Fake news about the EU has been around for many years

Delegates at last week’s Oxford Farming Conference said they would vote 60% in favour of remaining in the EU, if there was a second Brexit referendum. However, the Theresa May exit deal would be favoured by 30%, while 10% would opt for “leave with no deal”.

The audience at the conference was also asked how they voted in the EU referendum, and 24% said they voted leave, 76% voted for remain. Asked if Brexit would be a good or bad thing, five years on, 60% said ‘Bad’, 40% said ‘Good’. And Brexit over the next 25 years? ‘Good’, said 74%; ‘Bad’ said 26%.

They were interesting responses, at a conference headlined by the UK’s environment secretary, Michael Gove, who said the prime minister’s withdrawal deal that was agreed with the EU would avoid disruption and pave the way for reforms to put UK farmers in a world-leading position. However, the bookies (probably as good a source as any for Brexit information) say there is one chance in four that the UK will leave the EU with no Brexit deal before April 1.

Whenever the Brexit dust settles, the role of fake EU news published by the UK press over the last 20 years should not be forgotten. This happened long before alleged meddling by Russians or others pushing fake and ‘dark’ news on the internet to influence the Brexit vote.

Decades before that, the European Commission’s representation in London had started publishing a Euromyths section in its website to debunk inaccurate information about the EU published in leading sections of the UK media. The EU was obviously conscious of the damage that a drip-drip of fake or inaccurate news could do to perceptions among the UK public.

For the past 43 years, their leading newspapers told them the EU would ban crayons and colouring pencils, smoky bacon crisps, teeth-whitening products, herbal cures, mince pies, mushy peas, playgrounds, double-decker buses, church bells, two-for-one bargains, rocking horses, pints of shandy, U16s using Facebook, zipper trousers, high-heel shoes for hairdressers, noisy toys, bagpipes, and trapeze artists.

“Respectable” newspapers said the English Channel would be re-named the “Anglo-French Pond”, and Brussels would put the EU flag on England shirts.

It’s an age-old tradition, since the UK joined the EU

These news items have all been corrected in the EU’s Euromyths website (blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/), where the latest entry in November said the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation does not forbid Christmas wishlists, in a correction of a UK newspaper article saying German children were banned from sending their wishlists to Santa.

One outrageous article in 2000 said the EU’s animal waste directive made it legal to bury dead pets only after pressure cooking them at 130C for half an hour.

A newspaper also uncovered an EU plot to rename Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Station. “There is no plot, plan, or proposal to change UK place names,” explained patient EU representatives.

The UK’s agri-food sector was also targeted. Readers were told in 2013 the EU would ban the union flag from British meat packs.

They were told in 2008 that acres were outlawed or banned by Brussels, after 800 years of this ancient British imperial measurement.

The UK press had great fun in the 1990s saying curved bananas were banned by the EU — their interpretation of a commission regulation classifying bananas according to quality and size.

The story went down so well with UK readers that similarly unfounded stories of banning curved British cucumbers and rhubarb, and non-oval strawberries, were trotted out, and were duly corrected by the commission’s Euromyths section in London.

Perhaps the Euromyths website should be compulsory reading for all in the UK before they make the crucial decisions required in the coming months around the impending withdrawal of the UK from the European Union on March 29.

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