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Fake News

Sorry Daily Mail, Verhofstadt ain’t no ‘bureaucrat’

by Luke Lythgoe | 15.12.2017

Today’s Daily Mail featured an opinion piece by Richard Littlejohn on rebel Tory MPs. The right-wing columnist isn’t a fan. But while there’s a place in Britain’s press for stridently backing a specific viewpoint (some might call it ranting), even these opinion-based offerings need to be accurate.

Littlejohn fell down on two counts. First, he described the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt as a “bouffanted Brussels bureaucrat”. Verhofstadt, who served as Belgium’s prime minister for almost a decade, is now a directly elected MEP answerable to European citizens.

The term “bureaucrat” is defined as “an official in a government department”. Neither bureaucrat nor any of its synonyms, such as “civil servant” or “mandarin”, are accurate descriptions of Verhofstadt’s role as an elected representative – either now or when he was a prime minister.

The term is particularly loaded in the Brexit debate. Brexiters often refer to bureaucrats to argue that the EU is anti-democratic. This glosses over the role of the directly elected European Parliament, of which Verhofstadt is a particularly vocal member, in keeping other EU institutions to account.

Secondly, Littlejohn wrote about “the result of the referendum – a result which most Labour supporters, particularly in Northern constituencies, voted for in droves”. But most Labour supporters didn’t vote Leave. Two thirds of those who voted Labour in 2015 backed Remain, according to polling by Michael Ashcroft. In 2017 this trend was strengthened when Labour picked up votes from Remainers leaving the Tories, plus Lib Dems and Greens who thought Labour had the best chance of ousting May’s government.

InFacts has raised both inaccuracies with the Daily Mail and asked for a correction. At time of publication, the newspaper had not provided a comment.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon