It has emerged that the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to have Paul Dacre, the editor of the Daily Mail newspaper, sacked over Brexit coverage.
The Daily Mail is one of the most popular, and most well-read, newspapers in the UK. It has also been confidently anti-EU both before and after the Brexit referendum of June 2016.
On Tuesday the BBC reported that after returning from negotiating a new deal for the UK in the EU, the then-Prime Minister had asked the Eurosceptic Dacre to tone down his coverage. Dacre, who has been known for his distrust of Brussels for over 20 years, refused.
However, Cameron was not finished. He later approached the paper’s owner, Lord Rothermere, a known backer of the ‘Remain’ campaign. A spokesperson for the 4th Viscount of Rothermere, the 4th generation of the Harmsworth family to own both that title and the Daily Mail newspaper, refused to confirm or deny whether Cameron had indeed approached the press baron over the issue.
The spokesperson made it clear that this incident was not the first time Lord Rothermere had been approached by a Prime Minister over the editorial choices of his newspapers. During the Leveson Inquiry into the practices of the British press, Rothermere made it clear that he “does not interfere with the editorial policies of his papers”.Personalities behind the headlines
This story is not simply a political one. It is a personal one too.
When the Conservative Party was in need of a new leader in 2005, the Daily Mail supported a marked Europhile, Ken Clarke. But the Mail, and Dacre, changed its tune as Cameron’s public popularity grew, and he won the internal election.
This was not an easy relationship, however, with some of Cameron’s modernist, socially liberal ideas such as supporting gay marriage, earning the ire of Dacre and the Mail’s readership, says the BBC.
By approaching Dacre and asking for an easing of the Mail’s editorial line on Brexit, Cameron only succeeded in damaging this relationship further.
Only a year prior to the Brexit vote, the Mail had strongly backed the Conservatives at the 2015 General Election. After a failed Downing Street meeting, Dacre reportedly wouldn’t even take Cameron’s phone calls.
When Dacre was told by a Westminster source that Cameron had spoken to his employer about removing him, Dacre was reportedly “incandescent” and it is said that his resolve to see the UK leave the EU was “stiffened”.
Almost immediately after losing the EU Referendum, David Cameron stood down as Prime Minister, and not long after, relinquished his parliamentary seat entirely.
Paul Dacre remains editor of the Daily Mail.
What they say
Dacre has not commented on the specific claims that the Prime Minister attempted to have him dismissed. But in a statement he said that: “For 25 years, I have been given the freedom to edit the Mail on behalf of its readers without interference from (Lord) Jonathan Rothermere, or his father. It has been a great joy and privilege”.
A spokesperson for Cameron: “It is wrong to suggest that David Cameron believed he could determine who edits the Daily Mail. It is a matter of public record that he made the case that it was wrong for newspapers to argue that we give up our membership of the EU”.
Notable by its absence is Dacre’s, Cameron’s, or Rothermere’s denial that these conversations took place, or that Cameron did indeed ask Rothermere to end Dacre’s editorial reign.