Lifestyle & Culture

How the British tabloids caused Brexit and pretty much everything else that’s bad (updated)

Did you know that Italy is following the United Kingdom out of the European Union? Whaaat?! Then you must not read the British tabloids. Because way back in 2019, the Daily Express, –  folks who brought you Brexit – broke the story.

See, Express reporter Darren Hunt got a hot tip that someone named Geoff called into talkRADIO and spilled the beans. Geoff said he’s married to an Italian woman and they have a second home in Italy.  So they know everyone is watching the UK and when Brexit happens, boom! …  Italy instantly leaves as well.

“We speak to these people all the time.” Well, there you go … the end of the EU.


So Darren heard second-hand that someone called into a right-wing radio show and said the Italians are fed up. That turned into a post on the Express website titled “Italy ‘PRIMED and ready’ to follow Brexit Britain and QUIT EU – Brussels ‘terrified.”

Who wouldn’t be terrified with that kind of EXPLOSIVE reporting? (And what’s the deal with all the caps in the headlines, by the way? Is that to prime readers to light the torches and fetch the pitchforks?)

A few readers weren’t having any of it. But the majority of the comments left on the post celebrated Italy’s incredible bravery. Despite the fact Italy’s leaders (on the left and right) having said (over and over) the coalition government has no plans to leave the EU … which is one of those inconvenient truths the British tabloids conveniently ignore.

Not to mention the fact that Brexit has contributed to the UK’s dire financial situation in 2022.

But how could Darren have known, right?

I emailed Darren and pinged him on LinkedIn to find out if the tubes are out on the Express’s Interwebs. Shockingly, he didn’t respond.


Part of this is just my American bias. One of the biggest shocks for American expats in Europe is the British press.

Unlike in the UK, legitimate American news outlets make an honest effort to inform their readerships, not scare the shit out of them or play to their worst xenophobic and insular instincts. They might be weak tea like the USA Today and big newspaper chains such as Gannett, which have dumbed down the American hoi polloi, no question.

But conservative, liberal or middle-of-the-roader, we all depend on quality journalism from the Wall Street Journal – owned by relentless righty Rupert Murdock’s News Corp. – and Bloomberg – owned by moderate Republican Michael Bloomberg – to stay informed about financial markets, politics and pretty much everything else.

We know their opinion pieces typically reflect their left-right biases, but we’re free to skip them and still appreciate their dedication to deep, accurate reporting.

Even the Washington Times – funded by Sung Myung Moon’s Unification Church in South Korea – and Breitbart have a mix of content that’s more or less accurate if warped through a far-right lens. Often times, it’s propaganda, but at least it’s propaganda built on a factual foundation.

For the life of me, I can’t find their counterparts in Britain. With the exception of the Guardian, the Economist and the Financial Times, most of what I see on British news websites is crap. Some left-wing crap, but most of it is lies spun from whole cloth, content designed exclusively to pander to the worst prejudices of the Nigel Farage stooges, Moggsy’s upper crust authoritarians and Tommy Robinson droogies.


A lot of the far-right tabloids such as the Express, the Daily Mail and the Sun are simply overtly racist as demonstrated by their relentless attacks on Meghan Markle, the first British royal of African-American descent.

Markle – now the Dutches of Sussex, married to Prince Harry – sued the Mail on Sunday for publishing private letters to her estranged father, which she said were “selectively edited” to fuel their feud and sell more papers. Shortly after that, Prince Harry sued the owners of The Sun and the Daily Mirror for hacking his voicemails.

BuzzFeed has side-by-side comparisons of how the “royal rota” – the tabloids given preferential access to the royals – cover Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle. What it comes down to is, everything the tabloids adore about Kate, they loathe about her black American sister-in-law.

Kate lovingly cuddled her baby bump while Meghan was ostentatiously obsessive about hers.

Prince William lovingly provides avocados to Kate for her morning sickness while Meghan’s addiction to the tropical fruit is destroying the planet.

Kate’s wedding bouquet was a lovely nod to glorious Victorian times while the exact same flowers were deadly and could have wiped out the entire royal linage when Meghan included them in her wedding.

If you want to understand the essence of Brexit, read the BuzzFeed post.


Yes, there are some similarly creepy snake pits of putrid press in the United States such as InfoWars that simply make things up. And there’s always the tawdry tabs at the supermarket checkout counter, most prominently the National Enquirer, Trust me … no one except Trump takes those seriously.

In the UK, the tawdry tabs are the norm, with reputations for doing anything and everything to scoop the competition, from the News of the World hacking the phone of a murdered schoolgirl  to the Sun simply making up the story, “The Queen Backs Brexit.”

For decades their publishers have dedicated themselves to poisoning the EU well, so successful they actually shaped British foreign policy.

On 9 January 2019, the day Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal passed the House of Commons, the far-right, but hugely influential, Express congratulated itself in a post, “We did it! Decade-old Daily Express crusade comes to an end with Brexit victory.”

In the post, the Express political editor, Sam Lister, lays out how the Express is solely responsible for forcing British politicians to part ways with those “meddling bureaucrats” in Brussels. Oh, and all the advantages of belonging to the world’s largest, most friction-free trade union brings to Britain. Which the Express conveniently never mentions.

Richard Desmond has filled his newspaper with anti-EU lies since the pornographer-turned-“news” baron bought the Daily Express in 2000. He’s dedicated his front page to efforts such as creating a “crusade … to stop the new flood of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants” and other anti-immigrant pandering.

You know … the Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians who do all the work Brits won’t do from washing cars to taking care of the elderly in nursing homes.

But the British papers that so richly deserve Donald Tusk’s special place in hell are the Sun, Daily Mail and the Telegraph.

This is nothing new. Lord Rothermere,  the Daily Mail founder, was a big, big fan of Hitler and the Nazis. Clearly, not a lot has changed with the Daily Mail.

In the British edition of GQ magazine, Matt Kelly wrote recently that current Daily Mail publisher Paul Dacre “has spread more lies about the EU than any other newspaper ….” Kelly added the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, Sun, and Express have shown “exceptional creativity” when it comes to shaping the British public opinion toward Europe. In a bad way.

From the post “Here’s an A to Z list of Brexit lies”:

From excessively curved bananas to milk jugs being banned, from euro notes making you impotent to cows being forced to wear nappies and Bombay mix having to be renamed, our press has waged a decades-long campaign to ridicule the EU. But who’s looking ridiculous now?

My experience is, the far right – whether you’re talking about Donald Trump or Nigel  Farage – can’t win the day through legitimate arguments.

They always resort to lies (the bus emblazoned with the “350 million for NHS” claim) distortions (the EU is taking over Europe like the Nazis, “and we know how that turned out”) and vilifications (pick your nationality, though Poles seem to attract special abuse) that seem transparent to those of us who believe in liberal democracy and global trade.


This is where the British tabloids are most devious … they’ve fed Brexit to a gullible British public they’ve already moronized with vapid content – their granular coverage of the royals and celebrities; the tawdry twaddle about their abs, affairs, pills and booze. And it worked.

Atlantic writer Helen Lewis has a recent post, “Brexit and the Failure of Journalism,” that excoriates the BBC, Sky News and other mainstream media for resorting to horse-race journalism and parroting the “get Brexit done” rhetoric from No. 10.

A Lewis notes, getting Brexit “done” is an absurdity … that the UK leaving the EU is only the beginning of years of uncertainty about the island nation’s formal relationships with Europe and the world, not the end.

In the age of declining mainstream media influence, tabloids such as the Sun and Daily Mail are still hugely popular and profitable. (See the chart above.)

So successful the whole British approach has now bled into the U.S. media, with clickbait sites such as BuzzFeed mixing trash and trinkets with news coverage.

Okay, you’re saying,  “Hypocrite! Fox News in the U.S. is no better than the British tabloids.” True … except Fox has actual reporters such as Chris Wallace and Shep Smith who constantly push back on the News Corp. pro-Trump line.

Why? Because they know Trump is an American anomaly. Someday, we’ll wake up, the Trump curse will be lifted and he and all his cronies and family will be in jail. And it will all happen literally over night.

But you Brits … Brexit is forever. The damage is done and Britain’s credibility and economy are damaged for a generation. And for that, my friends, you can thank Messrs Rothermere, Murdoch, Desmond and Decre.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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