Philip Hammond: Britain is already ‘a deeply fractured country’

A former editor of the The Sun has accused the newspaper of potentially “enabling civil disorder” after it warned a reversal of the Brexit referendum result could ignite riots and violence.

MPs also condemned the “disgraceful” leader column, in which the paper predicted politicians would face “a tsunami of rage” if the UK held a second public vote on its EU membership.

The editorial referenced the murder of Jo Cox, the pro-Remain Labour MP stabbed to death by a far-right extremist during the 2016 referendum campaign, as an example of how a “febrile atmosphere” could erupt into violence.

It added: “Britain is already ‘a deeply fractured country’, in the words of chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday.

“Imagine how bad it will get if MPs, having handed the people the right to choose Brexit, then steal it from us.”

Labour MP David Lammy accused The Sun of “providing excuse for civil disobedience”, while former editor David Yelland described the column as “troubling”.

Mr Yelland, who edited The Sun between 1998 and 2003, tweeted: “When my old paper predicts and risks enabling civil disorder and mentions Jo Cox in that context it goes too far. Parliament is sovereign. Violence is never, ever acceptable.”

Speaking to The Independent, he added: “What they’re saying in that editorial is the prime minister better watch out because if they don’t get what they want there might be trouble on the streets. It’s not coded; it’s very clear.

“We are at a moment now where what newspaper editors do matters more than at any time I can remember, because the political class are in complete turmoil.

The Sun has a huge influence in terms of what it can enable, what the new normal becomes. Violence is not acceptable and shouldn’t even be hinted at.”

A spokesman for The Sun said: “The leader column speaks for itself but in context it’s clear we’re warning about the possibility of violence and a dangerous divisiveness in our politics currently, not suggesting it’s the answer to anything.”

Mr Yelland has backed a second referendum and has previously criticized his former paper’s stance on Brexit. The Sun campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and has vehemently opposed a soft Brexit.

The Sun‘s editorial, published in Thursday’s edition of the paper, claimed MPs would be “betraying” the public if they allowed another vote on the UK’s EU membership.

Under the headline “Crush this plot to steal Brexit,” it added: “What a tsunami of rage politicians would unleash by ignoring the democratic rights of millions on the winning side of the biggest vote in British history.

“Is it a risk the second vote camp are ready to take? Because they will have to live with its consequences.”

Mr Lammy, who has backed the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, condemned the column as “disgraceful”.

He added: “Providing excuse for civil disobedience is unacceptable and it betrays what Jo Cox stood for. Jo campaigned for what she believed in. Similarly, the threat of violence should not put us off campaigning for what is right today.”

Labour MP Stephen Doughty said the editorial was “disgusting and shameful editorial”, accusing The Sun of “whipping up fear, condoning violence and disorder, and using the murder of my friend as part of their agenda”.

His party colleague Anna Turley, MP for Redcar, added: “Jo was murdered because she stood up bravely and publicly for what she believed in and for her positive vision of the world. Her death should inspire us all to do the same.

“If we are cowed as The Sun recommends, then hatred and violence wins.”

The newspaper has also faced calls to retract a “plainly racist” article by columnist Rod Liddle, who suggested Labour MP Kate Osamor and her baroness mother had only only reached prominent positions because they were black.

“What a fabulous family the Osamors are,” began the column, before criticising both women’s parenting.

It concluded: “And do you suppose that either would be in the positions they are now were it not for the colour of their skin?”