The Sun has stepped up its battle with Buckingham Palace over its report about the Queen’s alleged Euroscepticism by claiming it knows more than it has published, while David Cameron has ruled out an official inquiry.
The paper’s editor, Tony Gallagher, robustly stood by the paper’s story on Wednesday that the Queen had vented her anger during a lunch at Windsor Castle in 2011, and suggested she had voiced similar views on at least one other occasion.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday, Gallagher said: “We knew much more than we published, and that remains the case. There is not just one occasion when these views were aired. There was a second occasion when she expressed similarly scathing views about the EU at Buckingham Palace.”
After the initial story appeared on Wednesday under the headline “Queen backs Brexit”, the palace took the unusual step of complaining to the press regulator. The palace said the complaint related to clause one of the editor’s code, which covers inaccurate headlines not supported by the text of the article.
There had been calls for Downing Street to launch an official investigation into any leak of reported comments made by the Queen. But the prime minister said the matter was being dealt with by the press watchdog and there was no need for a further inquiry.
Speaking on BBC Sussex, Cameron said: “The palace has made a very clear statement, the former deputy prime minister has made a very clear statement saying that this didn’t happen and I think we should leave it at that.
“There is obviously a proper investigation now being held by the press complaints commission and I think we should let them do their work.”
There has been widespread speculation that the justice minister, Michael Gove, who is campaigning for a vote to leave the EU, was one of the sources for the story, as he was at the Windsor Castle lunch. A spokesman for Gove said he did not comment on private conversations.
Cameron appeared to accept that he was not involved. “These are very serious matters but as far as I can see Michael Gove has made clear that he has no idea where this story came from either,” he told BBC Oxford.
MP Dan Jarvis, the Labour backbencher widely touted as a potential challenger to Jeremy Corbyn, commented on the row on Thursday morning. Asked about Gove, he said: “Most people would take a very dim view if such a senior cabinet minister was seen to be behaving in that way”.
Speaking earlier, when asked whether the Sun was guilty of overwriting the headline to the story, Gallagher said: “Absolutely not.”
He said: “Two sources came to us with information about the Queen and her views on the EU and we would have been derelict in our duty if we didn’t put them in the paper.
“The fact that the story is inconvenient for a good number of people is not my fault. We serve our readers, not the elite who might be upset at what we’ve written. We are completely confident that the Queen’s views were expressed exactly as we’ve outlined in both the headline and the story.”
Gallagher would not be drawn on the details or the timing of the second occasion when the Queen is said to have expressed Eurosceptic views.
“I’m not going to tell you the precise details of the second occasion because all it will do is set off a rather absurd molehunt in the fashion of today’s newspapers, which are seeking to name Michael Gove. It would be very unfair to the sources who have spoken to us quite bravely,” he said.
Gallagher refused to name the sources of the story and claimed the speculation about the source was being driven by those backing the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU.
He said: “You wouldn’t expect me for a single moment to reveal anything about the source of the story in the Sun. Those of a cynical mind would think there’s an attempt to take somebody like Michael Gove out of the leave campaign. And the fact that [former deputy prime minister] Nick Clegg and [Labour MP] Wes Streeting have been on their hind legs complaining about it vociferously would rather point in that direction.”
Gallagher was asked whether the Queen had known there would be an EU referendum when she made the remarks.
He said: “I think that’s semantics. In 2011 it is pretty clear that the eurozone was in the midst of a huge crisis and it would be entirely unsurprising if Her Majesty had views on the matter and felt Britain’s destiny was best served outside of the European Union.”
Gallagher denied that the Sun had an agenda against the royal family, following a series of articles suggesting Prince William was “workshy”.
He said: “We are judging stories on their merits. It isn’t just the Sun newspaper that has highlighted the fact that we see Prince William as workshy. Most of the national press have pointed out the fact that he doesn’t seem to have a very taxing full-time job in Norfolk and does very few royal duties. It is a matter of record. The story has been covered in multiple media sources.”
Leave campaigner Chris Grayling, who as leader of the House of Commons presides over the privy council, said the Queen’s views should be kept private. He told Today that the press regulator was the right organisation to investigate whether a member of the privy council had leaked details about what the Queen said.
He said: “Whatever she says is always to be kept in private. And she has always been very scrupulous about not being politically partisan, and that’s what makes her such a great monarch.”
He added: “There clearly is going to be an investigation, because the palace has asked Ipso, the body that reviews stories of this kind, to find out what’s happened and it’s the right and proper body to do that.”
Challenged on whether Ipso had sufficient powers to investigate, Grayling said: “They have got a lot more powers than the Press Complaints Commission used to [have]. And the reality is they are the right body to investigate.”
This article was written by Matthew Weaver, for theguardian.com on Thursday 10th March 2016 10.27 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010