Boris Johnson was on 19 October forced to send a letter to the EU requesting a Brexit extension under the terms of the Benn Act. Throughout the British media, including by the BBC and The Guardian, it was reported that Johnson had sent an unsigned photocopy of the letter included in the legislation.
I contacted both The Guardian and the BBC to ask what evidence they had for the letter being a photocopy.
A spokesperson for The Guardian said: “The article was written by our Brussels bureau chief and focused on Boris Johnson’s extension request to the European Council President Donald Tusk. The brief reference to a photocopy refers to the letter being a word for word copy of the Benn Act and being unsigned.”
A BBC spokesperson said: “We won’t be going into details, but we stand by our journalism.”
The unsigned letter was not in fact a photocopy, as was reported. It had been completely retyped. The font, spacing and indentation had been changed, but the wording remained exactly the same. It is reasonable to speculate that government sources had a motive to encourage the idea that the prime minister dispatched, to give the impression that the prime minister personally did not want to comply with the Benn Act.
Despite overwhelming evidence that it was not a photocopy, the claim was widely reported. This is another case of the British media parroting government spin.