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Sun newspaper stands by 'Queen backs Brexit' claim after Palace complaint

Published 09/03/2016

The Sun has said it stands by its story about the Queen voicing strong Eurosceptic views after Buckingham Palace said it has written to the press watchdog to register a complaint over the claims.

The newspaper said the Queen vented her anger with Brussels at the pro-EU former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg during a lunch at Windsor Castle in 2011.

In a statement, the Sun said: "The Sun stands by its story, which was based upon two impeccable sources and presented in a robust, accessible fashion. The Sun will defend this complaint vigorously."

A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "We can confirm that we have this morning written to the chairman of the Independent Press Standards Organisation to register a complaint about the front page story in today's Sun newspaper.

"The complaint relates to Clause 1 of the Editors' Code of Practice."

Clause 1 in the code relates to accuracy and states: "The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text."

It requires that "significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published".

The Sun's front page headline read: "Queen backs Brexit" and the paper quoted a ''senior source'' as saying that people who heard their conversation ''were left in no doubt at all about the Queen's views on European integration''.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Mr Clegg dismissed the report as ''nonsense'', while the Palace said: "The Queen remains politically neutral, as she has for 63 years.

''We will not comment on spurious, anonymously sourced claims. The referendum is a matter for the British people to decide.''

The rare move by the Palace illustrates the frustration within the Royal Household at the Queen being drawn into a political row.

This is the first time a complaint has been registered by the Palace about or on behalf of the Queen with Ipso, the independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry, which was set up in 2014.

In 2012, Clarence House contacted the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) after mobile phone images of Prince Harry naked in a Las Vegas hotel room were widely circulated online.

In 1999, the Palace made a formal complaint to the PCC about the publication of a topless picture of Sophie Rhys-Jones - now the Countess of Wessex.

Constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bognador told the Press Association it was "absurd" that the Queen would break from her tradition of political impartiality after decades as monarch.

"I'm very dubious. The Queen speaks and acts on the advice of ministers," Prof Bognador said.

He added: "The Queen's been on the throne for over 60 years. She's acted constitutionally throughout. It's absurd to suggest that now she would break from that tradition."

The source quoted by the Sun said people who heard the lunch conversation "were left in no doubt at all about the Queen's views on European integration".

"It was really something, and it went on for quite a while. The EU is clearly something Her Majesty feels passionately about," the source was quoted as saying.

But Mr Clegg told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "It is not true. I have certainly, absolutely no recollection of a conversation like that, which I suspect I would have remembered if it had taken place."

And he added: "I just think it's wrong that people who want to take us out of the European Union to now try and drag the Queen for their own purposes into this European referendum debate."

Labour MP Wes Streeting has written to Whitehall's top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, to demand an investigation into whether the Queen's supposed comments were leaked by members of the Government attending Privy Council.

A spokesman for Mr Clegg confirmed that the former deputy prime minister had lunch with the Queen on a number of occasions during his five years in office, but was unable to say how many of them took place during 2011.

In his role as president of the Privy Council, he attended nine meetings of the body at which the Queen was present during 2011, including one at Windsor Castle on April 7.

It is not clear whether this meeting included the lunch reported in the Sun. Privy Council meetings often take place in the late afternoon and do not usually involve a meal. But a court circular records that the April meeting happened at 12.40pm, leaving open the possibility - which has not been confirmed - that the Queen may have invited her guests to lunch before or after the formal session.

Also present at the April 7 meeting were fellow privy councillors Michael Gove and Cheryl Gillan - both advocates of a vote to leave the EU in the June 23 referendum - as well as Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally.

Asked whether Mr Gove had any recollection of discussions taking place at that meeting, a spokeswoman for the then education secretary told the Press Association: "We don't comment on private conversations with the Queen."

A spokeswoman for Ms Gillan - who was Welsh secretary at the time - said: "Ms Gillan has no comment to make on Privy Council matters."

In his letter, Mr Streeting told Sir Jeremy: "If anyone present at the meeting in question were found to have disclosed information about what was discussed it would be an extremely serious breach of the rules of the Privy Council, and this possibility should therefore be thoroughly investigated and acted on accordingly.

"If it is found that none of those who were present at the meeting in questions are implicated, I urge you to establish which 'impeccably placed' individuals were involved in making such allegations to a national newspaper."

The Ilford North MP told the Press Association: "From my reading of the report, I think it is very clear that it is suggested that one or two senior members of the Privy Council - who may or may not still be in the Government - may have been involved, and I think Sir Jeremy has a duty to investigate.

"Whoever has sought to drag the monarch into the referendum debate for their own ends ought to be dragged into public to explain why they behaved in such an inappropriate way, and to apologise."

Mr Streeting said it was impossible for readers to judge the "veracity" of reports of the Queen's comments, which should have remained private. It was "unconstitutional and unfortunate" for her to be forced into a political row in this way, he said.

The letter was written by Mr Streeting on his own initiative, and not on behalf of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. A source close to Mr Corbyn said: "We are not calling for an investigation. Wes has written a letter. It will be interesting to see the response."

A senior Downing Street source declined to comment on the report, saying only that the Palace and Mr Clegg had already made statements.

Mr Cameron spoke with Mr Gove on Wednesday morning, but it is understood that their conversation revolved around preparations for Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, rather than the row over the Queen's alleged comments. The Justice Secretary was not present for the weekly PMQs session.

One Conservative MP backing UK withdrawal from the EU said he was "uneasy" about apparent efforts to use the Queen's supposed opinions to influence the referendum vote.

Conor Burns tweeted: "I'm more than slightly uneasy by attempts to try and drag the Queen into EU debate. Monarch shouldn't be used in divisive political debate."

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