Sun editor Tony Gallagher has said that a "smear operation" is seeking to suggest Justice Secretary Michael Gove is the source of the paper's 'Queen backs Brexit' front page.
And he has revealed to ITV News that Buckingham Palace was given ample opportunity to deny the story in advance of publication.
The paper is facing an unprecedented Independent Press Standards Organisation complaint from The Queen who claims the story is untrue.
The story was based on anonymous sources who have provided an account of a meeting between politicians and the Queen.
Information from the court circular suggests that the comments were made at a lunchtime meeting between the Queen and four politicians in April 2011.
Two of the four politicians present — the Liberal Democrats Mr Clegg and Tom McNally — have reportedly denied being The Sun’s source. The other two, pro Brexit Conservatives Michael Gove and Cheryl Gillan — have declined to comment.
The story appeared three days after Rupert Murdoch's wedding, which justice secretary Gove attended.
Here is the transcript of ITV political editor Robert Peston's interview with Sun editor Tony Gallagher:
RP: Buckingham Palace is saying your story about the Queen backing Brexit is misleading and inaccurate. Are the Royal flunkies telling porkies?
TG: Our story is completely accurate and we stand by everything we have printed. We double sourced the story and we think it is a fair reflection of the Queen's views.
RP: The piece itself was to a large extent about a lunch in 2011 when the Queen reportedly made some very critical remarks about the European Union. Aren't you making a bit of a leap from those critical remarks to her backing us leaving the EU?
TG: I don't think so. You have to bear in mind the recall of the event was very detailed by one of our sources. And it's not the first time or indeed the last time the Queen has uttered critical remarks about the European Union. It's clear that our story had more than one source. We had [details of] a second event at Buckingham Palace where the Queen uttered very critical remarks about the European Union. Indeed I'm reminded today that if you go back to political diaries of the 1970s, the Queen was very critical of the European Union then, in public and private events, where she thought her views wouldn't necessarily be quoted. I think the story has a fair amount of substance.
RP: You said you know more than you printed, are you going to print some more on this?
TG: I'm not sure. We do know more than we've printed. Part of the reason why we didn't put all of that in the public domain was to protect our sources. We do reserve the right to use some of that information. I haven't yet decided whether we are or whether we are not going to do that. We will defend ourselves very very stoutly and our position remains extremely strong. It's worth pointing out I think, although the Palace might be upset, they didn't deny the story when they had ample opportunity to do so, the day before we published.
RP: So you did give them detail about the story before you published?
TG: Yes, both they and Nick Clegg had ample opportunity to deny the story and they declined to do so. They have obviously released more robust statements once they saw the coverage the story got. But in advance they issued very careful statements which rather fell short of a full denial in my opinion.
RP: Much of the world believes your source to be the Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, was it?
TG: They can believe what they like. We would never reveal who our sources are. I think it's interesting to note that there is clearly a smear operation underway at the moment and an attempt to identify Michael Gove. It wouldn't take too much of a cynic to assume that part of the reason for that is the desire to remove him as a leading light in the Leave campaign. And I think it's worth putting into the public domain that among those circulating the idea that it is Michael Gove are people close to Nick Clegg… I think Nick Clegg has questions to answer because he's gone from being 'I don't recollect this event' to 'it's nonsense' to now being certain it's Michael Gove. So which is it? I think he has to answer that.
RP: Now there are some, like the prominent MP Nicholas Soames, who think that members of the Privy Council breached the oath of secrecy in talking to you. Do you think that's right?
TG: I've no idea. The idea that there is some kind of Ruritanian anonymity for the Queen is for the birds. I mean the Queen's views on a whole range of matters have been known for decades. Back in 1986 The Times highlighted she was at odds with Margaret Thatcher. She questioned economists about their failure to spot the financial crisis. She made those coded remarks about the Scottish Referendum. She's regularly telling ministers about her view on matters. The idea that she doesn't have opinions does her a disservice I think. We're journalists, we just have to put these things in the public domain and I'm not a member of the Privy Council so I'm not bound by those oaths.
RP: The Sun hasn't been the greatest fan of the Royal Family in recent years, do you think your readers care about what the Queen thinks about this?
TG: Oh the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive. They are very engaged in the European Debate, we get more letters and emails about it than any other particular subject. And the fuss that it has generated would tell you that it's highly important to our readers.
RP: And so for the Sun, are you an admirer of the Queen for taking this stand?
TG: I think it's marvellous that we are hearing what the Queen's views are. And I think the idea that she should be shielded from publicity and the idea she should be shielded from what she really thinks is nonsense. And by the way, ministers are pretty candid about telling us what the Queen tells them. We've recounted in today's paper the fact that when David Cameron was picked up on his remarks about how the Queen purred with delight when the Scottish referendum vote had gone in his favour, I can catalogue a conversation I had in recent times when a very senior minister told me that the Queen wanted to give Cameron six of the best for that. So the idea that we don't know the Queen's views on a range of issues I think is entirely wrong and people should welcome the opportunity to hear what she has to say.
RP: This is a pretty big test for the media watchdog IPSO. If they find against you, is your job on the line?
TG: Look, IPSO will have to do what it does and we will have to report it faithfully. I don't think my job is on the line, whatsoever. What we will have to do is abide by the IPSO code, which we do and if they find against us we'll report it quite faithfully. They've found against us already and we've reported it quite faithfully. It's what we do.