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Think tank MigrationWatch has released a statement saying that it no longer intends to sue political commentator Sally Bercow for libel. It was revealed by Index on Censorship last week that Mrs Bercow had been threatened with legal action over comments she made about a Daily Express story on migration and unemployment. Mrs Bercow said that the story, which quoted figures from a MigrationWatch study, grossly oversimplified the migration debate, and that such oversimplification was “dangerous propaganda”. The think tank’s statement says that they are “strongly in favour of free speech”.
Sally Bercow, political commentator and wife of Commons speaker John Bercow MP has been threatened with libel action by Sir Andrew Green of think tank MigrationWatch, Index on Censorhip has learned.
Bercow received a letter from Sir Andrew’s solicitors on 17 September, demanding an apology and legal costs for comments made on an 18 August Sky news newspaper round-up slot.
Commenting on a Daily Express story migration and youth unemployment, Bercow said the article grossly oversimplified the migration debate, and that such oversimplification was “dangerous propaganda”. She claimed that arguments linking immigration to unemployment had been used by fascists such as Adolf Hitler and British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. The Express article had quoted figures from a MigrationWatch study.
Bercow did not mention Sir Andrew, and made just a single reference to MigrationWatch in the allegedly libellous comment.
Sir Andrew has previously received apologies from publications including the Independent newspaper.
Index understands that Mrs Bercow is willing to go to court to defend herself against any libel proceedings, and sees this case as proof of the need for reform of English defamation laws.
Mrs Bercow unsuccessfully stood for election to Westminster council in the 2010 election.
Joanne Cash, a leading libel lawyer and Conservative party activist in Westminster, commented: “Political debate is essential to a healthy democracy.”
This seems an attempt to stifle such debate, which is no one’s interest.”
Simon Singh, the science writer who earlier this year won a case brought against him by the British Chiropractic Association, said:
“Being sued for libel is a terrifying prospect, which is why the mere threat of libel is generally enough to shut up a commentator, silence an academic or gag a scientific journal. We hear about the rare cases when someone is prepared to stand up for themselves, but the bigger picture is one of journalists, scientists and many others who are scared into silence by an English libel law that is one-sided.