Saturday

25th May 2019

British queen stays neutral in EU debate

  • "My government will continue to play a leading role in world affairs" (Photo: Steve Evans)

The British queen stayed neutral on the EU referendum in her annual speech, despite previous controversial reports that she wants the UK to leave.

Her only reference to the EU was a factual remark that said: “My government will hold a referendum on membership of the European Union.”

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  • Ipso said The Sun misled its readers (Photo: thesun.co.uk)

The speech, at an elaborate parliament ceremony on Wednesday (18 May), focused on domestic issues. But in broader foreign policy terms, Queen Elizabeth II also said that: “My government will continue to play a leading role in world affairs.”

She said the UK “will continue to work to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. It will play a leading role in the campaign against Daesh [Islamic State] and to support international efforts to bring peace to Syria.”

She said the UK would keep its promise to Nato on military spending and would modernise its nuclear arsenal.

She also promised to honour pledges on development aid, humanitarian assistance and climate change.

The British government the same day published an 85-page booklet to go into more detail on the legislative programme that the Queen outlined in her address.

Coming just five weeks before the UK referendum on EU membership, on 23 June, the text also avoided taking a position on how people should vote.

It mentioned the EU in a negative context when it promised laws to make sure that “fewer European visitors will be entitled to free NHS [National Health Service] care.”

But it foreshadowed ongoing EU membership by saying it would help British expats to vote in the next European Parliament elections.

It also indicated a wider commitment to Europe by saying that a new British bill on human rights would be based on the European Convention on Human Rights - a text adopted by the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The UK booklet made a strong statement on Ukraine.

“We will … never recognise Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and the rules based international order”, it said.

“We are clear that the blame for the Ukraine crisis lies squarely with Russia and the separatist proxies it continues to support.”

Significantly misleading

The Queen’s speech came out the same day that a British media watchdog censured a newspaper for its claim that she wants the UK to leave the EU.

The Sun, one of Britain’s most popular tabloids, had in March published a story entitled: “Queen backs Brexit”.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) said that the headline was “significantly misleading”.

“It was a factual assertion that the Queen had expressed a position in the referendum debate … [but] it did not follow from the comments the article reported,” it said.

It said that had she expressed such a position it would constitute a “fundamental breach of the Queen's constitutional obligations” to remain neutral on the subject.

The Sun published Ipso’s statement, but it said in an editorial comment that Ipso was wrong.

The EU referendum debate has turned increasingly nasty in the run-up to the vote.

Nazis and jihadists

The British PM, David Cameron, and the head of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, earlier this week complained about former London mayor Boris Johnson after he said the UK should leave the EU because it is like Nazi-era Germany.

Other anti-EU campaigners, such as Nigel Farage, a British MEP, attracted criticism in March for saying that the Brussels terrorist attacks meant the UK would be safer out of the EU.

Farage endorsed the comments on Twitter moments after the first bomb exploded in Brussels airport killing 16 people.

The anti-EU side has accused pro-EU politicians of false claims about the economic cost of Brexit in a campaign that it dubbed Project Fear.

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