David Cameron tried to get Paul Dacre removed as editor of the Daily Mail because of his strong Eurosceptic views, the BBC reports.
Emily Maitlis, reporting for Newsnight, says that Cameron invited Dacre to his Downing Street flat a year ago and tried to persuade him to tone down his newspaper’s anti-Europe coverage.
When that approach was rebuffed, Maitlis reports, Cameron approached the Daily Mail’s proprietor Lord Rothermere seeking to have Dacre removed as editor of the paper.
Dacre himself reportedly became aware of this in March this year (although Rothermere did not apparently tell him until after the June referendum). Dacre was said to be “incandescent” with rage.
The Daily Mail campaigned forcefully for Brexit throughout the campaign and also heavily tilted its news coverage in favour of a Leave vote (as did The Sun, Daily Telegraph and Express).
Maitlis reports that that the informal meeting between Cameron and Dacre took place in the informal setting of the private flat at Downing Street in the early evening “family chaos”.
She said that Dacre told Cameron he “can’t change his position on such a core pricinple, one he has held for some 25 years, his readers too are viscerally Eurosceptic. He owes it to them to show backbone.
“Then, I’m told, he points to the television showing pictures of migrants arrviing in southern Europe. Those are the pictures which will decide the outcome of the referendum, the prime minister is told. Over the coming weeks Dacre sticks to his line.”
The BBC reports that Lord Rothermere is a “known remainer”. The Mail on Sunday backed Remain in the EU referendum, while Rothermere’s other national title – Metro – remained neutral.
Journalist Matthew D’Ancona told the BBC that Dacre was seen as major block to the political aims of David Cameron.
He said: “A member of the Cameron government told me recently there could no revival in centrism in this country as long as Paul Dacre was editor of the Mail.
“That was presented to me as an absolute precondition of any advance of the centre right or centre left.
“One editor is regarded as being of supreme importance in their political universe. As if the Daily Mail is a planet that exerts a huge gravitational pull over the whole of the print media.”
The BBC also reports that for a year after the Leveson Inquiry of 2012 Dacre refused to take David Cameron’s calls.
Dacre is on the record as being strongly opposed into the inquiry which he saw as reeking of “hypocrisy and revenge” saying that “the political classes current moral indignation about a British press that dared to expose their greed and corruption” came from the same peoplee who “had spent years indulging in sickening genuflections to the Murdoch press”.
A spokesman for Lord Rothermere declined to confirm or deny to the BBC whether Cameron had sought Dacre’s dismissal.
They said: “Over the years, Lord Rothermere has been leant on by more than one prime minister to remove Associated Newspapers’ editors but, as he told Lord Justice Leveson on oath, he does not interfere with the editorial policies of his papers.”
Asked whether the story was true, a spokesman for David Cameron told the BBC: “It is wrong to suggest that David Cameron believed he could determine who edits the Daily Mail.
“It is a matter of public record that he made the case that it was wrong for newspapers to argue that we give up our membership of the EU.
“He made this argument privately to the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, and its proprietor, Lord Rothermere.”
Dacre issued the following statement to the BBC: “For 25 years, I have been given the freedom to edit the Mail on behalf of its readers without interference from Jonathan Rothermere or his father. It has been a great joy and privilege.”