Julie Burchill: Her apology, publisher problems and history of weird ideas about Ireland

The British columnist apologised this week for ‘racist comments’. It didn’t end there

Julie Burchill: had a week filled with controversy. Photograph: Getty

Julie Burchill: had a week filled with controversy. Photograph: Getty


Julie Burchill? Isn’t she the English journalist with some weird ideas about Irish people?
You could say that. Writing in the Guardian in 2002, she described our national flag as “the Hitler-licking, altar boy molesting, abortion banning Irish Tricolour”. The Guardian denied the comments were anti-Irish and said that Burchill “both irritates and exhilarates her readers”.

Stay classy, Guardian. But that was nearly 20 years ago. Seems a bit late to be miffed about it.
This has nothing to do with us, for once. Burchill has been an enfant terrible of British journalism since beginning her career with the NME in the 1970s. Always contrarian, in recent decades her views have lurched further and further to the right. And on Tuesday Burchill publicly apologised for her “racist and misogynist” comments about Muslim journalist Ash Sarkar. She also agreed to pay “substantial damages”.

“I do not believe, have never believed and never intended to make any allegation that Ms Sarkar is a promoter, supporter and/or sympathiser of Islamists or fundamentalist terrorism or to suggest that Ms Sarkar condones paedophilia in any way.” Burchill asked her social media followers to share her apology.

What were the comments?
This drama unfolded not in the pages of a newspaper but – where else? – on social media. In December Burchill published a number of social media posts to and about Sarkar. It began when Sarkar, a senior editor at the “left-wing alternative media organisation” Novara Media, criticised a 2012 Spectator magazine article by Rod Liddle, a friend of Burchill’s.

Okay, this is going a bit Line of Duty. Should I be taking notes? What was the article about?
Liddle wrote that, if he were a teacher, he “could not remotely conceive of not trying to shag the kids”. Sarkar tweeted a screenshot of the piece, saying she initially thought it “must be a parody”. Burchill weighed in on Sarkar’s timeline, inviting her Facebook followers to “wade in on Twitter” against “the Islamists” and “nonces”. And then she wrote a “poem” about Sarkar that included a reference to a “a gender fluid threesome with Marine Le Pen”.

There are no words.
There is one word: “Sorry.” On Tuesday this week, Burchill issued an apology in which she said she “deeply regretted” her actions. “On reflection, I accept that I misjudged the situation, and made statements that simply are not true, which I now want to put right,” she said.

So that’s settled then and everybody lived happily ever after.
Not quite. The controversy prompted a huge debate in the UK about free speech, cancel culture, racism and religious intolerance. One of the more immediate consequences in December was that Burchill’s publisher cancelled her book contract. Little, Brown said it would not publish Welcome to the Woke Trials: How #Identity Killed Progressive Politics, because of her comments that “crossed a line with regard to race and religion”.

Had Little, Brown thought that a book called Welcome to the Woke Trials would be brimming with peace, love and understanding?
Whatever they thought, the book was pulled. Until this Monday, when it was announced that an independent Scottish publisher, Stirling Publishing, would put it out instead.

So the week wasn’t a complete disaster for Burchill.
Well, she might disagree with you there. On Tuesday, the same day she issued her apology, Burchill announced she was dropping the publisher after the owner of Stirling, Tabatha Stirling, was identified as a supporter of the UK white-nationalist group Patriotic Alternative.

More great publicity for Julie Burchill!
In a video obtained by – oh, irony of ironies – the Guardian, Tabatha Stirling says: “I am an author. Nothing else to hide. Always been very conservative, been a nationalist, now ethno-nationalist.” Burchill has moved to distance herself from Stirling, saying: “I have always been against racism in all forms, so am terminating my contract with Stirling Publishing with immediate effect.”