Has the Daily Star turned its back on the EDL?

The red top pledges to oppose “extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from”.

The Daily Star's flirtation with extremist right-wing, if not right-wing, politics appears to be over. Last month Richard Desmond's flagship red top raised concerns that it was preparing to formally endorse the English Defence League after publishing an editorial entitled "Don't Dare Ignore The EDL" with the accompanying splash "English Defence League To Become A Political Party".

Fortunately it now appears the Star editor, Dawn Neesom, described in her Wikipedia biography as a staunch West Ham fan and avid kick boxer, has experienced a conversion on the road to Luton, and will be adopting a more circumspect approach to the group, which has been bringing booze-fuelled chaos to Britain's multi-ethnic communities.

A letter from the Daily Star publishers, Northern & Shell, to Nick Lowles, editor of the anti-extremist magazine Searchlight, pledges: "Our stand has always been and always will be that of strongly opposing extremism and fanaticism no matter what quarter it comes from, whether it be burning poppies or copies of the Koran." It goes on, "We assure Searchlight that the Daily Star will continue to endeavour to be a fair and accurate newspaper serving a true United Kingdom and all its people."

An editorial response from Lowles, who has been campaigning for the Star to distance itself from the EDL, expresses his belief that "the newspaper will not be backing the street gang or any other extremist organisation". He adds: "We welcome this statement and what we understand to be a change in direction. We will remain vigilant to keep the newspaper to its word."

Despite a perception that the Daily Star was morphing into the house magazine of the far right, the truth is the Star stable has adopted a more ambiguous stance to both the EDL and the league's floundering forerunners in the BNP. The Sunday edition of the paper has run a number of hard-hitting exposés of both organisations, and was highly critical of the Prime Minister's recent Munich speech on multiculturalism. Under the headline "David Cameron Boards the EDL Bandwagon" the paper charged: "Bungling David Cameron was last night accused of 'stoking the fires' of race hate just hours before a thuggish far-right march."

There have also been indications that Richard Desmond has himself been concerned about his daily paper's courting of the EDL. The Guardian media commentator Roy Greenslade, who was heavily critical of the Star's favourable editorial, quoted a spokesman for Desmond insisting the proprietor had no prior knowledge of the paper's stance. The Independent also agreed to change its online headline "Has Richard Desmond decided to back the English Defence League?" to "Has the Daily Star decided to back the English Defence League?" following a request for a correction from Desmond.

The Star's decision to break from its balaclava-clad suitors comes at a time when the paper has been facing internal as well as external scrutiny over its reporting of ethnic minorities, especially those in the Muslim community. The whistleblower/disgruntled former employee Richard Peppiatt claimed in a resignation letter to Daily Star management that Islamophobia had become a key weapon in the paper's fight for circulation.

"Muslims are branded 'beardies' or 'fanatics', and black-on-black killings ('Bob-slayings', as I've cringingly heard them called in your newsroom) can be resigned to a handful of words, shoehorned beneath a garish advert," Peppiatt wrote.

In response, the Daily Star issued a statement which claimed: "Regarding the allegations over the paper's coverage of Islam, he [Peppiatt] was only ever involved in a very minor way with such articles, and never voiced either privately or officially any disquiet over the tone of the coverage. For the record, the Daily Star editorial policy does not hold any negativity towards Islam and the paper has never, and does not endorse, the EDL."

Whatever the truth of the Peppiatt allegations, the withdrawal, or non-extension, of the Daily Star's support will be a seen as a blow to the organisation at a time when it is struggling to manage internal tensions over its direction. Alan Lake, the EDL's shadowy millionaire financier, is keen to channel his progeny towards the political mainstream, and has been attempting to build connections with the European and international right, including fringe elements of the US Tea Party movement.

In contrast, Tommy Robinson, the EDL's self-styled "General", is said to want to remain true to the movement's "grass-roots" strategy of street-level demonstrations and confrontation, even though effective policing and community organisation are reducing the opportunities for disorder so beloved of many of its members.

The "tits, bums, QPR and roll your own fags" agenda pursued by the Daily Star's inaugural editor, Derek Jameson, is not to everyone's taste. But the capture of a national newspaper endorsement, from whatever source, would have been an important feather in the hoodies of the EDL. Dawn Neesom and Richard Desmond's change of heart, however belated, is to be welcomed.

Say oooh, ah, Daily Star . . .

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The 11 things we know after the Brexit plan debate

Labour may just have fallen into a trap. 

On Wednesday, both Labour and Tory MPs filed out of the Commons together to back a motion calling on the Prime Minister to commit to publish the government’s Brexit plan before Article 50 is triggered in March 2017. 

The motion was proposed by Labour, but the government agreed to back it after inserting its own amendment calling on MPs to “respect the wishes of the United Kingdom” and adhere to the original timetable. 

With questions on everything from the customs union to the Northern Irish border, it is clear that the Brexit minister David Davis will have a busy Christmas. Meanwhile, his declared intention to stay schtum about the meat of Brexit negotiations for now means the nation has been hanging off every titbit of news, including a snapped memo reading “have cake and eat it”. 

So, with confusion abounding, here is what we know from the Brexit plan debate: 

1. The government will set out a Brexit plan before triggering Article 50

The Brexit minister David Davis said that Parliament will get to hear the government’s “strategic plans” ahead of triggering Article 50, but that this will not include anything that will “jeopardise our negotiating position”. 

While this is something of a victory for the Remain MPs and the Opposition, the devil is in the detail. For example, this could still mean anything from a white paper to a brief description released days before the March deadline.

2. Parliament will get a say on converting EU law into UK law

Davis repeated that the Great Repeal Bill, which scraps the European Communities Act 1972, will be presented to the Commons during the two-year period following Article 50.

He said: “After that there will be a series of consequential legislative measures, some primary, some secondary, and on every measure the House will have a vote and say.”

In other words, MPs will get to debate how existing EU law is converted to UK law. But, crucially, that isn’t the same as getting to debate the trade negotiations. And the crucial trade-off between access to the single market versus freedom of movement is likely to be decided there. 

3. Parliament is almost sure to get a final vote on the Brexit deal

The European Parliament is expected to vote on the final Brexit deal, which means the government accepts it also needs parliamentary approval. Davis said: “It is inconceivable to me that if the European Parliament has a vote, this House does not.”

Davis also pledged to keep MPs as well-informed as MEPs will be.

However, as shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer pointed out to The New Statesman, this could still leave MPs facing the choice of passing a Brexit deal they disagree with or plunging into a post-EU abyss. 

4. The government still plans to trigger Article 50 in March

With German and French elections planned for 2017, Labour MP Geraint Davies asked if there was any point triggering Article 50 before the autumn. 

But Davis said there were 15 elections scheduled during the negotiation process, so such kind of delay was “simply not possible”. 

5. Themed debates are a clue to Brexit priorities

One way to get a measure of the government’s priorities is the themed debates it is holding on various areas covered by EU law, including two already held on workers’ rights and transport.  

Davis mentioned themed debates as a key way his department would be held to account. 

It's not exactly disclosure, but it is one step better than relying on a camera man papping advisers as they walk into No.10 with their notes on show. 

6. The immigration policy is likely to focus on unskilled migrants

At the Tory party conference, Theresa May hinted at a draconian immigration policy that had little time for “citizens of the world”, while Davis said the “clear message” from the Brexit vote was “control immigration”.

He struck a softer tone in the debate, saying: “Free movement of people cannot continue as it is now, but this will not mean pulling up the drawbridge.”

The government would try to win “the global battle for talent”, he added. If the government intends to stick to its migration target and, as this suggests, will keep the criteria for skilled immigrants flexible, the main target for a clampdown is clearly unskilled labour.  

7. The government is still trying to stay in the customs union

Pressed about the customs union by Anna Soubry, the outspoken Tory backbencher, Davis said the government is looking at “several options”. This includes Norway, which is in the single market but not the customs union, and Switzerland, which is in neither but has a customs agreement. 

(For what it's worth, the EU describes this as "a series of bilateral agreements where Switzerland has agreed to take on certain aspects of EU legislation in exchange for accessing the EU's single market". It also notes that Swiss exports to the EU are focused on a few sectors, like chemicals, machinery and, yes, watches.)

8. The government wants the status quo on security

Davis said that on security and law enforcement “our aim is to preserve the current relationship as best we can”. 

He said there is a “clear mutual interest in continued co-operation” and signalled a willingness for the UK to pitch in to ensure Europe is secure across borders. 

One of the big tests for this commitment will be if the government opts into Europol legislation which comes into force next year.

9. The Chancellor is wooing industries

Robin Walker, the under-secretary for Brexit, said Philip Hammond and Brexit ministers were meeting organisations in the City, and had also met representatives from the aerospace, energy, farming, chemicals, car manufacturing and tourism industries. 

However, Labour has already attacked the government for playing favourites with its secretive Nissan deal. Brexit ministers have a fine line to walk between diplomacy and what looks like a bribe. 

10. Devolved administrations are causing trouble

A meeting with leaders of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland ended badly, with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon publicly declaring it “deeply frustrating”. The Scottish government has since ramped up its attempts to block Brexit in the courts. 

Walker took a more conciliatory tone, saying that the PM was “committed to full engagement with the devolved administrations” and said he undertook the task of “listening to the concerns” of their representatives. 

11. Remain MPs may have just voted for a trap

Those MPs backing Remain were divided on whether to back the debate with the government’s amendment, with the Green co-leader Caroline Lucas calling it “the Tories’ trap”.

She argued that it meant signing up to invoking Article 50 by March, and imposing a “tight timetable” and “arbitrary deadline”, all for a vaguely-worded Brexit plan. In the end, Lucas was one of the Remainers who voted against the motion, along with the SNP. 

George agrees – you can read his analysis of the Brexit trap here

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.