Theresa May’s official spokesman has refused to comment on the Daily Mail front page that prompted outrage after declaring “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”.
The newspaper headline, over an image of the prime minister with the Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has been criticised as sexist and offensive by a string of politicians.
It’s 2017. This sexism must be consigned to history. Shame on the Daily Mail. pic.twitter.com/V3RpFSgfnO
March 27, 2017 Jeremy Corbyn MP
But at a daily briefing to journalists, the prime minister’s official spokesman, James Slack, would not be drawn on the controversy surrounding the Mail, where he was political editor until recently.
Responding to whether May felt it was appropriate to focus on her legs after a high-level meeting, he said: “You would not expect me to comment on what newspapers should or should not put on their front pages.”
Inside the paper there was more ogling at the bodies and body language of the female leaders, with a headline reading: “Finest weapons at their command? Those pins!” A column by Sarah Vine referred to Sturgeon’s legs as “altogether more flirty, tantalisingly crossed … a direct attempt at seduction”.
The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, condemned the “sexism” of the newspaper coverage about a high-level meeting between May and Sturgeon over Britain’s exit from the EU and the possible break up of the UK.
He said he had not spoken to May about whether she had seen the coverage – nor whether she would have preferred the coverage to focus on what was said during the critical meeting about Scotland’s role in Brexit and the possibility of a second referendum.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation said it had received 300 “and counting” complaints about the front page, mostly saying the newspaper was in breach of clause 12 which covers discrimination.
Clause 12, part one, of the editor’s code says: “The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.”
Slack’s comment to the press drew an immediate response from Michael Dugher, the Labour MP who was a senior media adviser to Gordon Brown when he was prime minister. “Isn’t it routinely the job of the PM’s spokespeople to comment on what’s on the front of newspapers?” he tweeted.
Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader, Ed Miliband, tweeted that the coverage was a throwback to the 1950s.
The Labour MP Harriet Harman described the front page as “moronic”, while her colleague Yvette Cooper asked how the focus could be on the women’s “lower limbs” when their discussions would determine the future of the UK.
Tony Blair’s former spin doctor, Alastair Campbell, labelled the paper “utter scum” and urged anyone who spotted a copy of the Mail to rip it up.
The front page, which referenced difficult talks between the leaders in Glasgow over Brexit, looked slightly different on the Scottish edition of the Daily Mail, which used the same photograph but with a headline that read: “Oh so frosty! Secrets of Nicola and PM’s talk-in.”
That didn’t stop the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson from adding to the debate, tweeting a picture of her own legs.
Many journalists, commentators and members of the public in the UK and beyond were left shaking their heads.
This is what happens when you let that drunk, pervy uncle at a wedding edit a newspaper. pic.twitter.com/FQcqjjQMNJ
March 27, 2017 Jane Bradley
While others took matters into their own hands.
I’d like to think in an alternative brexit-verse far far away this is what everyone’s getting cross over #dailymail pic.twitter.com/QlOg5Y6a0p
March 27, 2017 Ashley Gould
Later editions of the paper appeared to attempt to water down the editorial line, describing it on the front as: “Sarah Vine’s light-hearted verdict on the big showdown”.