The newspapers on Brexit: betrayal, pragmatism or a leap of faith

Publications play to their readerships as Brexit deal goes to Commons vote

Daily newspapers have played a key role in shaping the debate on Brexit

Daily newspapers have played a key role in shaping the debate on Brexit


The United Kingdom’s national daily newspapers have played a key role in shaping the debate on Brexit. This is what they have said in their editorial columns – and on Tuesday’s front pages – regarding Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal with Brussels on leaving the EU.

The Sun

The Sun is highly critical of Theresa May’s deal but has so far stopped short of formally endorsing a no-deal exit from the EU.

Instead, it has suggested that any attempt by remainers to pursue a softer Brexit would be seen as a betrayal of the EU referendum result, cause the government to collapse, and give control of Downing Street to Jeremy Corbyn’s “anti-western Marxist rabble”.

“If this remainer-stuffed government nullifies or destroys Brexit they can kiss goodbye to their jobs and their party,” the paper’s editorial said last week.

On Tuesday, the paper kicks the can a little further down the road, choosing to focus on a suggestion the prime minister believes she could force a second vote if she loses. Notably, the story is not the most prominent on the Sun’s front.

The Daily Mail

Since remain-supporting Geordie Greig took over the editorship from Paul Dacre in September, the Daily Mail has stuck closely to the Downing Street line on Brexit and backed May’s deal with

Brussels as a solution to the “looming shambles” of a no-deal exit. The newspaper has repeatedly warned against attempts to overturn the result while insisting that a Corbyn government is the real threat to Britain’s future.

The front of Tuesday’s edition is dominated by a clarion call – not an uncommon occurrence for the paper when the stakes are high – for MPs to back the “imperfect” deal. It is time to focus on other matters, the paper says, denouncing the parlous state of some of the country’s public services and infrastructure.

Greig’s former paper, the Mail on Sunday, has taken a pro-Brexit stance under its new editor, Ted Verity, albeit making it clear that “we cannot leave without a deal”.

The Daily Telegraph

The pro-Brexit newspaper owned by the Barclay brothers has been strongly critical of May’s deal, warning that any attempt to delay Britain’s exit from the EU would result in political radicalisation and a possible Corbyn government. On Tuesday, the paper is another to carry an editorial on its front, albeit only a short extract, in which it says it regrets having to oppose a Tory prime minister, but feels it has no choice. It would be a “historic mistake” to endorse this “dreadful deal”, the paper says.

Its sister paper, the Sunday Telegraph, went further, describing it as an “appalling, misconceived” proposal: “Not only should MPs vote against the withdrawal agreement on Tuesday, but they must vote against it in large enough numbers to kill it dead, otherwise Theresa May will just keep bringing it back to the Commons until she gets her way”.

The Times

The newspaper backed remain during the referendum but is now firmly behind May’s deal as a way of avoiding a chaotic exit at the end of March.

“Her deal is not perfect but it would allow Britain to make an orderly withdrawal from the EU,” its editorial said on Monday, citing the commitment to guaranteeing citizens’ rights and meeting existing financial obligations. But its splash acknowledges that May is expected to suffer a heavy defeat.

The Guardian

The Guardian has described the prime minister’s proposal as “a leap of faith, and scarcely more acceptable than no deal at all”, insisting it should be explicitly rejected, with the article 50 process paused and Brexit put on hold.

Its editorial said last week: “MPs should then open up the debate to the country: first, by establishing a citizens’ assembly to examine the options and issues that face the nation; and second, by giving parliament the right, if it so chooses, to put these alternatives in a referendum this year or next.”

Daily Express

The Daily Express is the staunchest backer of Brexit among the national papers but has also been a staunch backer of Theresa May’s deal with Brussels – being rewarded with interviews with the prime minister and additional briefings from Downing Street. The newspaper has said the current proposal is “far from perfect” but is the best offer on the table.

“We want hard-nosed pragmatism to win the day,” the paper said, while urging the EU to make further concessions to help the deal pass the House of Commons.

Daily Mirror

The Labour-supporting tabloid has trodden a careful line on Brexit, potentially because its readership is split down the middle on the question of leave and remain, according to YouGov polling commissioned by the People’s Vote campaign.

It has endorsed the so-called Norway option of close alignment with the EU, believing it to be the least bad form of Brexit. Although the paper won’t rule out a second referendum and would like a general election, it does not think the latter is likely in the near future.

Financial Times

The financial paper originally backed Theresa May’s deal, describing it as “imperfect but ultimately pragmatic” – a decision which earned the newspaper criticism from remain campaigners such as Andrew Adonis, who claim it is taking orders from its Japanese owners Nikkei. – Guardian


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