Sunday 27 November 2011

Express: 'every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified'

On Wednesday 23 November, Patrick O'Flynn of the Daily Express penned an article that ran under the optimistic headline 'A year in and our EU crusade is on course for victory'.

Flynn told his readers how wonderful the Express' campaign to withdraw from the EU has been so far and he said:

Over the course of the past year every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...

Every criticism justified.

Five days before, the Express front page carried the lead headline 'EU says water is not healthy'.

In fact, the ruling by the European Food Standards Agency was about water and dehydration and not about whether water is 'healthy' or not. Indeed, the word 'healthy' doesn't appear anywhere in the EFSA's 7-page ruling. But the Express knew that because at the end they included this:

EU spokesman David D’Arcy said last night: “Of course drinking water is essential for health and the commission is not stopping anyone from saying so."

(More on this story from Richard Laming, Martin Robbins and Tim Fenton)

Also at the end of Giles Sheldrick's article on water was this 'criticism':

The EU has a long history of passing bizarre regulations...last year attempts to regulate the use of root vegetables in Cornish pasties sparked chaos.

But this claim isn't 'justified' either. It was the Cornish Pasty Association that had applied for:

Protected Geographical Indication to request that only Cornish pasties made in Cornwall and to the traditional recipe and manner are called Cornish pasties.

As the Association pointed out in response to inaccurate media reports at the time:

the European Commission (EC) does not dictate ingredients or names of ingredients

It's also not clear what 'chaos' was sparked by this.

In October, the Express joined other newspapers in claiming 'Now Euro killjoys ban children's party toys' which forced the EC Representative in the UK to explain the story was 'nonsense':

"Brussels" has not banned balloons or any of the other things mentioned.

Was the Express 'justified' in claiming the University of Northampton had been fined £56,000 for not flying the EU flag?

No. The response from EC regional spokesman Tom van Lierop:

"you don't have to wave a big flag above a project: that's nonsense...We're not fining anyone...We don't want to be flying the EU flag above any kind of project...these stories are total lunacy."

This wasn't the only 'EU flag' story that the paper got wrong. In May the Express front page said 'Now we must fly EU flag on our public buildings'. The article added that there was:

a swingeing fine from Brussels threatened for those that disobey

Jonathan Scheele, Head of European Commission Representation in the UK and Michael Shackleton, Head of European Parliament Information Office in the UK wrote to the Express:

only 2 buildings in the UK are expected to fly the European flag for Europe Day and the Commission would not fine countries that did not do so...No other public building has to fly the flag on 9 May.

The Express' decided not to publish this letter but chose instead to publish three readers' letters that repeated the original claims, despite the paper being aware they were false.

But remember:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified.

A few days before that one, another front page headline claimed: 'EU wants to merge UK with France'. The Arc Manche network was set up in 1995 for co-operation between southern British and northern French regions. But this is clearly not the same as 'merging the UK with France'. 'Absurd' and 'untrue' said the EC in the UK.

Also in May, an Express front page stated: 'Ban shopping bags says EU'. As with the healthy water headline, the Express used 'says' when they meant 'haven't said'.

The European Commission had launched a public consultation:

asking the public how best to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags

There was a question about whether a ban was needed, as there were questions about charging for bags and other possible options. The EU has not said 'ban plastic bags'.

Is the EU 'employing 33 people to help boost the EU’s profile in Fiji'? No. Although based in Fiji, the delegation:

covers the entire South Pacific region. It carries out countless development projects on behalf of the EU as well as foreign relations and political work.

Do 'Cars face ban from all cities' as part of 'another plan forced on us by crazy EU'? No:

the European Commission is not considering an EU level ban on cars in city centres by 2050. Cities are of course best placed to decide their own transport mix.

As O'Flynn specified 'the past year' it would, of course, be unfair to mention earlier stories such as 'EU says: hammer British drivers' (once again, they hadn't said this) or 'EU’s plan to liquify corpses and pour them down the drain' ("The EU has no competence in this matter and to suggest otherwise is wide of the mark").

It would be wrong to mention their July 2010 front page headline 'France votes to ban burkha' which came a month after their front page headline 'You can't ban burkha, says Eurocrats' (again, they hadn't said this).

It would not be 'justified' to mention the Sunday Express' claim that the EU was spending '£670million on making explicit films' was overblown. But it was, perhaps, understandable - after all, Richard 'pornographer' Desmond doesn't want too many rivals in the 'explicit film' business, does he?

And it would be best to forget the Express story 'Euro meddlers rule we can't have milk jugs'/'EU spouts off...about our milk jugs'. This took research from a Spanish university and claimed it was evidence that the EU wanted to ban 'our milk jugs'.

Similarly, in October 2011, the Express labelled 'scientists from the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)' as 'Eurocrats'.

These are just some of the Express' anti-EU stories covered by this blog and others over the last couple of years and which have been inaccurate, misleading and wrong.

With the Express newspapers being outside any form of regulation, there is no way to challenge these stories. As shown on the flag issue, when the EU tries to deal with the paper, the Express ignores them and carries on repeating untruths.

Yet to O'Flynn, the paper's Chief Political Commentator:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...


  1. Very handy overview.

    The real issue is of course that there are ways in which the way the EU functions can be improved - increased transparency in informal negotiations between the European Parliament and the Member States, a compulsory lobbyists register, more "citizen friendly" summaries of EU policy that don't overflow with jargon.

    The mindless EU-bashing of the Express, the Mail & the Telegraph is poisoning the public debate on the issue of European integration in this country, because none of those papers has the intellectual wherewithal (or political correspondents) to initiate any proper discussion on what our relationship with the rest of this continent should be. Instead, we get an endless focus on bizarre & untrue stories that to any rational human being would immediately seem the product of an agenda-driven newsdesk.

  2. Idiocy at its finest. These are some of the cases that make me believe that some people do not deserve freedom of speech.

  3. Is this not the paper that is campainging for us to switch to "European" time??

  4. "We'd like to think people at Express group are good people, responsible people who report the facts."

    Richard Desmond today at the Lords select committee. Shame that what he thinks and what is the truth are two very different things.

    I'd like to think I'm a 6'5" bronzed Californian surfer named Brad. The truth, however is a little shorter and paler.

  5. @Anonymous

    Only if you read the English edition. The Scottish Edition of the exact same paper is very much against switching time zones!

  6. Thanks for taking the time to compile this - a fantastic job.

  7. "These are some of the cases that make me believe that some people do not deserve freedom of speech."

    The irony of saying that anonymously was presumably lost on you.


    There are of course made up nonsense things in papers, that doesn't alter the fact that we suffer a heavy regulatory burden in return for being in the EU, nor that the EU institutions are very corrupt and in many areas hold power that would be far better exercised at a lower level.


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