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November 17, 2017updated 22 Nov 2017 12:53pm

The Express was a repeat offender when it came to misleading press coverage ahead of UK ‘s vote to leave the European Union

By Dominic Ponsford

The UK newspaper industry has latched on to the issue of “fake news” as a way to trumpet its strengths.

Earlier this year press trade body the News Media Association launched the the Fighting Fake News campaign to highlight the importance of professionally produced journalism.

It is true that society would be in a sorry state if we only had social media to rely on for information, plagued as it is by dark ads and malicious Russia-based fake accounts.

But we also have to acknowledge another truth. This is that when it came to the 2016 vote on Britain leaving the EU much of the misinformation came from the press.

This wasn’t fake news. I would define that as cynically manufactured stories, such as “Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump for President”.

Thankfully, fake news in its purest sense is not an issue yet in the UK. But misleading news, published by  biased news outlets, was in evidence ahead of the EU vote.

In the run-up to the June 2016 EU Referendum, Press Gazette’s research found that news coverage in The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph was heavily biased towards stories which favoured the Leave campaign.

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This meant that overall, national press coverage was strongly biased in favour of Leave.

Unlike broadcasters, whose impartiality is guaranteed by law, newspapers pick stories to appeal to their particular readerships. Which true stories newspapers choose to cover is not something that any regulator could or should control.

Accuracy, however, is within the remit of press regulator IPSO.

In the run-up to the EU referendum I’ve managed to find 25 news stories which were the subject of IPSO complaints. Of these, nine were seriously misleading (in my view) and four were misleading.

The stories which got it wrong were all published by The Sun, Daily Express, Daily Telegraph and Mail Online.

Interestingly, even though the Daily Mail is blamed by many for coverage which fuelled the UK’s vote to leave the EU – I could find no instances in the run up to the vote where it published stories which were misleading.

All of the 25 complained-about stories put the EU in a negative light.

By far the worst offender was the Daily Express and its website which, between them, published eight misleading negative stories about the EU.

The Sun was the next worst offender with two seriously misleading stories, including the QUEEN BACKS BREXIT front page claim which IPSO found was not justified by the content of the story.

It must be said that many of the articles which pro-EU campaign group In Facts complained about to IPSO were later cleared.

Seriously misleading Misleading Partially misleading
Daily Express 3 2 2 1
The Sun 2
Mail Online 1 2
Daily Telegraph  1 1

Given the huge amount of Brexit coverage there has been, the number of stories which included serious errors was relatively small.

But that said the anti-EU Daily Express does appear to have been a repeat offender.

IPSO is supposed to be tougher than the old Press Complaints Commission because it has the power to investigate wrongdoing and fine members up to £1m.

Yet in three years it has not launched any investigations.

It says: “IPSO can undertake a standards investigation to investigate where it has serious concerns about the behaviour or actions of one or more of its members.”

Given the impact the EU referndum has had on all our lives, and the repeated nature of the misleading coverage at the Express, it is difficult to understand why IPSO does not have serious concerns about this issue.

The 25 anti-EU stories which prompted IPSO complaints in the run up to the 2016 referendum:

  • Daily Express, 12 November 2015

75 % of new jobs go to EU migrants in one year

The page-two article reported figures from the Office of National Statistics. The complainant said that the vast majority of new jobs went to people born in the UK. He said the figure refers to changes in employment rather than new jobs.

The Express corrected the story: “The figures referred to, published by the Office for National Statistics, refer to net changes in employment and not to the number of people entering employment, or new jobs. The figures showed that the number of UK Nationals in employment increased by 122,000 compared to an increase of 324,000 in non-UK EU nationals.”


  • Daily Express, 18 January 2016

Europe’s leaders have no plan to cut immigration

The article claimed there was an “annual tidal wave of 228,000 non-EU migrants who use European passports to gain access to Britain”.
The online version of the article was amended on 4 March to reflect that the 228,000 figure was not an annual one, but referred to the total number of EU citizens born outside the EU living in Britain.
On 19 April, IPSO ordered the Express to also issue a print correction for the error.


  •, 29 January 2016

Now European Union bureaucrats could make Britons put out SEVEN bins every week 

Peter Jones complained that the article reported an academic study commissioned by the European Union has if it were policy. The complaint was resolved via IPSO when the Express agreed to take the story down just after a month later.


  • Daily Telegraph, 6 February 2016

Abu Hamza and the latest blow to British Sovereignty 

This front-page story stated that an ‘EU law chief’ had ruled that the daughter-in-law of a terrorist could not be deported from the UK.
The complaint was upheld by IPSO just over two months later and resolved by the Telegraph publishing a correction on page two and amending the online version of the article. The correction reflects that this was an opinion of the EU advocate general, rather than ruling that would be applied to the UK.


  • The Telegraph website, 17 February 2016

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

  • Mail Online, 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 

  • Express website, 17 February 2016

EU migrants convicted of 700 crimes each WEEK – but only thousands of them are deported –

In Facts said the stories were misleading because they did not make clear that they were not based on conviction data, but were “convictions and ‘updates’ to convictions such as appeals and breaches of court orders”.


  • Daily Express, 8 March 2016

Now EU wants asylum control – Madness as Brussels plots to tell us who can come and stay in our country

In Facts said this front-page story was a follow-up from a piece in the FT and was misleading because it did not make clear David Cameron had promised to opt out of the European Commission proposal.

Article amended on 20 June 2016 to make clear the UK has an opt out and would not be forced to join any new system.


  • Daily Express website, 7 March 2016

EU seeks control of our coasts

The Express said: “The EU has drawn up plans to seize control of the British coastguard service as it creates a Europe-wide border force.”

In Facts said the European Commission proposals only applied to Shengen area countries (so not the UK).

IPSO ruled the article was not misleading: “As a member of the EU, there was a possibility that the UK could be subject to these new proposals.”



  • The Sun, 9 March 2016

The Queen backs Brexit

Following a complaint from Buckingham Palace over this front-page story, IPSO ruled that it was “significantly misleading”. The Sun was forced to publish the adjudication setting this out on page two, with a small mention of the correction on page one.


  • Mail Online, 30 March 2016

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’

In Facts said: “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.” It also said that not all those stopped were terror suspects, so the headline was wrong.

Mail Online has since changed the headline to say: “Britain has stopped 67,000 non-EU nationals from entering the country but only 6,000 EU nationals, justice minister says as he blasts EU rules for allowing terrorists to ‘waltz into Britain’”.


  • Mail Online, 3 April 2o16

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

In Facts said the extra patients figure quoted included increases due to life expectancy and migration from outside the EU.

After being contacted by In Facts Mail Online changed the headline to read: “Figures show strain on NHS as doctors take on 1.5million extra patients in just three years – with Vote Leave campaigners blaming rise in EU migrants.”



  • The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2016

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

  • Mail Online, 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

  • Express, 27 April 2016

EU free movement has allowed ISIS sleeper cells into the UK, warns security chief

The complaints were dismissed by IPSO.



  • The Daily Telegraph, 13 May

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 

  • Daily Express, 13 May

Britain’s 1.5 million hidden migrants

In Facts said this story added five years’ worth of “short-term vistors” to the ONS estimate of long-term migrants. It said: “To add the two numbers together for five years in a row is nonsense since short-term visitors leave within a year.”

IPSO dismissed both complaints saying “it was not misleading to add together five years’ worth of data for short-term EU migrants, where the article made clear that these individuals intended to stay for less than a year”.


  • The Daily Telegraph, 15 May

EU citizens may face deportation threat after Brexit


  • Daily Express, 16 May

Project fear: ‘Three million EU citizens in Britain to be KICKED OUT if UK  votes Brexit’ 


The stories were based on this statement from Lord Keen: “UK citizens get the right to live and work in the other 27 member states from our membership of the EU. If the UK voted to leave the EU, the Government would do all it could to secure a positive outcome for the country, but there would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained.”

Complaints did not proceed to IPSO ruling.


  • Daily Express, 16 May

Soaring cost of teaching migrant children – £3 BILLION bill ‘another reason to quit EU 

This story quoted government figures which show 700,000 school-aged children had had least one parent who was a citizen of another European Economic Area country.

In Facts said it was innaccurate to call these children migrants: “Such a definition would include Nigel Farage’s children with his German wife. Even children with two parents from another EEA country would not be ‘migrant children’ if they were born in Britain.

Complaint resolved after the Express corrected the story.



  • The Sun, 19 May

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

This story said that out of a 414,000 rise in employment, 80 per cent of jobs went to foreign-born workers (according to the ONS).

In Facts said that 414,000 figure “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 per cent, according to London School of Economics’ Jonathan Wadsworth.”

IPSO upheld the complaint saying: “The article had given the significantly misleading impression that the ONS figures had indicated that a specific proportion of new jobs in the economy had been taken by foreign-born workers in the past year.”



  • Daily Mail, 20 May

Migrants spark housing crisis

Front-page story saying that “Britain has been ordered by Brussels to build more houses – to cope with all the EU immigrants”.

In Facts noted this was based on a published recommendation from the European Council, and was not an order.

IPSO rejected the complaint.


  • Express website, 23 May

NHS will be £10 BILLION in the red in three years time – creaking under weight of migrants

In Facts: “The basis for the £10 billion shortfall is a report by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, which does not mention migration… The article does contain a separate claim that the NHS is creaking under the weight of migrants, but this is from Vote Leave.”

The article was later corrected: “The headline originally linked the reported £10 Billion NHS deficit to immigration. In fact the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy revealed that the NHS is likely to exceed its budget by £10 Billion a year due to it not making its planned efficiency savings.”


  • The Times, 27 May

EU army plans kept secret from voters

Front-page story followed up by Mail Online and Express websites quotes plans drawn up by the EU’s foreign policy chief for “new European military and operational structures, including a headquarters”.

In Facts said the headline was misleading because it suggested combined military forces under a single command.

The Times told InFacts: “Headlines are not read in isolation… The term ‘EU army’ is a common, and in our view reasonable, headline shorthand for the ‘permanent structured defence cooperation’ in question.”


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