Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calls Virgin Trains’ Daily Mail ban ‘absurd’ and ‘pompous’
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has hit out at Virgin Trains, saying the decision to ban sales of the Daily Mail on board its trains is “absurd” and “pompous”.
Yesterday Virgin Trains cited LGBT rights as one of the reasons it will stop selling the Daily Mail on board.
The train company said it would stop selling the Mail on its West Coast route, saying it is “not compatible” with its “brand and beliefs”.
But the decision has proven unpopular with some, including Johnson who tweeted his dismay at the decision.
He wrote: “Absurd ban on Daily Mail by Virgin! Pompous, censorious and wrong #virginontheridiculous”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has also said through a spokesperson that he is an “enthusiastic supporter of a free press and the pluralism of the press.”
But Corbyn’s spokesperson added that it respected the decision of a private company to stock or not stock papers on its trains.
They added: “Obviously private companies will decide what they want to stock on their trains.”
And a Downing Street source told the BBC that the decision was up to Virgin Trains but that the Prime Minister had “always been clear on the importance of a free press to our democracy”.
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage also tweeted his disgust at the decision.
He wrote: “We are heading in a worrying direction. Banning things because you don’t like them solves nothing.”
The Society of Editors also hit out at the decision, saying it “smacks of censorship”.
The Mail had responded to the decision saying it was “disgraceful”, and said it is an attack on freedom of speech.
And astonishingly, Mail investigations reporter Paul Bentley has claimed that the paper is not homophobic because it employs out gay people in senior positions.
His defence of the paper came despite a number of attacks on LGBT people and organisations in recent months.
He said: “At the Mail, gay journalists have senior positions across news, politics, features.”
Adding: “The Mail had the first gay sports editor. Banning the Mail – and content written by many proud gay people – is a political decision that has nothing to do with journalism.”
Previously the Mail was one of several newspapers sold by the train operator on the route.
But Virgin Trains yesterday said the paper’s stance on “immigration, LGBT rights, and unemployment” as reasons why it will stop selling the paper.
A statement from the paper read: “It is disgraceful that, at a time of massive customer dissatisfaction over ever-increasing rail fares, and after the taxpayer was forced to bail out Virgin’s East Coast mainline franchise – a decision strongly criticised by the Mail – that Virgin Trains should now announce that for political reasons it is censoring the choice of newspapers it offers to passengers.”
The spokesperson for the Mail added that it is “equally rich that Virgin chose to launch this attack on free speech in the ASLEF trade union journal”.
The paper also suggested that the train company was opposed to the paper’s pro-Brexit stance.
A leaked memo sent to Virgin Trains employees by Drew McMillan, head of colleague communication and engagement reads: “Thousands of people choose to read the Daily Mail every day.
“But they will no longer be reading it courtesy of [Virgin Trains]. There’s been considerable concern raised by colleagues about the Mail’s editorial position on issues such as immigration, LGBT rights, and unemployment.”
A statement from Virgin Trains also reads: “We’ve decided that this paper is not compatible with the [Virgin Trains] brand and our beliefs. We won’t be stocking the Daily Mail for sale or as a giveaway.”
Virgin Trains is a different franchise to Virgin Trans East Coast but both are backed by Stagecoach and Virgin.
The newspaper added that Virgin Trains last year said it would stop stocking the Daily Mail in order to save space.
“They gave no other reason, but it may be no coincidence that all those titles, like Virgin owner Sir Richard Branson, are pro-Remain,” added the spokesperson.
A Virgin Trains spokesperson said: “We regularly review the products we have on sale for customers in the shop onboard our west coast trains and after listening to feedback from our people, we decided in November 2017 that we would no longer stock copies of the Daily Mail.
“When we stocked the Daily Mail onboard, we sold one copy for every four trains.”
The Mail has previously published damning articles about trans charity Mermaids, calling it a “controversial” charity, calling parents “meddlers” and claiming that a mother dressed “her son, five, as a girl.”
And late last year the Mail on Sunday published a column by Peter Hitchens, who was a vocal figure against same-sex marriage in England and Wales, who claimed that “trans zealots” are “destroying truth itself.”
A column was also published in September by Richard Littlejohn who claimed that trans inclusivity would lead to “burquas for boys”.
The Mail was one of several outlets that also published damning reports attacking the NHS for the cost of allowing trans young people to access fertility support to have children later in life.
It also published a horrifying report about a transgender rapist in prison and used a trans man’s photos without permission to accompany an article attracking trans rights.
The Mail also recently outed a gay teen against his will, and published an article attacking an out gay military member on the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales.