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Press’ hateful 8 stories from Brexit debate

by Luke Lythgoe & Hugo Dixon | 19.05.2016

As voters prepare for the most important democratic exercise in a generation, the distortion of the facts around Britain’s European Union membership is going into overdrive.

It is not just the Leave campaign that is pumping out falsehoods – such as the inaccurate statement, emblazoned on Boris Johnson’s battlebus, that we send Brussels £350 million a week. The big guns of the eurosceptic press are going all in for out.

Ahead of next month’s referendum, The Telegraph, Mail and Express have published a string of stories on migration, terrorism, crime and control of our borders that contain factual inaccuracies and/or distortions, according to a dossier compiled by InFacts. This comes on top of years of hostile EU coverage that have planted many myths in the minds of the electorate.

These newspapers are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), whose Code of Practice says: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.”

If the three papers had taken care, they would have known that they were contravening the IPSO code by publishing articles that were variously inaccurate, misleading or distorted.

InFacts has already written about the eight main stories identified below when they were published. It contacted the newspapers, which did not respond or did not satisfactorily address the inaccuracies in the articles. In preparation of its dossier, InFacts contacted The Telegraph, Mail and Express about all the stories identified below and asked them to make prominent corrections.

The Mail Online did respond to InFacts’ questions, as explained below, but did not satisfactorily address inaccuracies in the articles. The Daily Mail, which publishes stories on the Mail Online but has a different editorial team, engaged in a dialogue about its article but this was still ongoing at time of publication. Neither The Telegraph nor Express gave a meaningful response before publication.

InFacts will now be reporting all three papers to IPSO.

However, if the press watchdog takes time to complete its investigation, redress may have to wait until after the referendum. Yesterday’s IPSO ruling that The Sun’s headline “Queen backs Brexit” was “significantly misleading” took over two months.

Here are eight of what we consider to be the most egregious examples of inaccurate or misleading stories.


Daily Telegraph Grand Canyon story

1. “The gap between the official migrant figure and the truth is as wide as the Grand Canyon. We are owed an apology”.

0.9m. Before yesterday, the official number of EU migrants who came to Britain between 2011 & 2015.”
2.4m. The real number of EU migrants we now know came to Britain.
“Source: ONS.”
The Daily Telegraph, 13 May 2016

“Britain’s 1.5 million hidden migrants”
The Express, 13 May 2016

Where it appeared: Giant front page banner above the mast-head (The Telegraph), front page splash (The Express)

Why this is wrong: The Telegraph and Express 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.

It is also inaccurate for The Express to claim that the short-term visitors who have since left are “hidden” migrants, since the ONS have published short-term migration statistics previously.

The Telegraph further says that while “Piotr the plumber” might “have had no intention of staying on” beyond a year, he might change his mind and stay. But long-term migration statistics are adjusted by the ONS to take account of “switchers”, people who start out as visitors but stay longer.

On the basis of its distorted figures, The Telegraph makes a series of other spurious claims: that EU migrants are responsible for kids not getting into secondary schools of their choice, for people not getting on the housing ladder and for pregnant women being turned away by maternity units. Not only does it fail to produce any evidence to back up these inflammatory statements; it is implausible that many migrants who hop over for a few months’ work will put their kids into secondary schools, get on the housing ladder or attend maternity units.

Both papers also got their maths wrong, since the ONS estimates long-term migration in the five years to June 2015 was 1 million, not 900,000.


Telegraph Isil borders

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

“Open borders across Europe have allowed ISIL to plant sleeper cells in the UK, poised to carry out Paris or Brussels-style massacres, America’s intelligence chief has warned.”
The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2016

“Isis has taken advantage of Europe’s open borders to plant sleeper cells in the UK, Germany and Italy, head of American intelligence warns”
Mail Online, 27 April 2016

“EU free movement has allowed ISIS sleeper cells into the UK, warns security chief”
Express, 27 April 2016

Where it appeared: Front page splash (Telegraph), website homepage (Mail Online), website homepage (Express)

Why this is wrong: US Director of Intelligence James Clapper did not say open borders had let terrorists into Britain. He did not draw any link between either open borders or EU free movement and UK sleeper cells. Instead, he was asked (here, around 30 mins) whether Islamic State had “clandestine cells like they had in Brussels in places like Germany, England and Italy”. He said yes. In a subsequent question he said IS had “taken advantage, to some extent, of the migrant crisis in Europe”. Linking the two answers is seriously misleading, not least because the UK is not in Europe’s border-free Schengen Area.

The Mail Online reported Clapper’s conversation accurately but still contravened the IPSO code because it published a headline “not supported by the text”.

A Mail Online spokesman responded to InFacts, saying: “The headline summary of Mr Clapper’s comments was a matter of interpretation which was shared by many media outlets, and we disagree that their presentation was misleading…. However, in the interests of absolute clarity, we have added Mr Clapper’s comments regarding the migrant crisis to the article.”

But Mail Online has not changed its headline which is still not supported by the text.


Mail Online NHS story

3. “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, 3 April 2016

Where it appeared: Mail Online homepage, with similar story on page 2 of The Daily Mail the next day.

Why this is wrong: The Mail Online provides 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 data is provided by the Health & Social Care Information Centre, which does not record the nationality of patients.

The original Mail Online article did not name the source of the “report” referred to in the article headline. When contacted by InFacts, a Mail Online spokesman said the article “followed the publication of a story in The Sun, which we understand refers to research provided by Vote Leave. We have updated our article to make the source of our article clear.”


Mail Online Raab story

4. “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, 30 March 2016

Where it appeared: Website homepage

Why this is wrong: Dominic Raab, the pro-Brexit justice minister, never said the UK could “stop ten times more terror suspects” if it left the EU. 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).

A Mail Online spokesperson told InFacts: “We reported Dominic Raab’s comments accurately, attributing the comments to him clearly, and Mr Raab himself used ‘ten times more’ in relation to the numbers of people refused entry. Our article made clear that the Justice Minister was referring to suspected terrorists and criminals on a number of occasions and, while the headline focused on the terrorism aspect, we consider that readers would have understood the position in the whole context of the article.”

But Raab did not say that the UK could stop ten times more “terror suspects” if it left the EU. What’s more, the non-EU citizens stopped were not mainly, let alone all, terror suspects. Raab’s statistics compare apples with oranges. EU citizens can be refused entry only on “public policy, public security or public health” grounds. Citizens of other countries can be refused for many other reasons, most commonly ones preventing economic migration.

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Express asylum power grab

5. “Now EU wants asylum control”

“Madness as Brussels plots to tell us who can come and stay in our country.”
“Brussels chiefs last night unveiled plans to end Britain’s control over asylum seekers. They want a centralised EU asylum force with power to meddle in immigration policies of member states.”
Daily Express, 8 March 2016

Where it appeared: Front page splash

Why this is wrong: There was no Brussels plot “to tell us who can come and stay in our country”. Nor did Brussels chief unveil plans “to end Britain’s control over asylum seekers”. The Express was, instead, reacting to a story in the FT, which said the European Commission was examining ways to overhaul the EU’s asylum rules. The FT said: “The UK has an ‘opt-out’ on matters of justice and home affairs and would not be forced to join any new system” – which, indeed, it does have.

The fifth paragraph of the article mentions David Cameron’s vow to “opt out of the proposal”. This is immediately followed by lengthy quotes casting doubt from eurosceptics that the opt-out would hold. The opt-out is mentioned later in the article too, but this did little to correct the inaccuracies in the headline and earlier in the article.

The Express’s online edition  conceded the opt-out “theoretically”, but went on to suggest EU officials “may likely feel empowered to bully Britain into accepting the terms of any new asylum deal”. These baseless predictions proved unfounded on May 4 when the European Commission confirmed the UK had an opt-out from asylum reforms.


Express coastguard

6. “EU seeks control of our coasts”

“The EU has drawn up plans to seize control of the British coastguard service as it creates a Europe-wide border force.”
“Even with the British objections, the EU proposal would allow the 1,000-strong agency to prowl Britain’s coastline and ‘intervene directly’ if it felt that its borders were under threat. The EU could also deploy the service, which is expected to have a budget of £250 million by 2020, in the event of emergencies ‘even without the approval of the country concerned’.”
Express, 7 March 2016

Where it appeared: Website homepage

Why this is wrong: The EU had no plans to seek control of our coasts or seize control of the British coastguard service. Nor could its proposed border force intervene in the UK. Its proposals apply only to Schengen countries, which have already agreed to share borders, and so do not affect the UK which is not in Schengen. The European Commission fact sheet says: “This proposal would apply to the Schengen Member States, the Schengen associated states and those EU Member States which have not yet acceded to the Schengen area, but are bound to do so. The Agency will be able to intervene at the external borders of these States.”

At the bottom of the article, The Express quotes the immigration minister James Brokenshire saying: “Britain is not part of the Schengen area and, to be absolutely clear, we will not be part of an EU Border and Coast Guard.” But this quote did little to correct the inaccuracy in the headline, sub-head and earlier paragraphs.


Telegraph crime stats

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

The Telegraph, 17 February 2016

“Criminal convictions for EU migrants leap by 40% in five years: 700 found guilty every week in the UK but less than 20,000 foreign criminals have been deported”
Mail Online, 17 February 2016

“EU migrants convicted of 700 crimes each WEEK – but only thousands of them are deported”
Express, 17 February 2016

Where they appeared: Website homepages

Why this is wrong: All three stories misinterpret figures released by the National Police Chiefs’ Council after a freedom of information request by Jack Montgomery, press officer for Leave.EU, a pro-Leave campaign. In its letter releasing the numbers, the NPCC made clear they were “NOT conviction data”. Rather it looks at “notifications” by the UK to other countries when their citizens are convicted, appeal their convictions, break their court orders or if there are any other updates on their convictions.

The Telegraph did mention in the 14th paragraph of its story that ACRO, the body that oversees the exchange of criminal records “said that the figures include both convictions and ‘updates’ to convictions such as appeals and breaches of court orders.” Similarly, The Mail said in the 10th paragraph: “A notification also includes an appeal or a breach of a court order, said criminal records office ACRO.”  But these passages did little to correct the misleading headlines and earlier paragraphs.

In response to InFacts’ enquiries, a Daily Mail spokesman said: “We reported these statistics in the same way as other newspapers… The article made clear that the figures related to notifications which include breaches of court orders and appeals as well as convictions. Nevertheless, we have made some amendments to the online article to further clarify the position and will publish a clarification in the Daily Mail.”


Telegraph Abu Hamza story

8. “The daughter-in-law of Abu Hamza cannot be deported from Britain despite a criminal past because of human rights laws, an EU law chief has ruled.”

The Daily Telegraph, 6 February 2016

Where it appeared: Front page splash

Why this is wrong: There was no court ruling, just an opinion by one of the European Court of Justice’s advocates general, who added that under “exceptional circumstances” she could still be deported. Her case considers the impact her deportation may have on her young child, and remains undecided.

IPSO’s code says: “A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published.”

The press watchdog ruled The Telegraph’s story was “significantly misleading” and that this “demonstrated a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information”. It forced it to issue a correction, which appeared nearly three months after the original article was published and only on page 2.

InFacts hopes the newspapers will rapidly correct the other stories – or, if they don’t, that IPSO can fast-track its own investigations. Failure to do so would mean that the voters will not have factual information on which to base their decision on June 23.

Research by Sam Ashworth-Hayes and Jack Schickler

The section about the Mail’s response to InFacts’ questions was amended on May 20 to make clear that, although the Daily Mail publishes stories on the Mail Online, it has a different editorial team and that dialogue between it and InFacts was still ongoing at time of publication. The Daily Mail has since made a prominent correction in its print edition and changes online.

This article is being published simultaneously on The Guardian

Hugo Dixon is the author of The In/Out Question: Why Britain should stay in the EU and fight to make it better. Available here for £5 (paperback), £2.50 (e-book)

Edited by Alan Wheatley

17 Responses to “Press’ hateful 8 stories from Brexit debate”

    • ‘Reality’ calls this well argued, well researched and factual piece ‘tripe’. Desperately sad that facts cut no ice with some people. Has Boris’s bus which peddles the £350m per week falsehood been reported?

    • Excellent work but there is such an enormous back catalogue of lies and exaggerations that have swayed so many people. The IN campaign really needs to target these ‘non-dom’ tax exile press barons with full force. The distribution of good materials via social media is key for the younger generation – we just need to make sure that they act upon it! Thanks

    • I suspect that “Reality” is at this moment buying a timeshare on a South Pacific coral atoll because, in their mind, climate change is a hoax as well.

  • “Reality” says “Leftist tripe like this will destroy Britain”.

    OK …

    Clearly this person (can they be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act for their user name, by the way?) is more interested in pushing their prejudiced and warped views that Britain will be better out of the EU.

    Whether or not that is the case, surely the Leave/Remain decision should be made by the people of Britain in full possession of the facts, not on the basis of drip-fed lies, half truths and misrepresentations – from either side.

    InFacts have challenged, seemingly on very good grounds, the information and statistics included in certain biased newspaper reports. This must surely take the argument forward.

    Let’s be in full possession of all the relevant facts pertaining to the EU before we make our decision in five weeks’ time.

    InFacts, like Full Fact, are merely seeking to ascertain what these facts are. What’s to be scared of?

    Just like Charles Dickens’s character Thomas Gradgrind: “What I want is Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life . . . You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts but at the same time do the wise thing and the kind thing too, and make the best of us and not the worst.”

  • ‘In Facts’ would invite greater credibility if it scrutinised The Guardian and other leftist papers as well as the centre-right newspapers criticised.
    Misleading headlines and manipulated facts in the text are equally common in Guardian etc. Also there are the sins of omission…not featuring events or statements that work against the ideological standpoint of Guardian et al.
    We should not be surprised, Castro, Guavara, Stalin, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and the whole shabby army of the left manufactured blatant lies as propaganda. The justification was always: If we can win with lies, don’t chance losing with the truth.

    • Thomas Higson: Why don’t you find the factual lies and distortions in The Guardian, seeing as you seem to know what they are? Then you nail them like InFacts is doing. Then fair-minded people will read them and take them into account.
      Tell you what, though. It would be helpful not to conflate left-wing discourse in this country with totalitarianism otherwise people might think that YOU are a bit biased (you know, like Hitler and Goebbels and “the whole shabby army of the right manufactured blatant lies as propaganda”) and judge you accordingly.

  • “Leftish tripe like this,” is setting the record straight, after the vested interests have spread their lies to the badly informed.

  • The News papers are of little relevance, all the info you need is online where you can form your own unbiased opinion.

    • I agree. The trouble is there are a few million people in this country who DON’T research things for themselves [such as by reading this site] but swallow whole the lies and distortions from a press that is largely owned and directed by very right-wing multi-millionaires. Their papers talk the patriotism talk but they aren’t even domiciled in this country – one of them is not even British in any shape or form so why he showers us with his US-OZ blend of golden propaganda I have no idea.

  • Rational thought is not a feature of this campaign so far in the mass media. The acid test for InFacts is whether reporting all the above to IPSO will make seasoned analysis a feature of the campaign. I fear not. It might provoke someone to ask for the detailed basis on how it was calculated (with workings) that 3 million UK jobs depend on the EU. Or how it was decided that GDP would fall by any given amount if we left the EU. Using either of these “facts” alone to vote Remain would not be valid. If we Remain, the economic effect will be important but it is disputed.

    The Economist wrote a good article about this because whilst most people expect that BREXIT would reduce GDP, the amount by which it would be reduced varied widely. The Economist then produced an excellent article on GDP showing that most people who quote the figures haven’t the faintest idea what GDP means.
    http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21697845-gross-domestic-product-gdp-increasingly-poor-measure-prosperity-it-not-even
    and http://www.economist.com/news/britain/21696517-most-estimates-lost-income-are-small-risk-bigger-losses-large-economic.

    Defence, security and human rights are also important. In this regard there would be 27 of them and only 1 of us if we left. Remaining keeps us on the inside of a club of 28 of which we are currently a member when, if we left, the other 27 would still have the club by which we would be affected with no influence.

    All the facts vaunted in this increasingly over-heated debate relate to the past as there are no facts about the future. If IPSO makes a favourable finding for the newspapers we criticise, that will be a great victory for BREXITeers in which our noses will be rubbed unmercifully.

    Even the recent IPSO finding on the outrageous abuse of Privy Council terms by the Sun in trying to drag the Queen into it should give no satisfaction to the Remain side of the EU debate as all they found was that the headline was not justified by the text. The Privy Councillor who is alleged to have breached the oath of office was never unmasked.

    By the time IPSO has been politicised with articles in the press favourable to Remain under complaint from Leave, the referendum result will be irrelevant as the UK will be ungovernable.

  • And what is wrong with tripe? A nutritious and satisfying dish. Please serve us more of the same. How should the offerings which you highlight from the Mail, the Telegraph and the Express be described?

  • Point Three I find very amusing about extra number of immigrants putting more pressure on the NHS. You say this is wrong as the daily mail provides no evidence? Maybe if you stopped burying your heads and looked at what goes on around you, you might start to realise that, the rapid and large increasing population IS putting health services under strain. Has anyone here found it easy to make an appointment to see their GP? Or been stuck in a corridor in A&E for over 4 hrs before being seen by anyone. Maybe there was very little traffic and you failed to see all the junior doctors protesting outside your local hospital? Maybe the sound goes off your TV when ambulance services are told about failing to reach target times. Still I’m sure you all have private health care, it’s just the normal hard working class British who will suffer, so why should you care? I really hope whoever dreamt up his argument (hehe), never finds they or close loved ones, in a bad circumstance where they need to rely on health services, or perhaps they get made redundant, but find there just aren’t as many job opportunities that pay a decent wage, and have much less pleasant working conditions. Maybe though, if that did happen, you’d realise it’s time to wake up and realise we are at a crisis point

    • Yes. I have experienced GP and NHS systems. I couldn’t get a GP appointment because they changed practice rules due to funding cuts from local health board, and I did wait 6 hours in the hospital because there wasn’t enough doctors on duty because they could not afford to hire – instead they relied on low wage hourly paid nurses, many of whom were not UK and was their second job. The only failure on the NHS here is self inflicted poor management

      • Gareth, the NHS does NOT have self.inflicted problems; they are Govt inflicted and unnessesary, unqualified and tiered managent structures. Furthermore, if you meet a non anglo Saxon in A& E to they are most likely to b treating you.