How Queen Elizabeth and Rupert Murdoch’s Tabloid Ended Up in a War of Words

March 9, 2016, 5:47 PM UTC
Photograph by Toby Melville—AFP/Getty Images

It’s rare for Buckingham Palace to get all huffy and puffy, but the British monarch on Wednesday let loose its version of a smackdown.

Its target? The Sun, a tabloid owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

The reason? The Sun’s front-page declaration on Wednesday that Queen Elizabeth backs Britain leaving the European Union, a possible move dubbed “Brexit.” On June 23, the U.K. will hold a referendum to determine if Britain will stay in the 28-member bloc.

The Sun’s story cites unidentified sources as saying that the 89-year-old monarch had expressed support of the U.K. abandoning the EU in a 2011 conversation with former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. The paper, the best-selling daily in Britain, also reported that the queen told lawmakers at a separate meeting that she did not understand Europe.


Early on Wednesday, Buckingham Palace released a statement repudiating the story, calling it “spurious.” A Palace spokesman said, “The Queen remains politically neutral, as she has for 63 years.” Clegg also dismissed the report. “I’ve no recollection of this happening [and it’s] not the sort of thing I would forget,” Clegg said on Twitter.

The Palace also took the rare step of filing a formal complaint to the U.K.’s press regulator. “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 Palace said in a statement. “The complaint relates to clause one of the editors’ code of practice.” That code covers accuracy.

The Sun meanwhile, stood by its story, which it said was “provided by a very credible source.”

The complaint is thought to be the Palace’s first-ever to the standards organization, which was established in September 2014 in the wake of News Corp.’s phone hacking scandal. The Palace also condemned The Sun in July when it published photos from 1933 that show a young Queen Elizabeth performing a Nazi salute, but even then it didn’t file a complaint. The Sun defended its decision to print the photos, saying they had “historical significance.”

If the complaint about Brexit is investigated and upheld, The Sun could be required to publish an apology where the story appeared—on the front page.

Reuters contributed to this story.