Boris Johnson breached standards guidelines when he claimed that a no-deal Brexit was “by some margin preferred by the British public” to other options, the press regulator today ruled.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) condemned Johnson’s statement in his weekly column in January as a “significant inaccuracy” that “misrepresented polling information”.
Ipso ruled that “the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction” in the Telegraph’s established corrections and clarifications column.
The Telegraph told Ipso during the investigation that Johnson “was entitled to make sweeping generalisations” and that the article was “clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis”.
Johnson resumed writing a weekly column for the Telegraph in July last year after he resigned as foreign secretary.
In his 7 January column, titled “The British people won’t be scared into backing a woeful Brexit deal nobody voted for”, Johnson came out forcefully against Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal, which he has since voted for.
Johnson said fears of a no deal scenario had been overstated and that in fact it was the most popular option among the public.
The former foreign secretary wrote: “Of all the options suggested by pollsters – staying in the EU, coming out on Theresa May’ terms, or coming out on World Trade terms – it is the last, the so-called no-deal option, that is gaining in popularity.”
He added: “In spite of – or perhaps because of – everything they have been told, it is this future that is by some margin preferred by the British public.”
Ipso investigated the article after receiving a complaint that said that there was no poll available at the time of publication that supported the claims.
The Telegraph responded to the investigation by saying the complainant had misconstrued the purpose of the article and that “readers would understand that the statement was not invoking specific polling – no specific dates or polls were referenced”.
Nonetheless, the Telegraph also pointed to polls that it said supported Johnson's claim.
The press regulator said the newspaper pointed to one poll which showed that after support for a Canada-style trade deal and “don’t know” respondents preferred a no-deal Brexit over Theresa May’s deal and remaining in the EU.
Ipso ruled the column had “construed the polls as signalling support for a no deal” when in fact they had either amalgamated several findings or interpreted an option beyond what was set out by the poll as finding support for a no-deal Brexit.