections have been made, they have not had the prominence of the original articles. As a result, when voters go to the polls on June 23, they may be making their decision on the back of inaccurate information pumped out by the Eurosceptic press.

* The EEA is the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

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