Created a pop-up paper in 2016 due to only running for four issues, The new European turns five this week. Former editor-in-chief of Financial Time LIONEL BARBER explains why he found a niche and how he can help shape the European debate
My first meeting with The new European happened in a supermarket in Godalming, Surrey. It was the cover that caught my eye: a photo of Theresa May with a Pinocchio nose stretching out into the distance.
Upon closer inspection, I discovered a refreshing mix of news, perspectives and reporting on the arts, culture, politics and sport. What attracted most was the irreverent tone. Here is a newspaper with a confident pro-European and anti-Brexit voice. I felt an immediate kinship.
So when Matt Kelly, TNEfounder and editor-in-chief of, invited me late last year to join a group of investors and advisers, the offer was irresistible. Having spent over 40 years in journalism, primarily at the Financial Times, I saw an opportunity to help strengthen TNE’s position as a new voice in UK media.
In my experience, the European debate in Britain has long been steeped in fatalism: the (false) notion that the UK is a perpetual victim of Brussels and that there is not much to do against ignorance and public prejudice. In my opinion, politicians should take their share of the responsibility, but so should the UK media (and not just the tabloids).
I witnessed the shenanigans during my six years as a FThead of the Brussels office (1992-98), where I rode with Boris Johnson from The telegraph of the day. Johnson has written fantastic stories about new EU regulations banning curl bananas, performers occupying a new “Tower of Babel” and Jacques Delors plotting to build a post-Maastricht European superstate.
The fact that these great stories were printed under Max Hastings, one of the best newspaper editors of his generation, is a fact easily forgotten, not least because Hastings has since disowned Johnson as an empty shell utterly unfit to be prime minister.
The point is, Johnson’s journalistic legacy of half-truths and inventions lives on today, with one crucial difference.
Brexit has settled the European question for a generation. I don’t see any way for the UK to join the EU anytime soon – even assuming the EU wants us back (which I don’t think it does). The war is over. But how to define the future relationship of the United Kingdom with the EU27 and its role in the world? What does the UK media have to add to this vital issue?
A brief glimpse into the newspaper landscape suggests there is room for a new voice. With the notable exception of the Daily mail that has eclipsed the Sun, the tabloids are in constant decline, canceled out by the digital revolution and the phone hacking scandal.
Johnson’s decision to go for a ‘hard Brexit’, withdrawing from the customs union and the single market, suddenly killed the stories that Brussels was intruding into every nook and cranny of life British. It is true that some will get angry at the EU’s “legal purism” towards Northern Ireland, but that is not really the business of “Up Yours, Delors”.
The same goes for chauvinist campaigns. Even the The telegraph of the day failed to muster much enthusiasm for the putative British Navy assault on French fishermen off the Channel Islands. Indeed, under the ownership of the Barclay family, the Torygraph has become Johnson’s spokesperson (or is it the other way around?). Formerly the journal of foreign correspondents, it has suffered an exodus of expertise.
The most recent loss was Peter Foster, an outstanding Brexit reporter, who joined the FT.
the Time and Sunday opening hours offer a more nuanced image. Under John Witherow, now Fleet Street’s longest-serving editor, the Time offers unbiased European coverage, the best Westminster reporting and a range of commentary. Simon Nixon, recruited as editor-in-chief, is an influential pro-European voice; but I suspect Witherow’s (and Murdoch’s) point of view is that Brexit must work and Johnson must have a chance.
At Sunday opening hours, Emma Tucker (who worked with me at the FT Brussels office), is instinctively a Remainer; but she is new to the job of editor-in-chief and knows her political master’s limited tolerance for dissent on political issues. Better to focus on the Johnson administration’s own failings, both on Covid and on cronyism (which she and her team have done admirably).
On the left, the Guardian remains marked by the Intifada of Corbyn. The title has a number of distinguished pro-European journalists headed by Jonathan Freedland; but my feeling is that the majority sentiment is more concerned with climate change, cultural wars and inequalities.
Which brings us to FT. I took my licks as editor of Paul Dacre Daily mail which ridiculed us as “Remoaners” after the referendum. We have remained true to our task of reporting on the economic and political damage caused by a hard Brexit, drawing on an unprecedented network of correspondents based in Europe.
But the FT remains something of a niche publication in UK. It is primarily an economic and financial information organization that intends to expand worldwide. This doesn’t speak to White Van, let alone Whitehaven Man (or Woman). I will say nothing more.
Beyond the limits of UK newspapers and readable magazines such as the Spectator, New statesman and Perspective, there are many promising new voices and outlets offering ideas and information about EU-rope (to borrow the neologism of academic and writer Tim Garton Ash).
Brexit made Anand Menon, now at King’s College London, the go-to multimedia commentator and performer. His new initiative – the UK in a Changing Europe – has produced excellent work in collaboration with Jill Rutter of the Institute of Government, a former senior Treasury official, Tim Bale and Alan Wager.
Particularly valuable is their Brexit Witness Archive, a collection of in-depth interviews with ministers and officials about the process that led to the referendum and its grim aftermath.
Such factual reporting is a welcome relief from the myths that have so often distorted the European debate in the past.
In short, I see room for improvement but also for optimism. The new European – cheeky, eccentric and shameless – has created a new space in the British media landscape. And, no doubt, he’s here to stay.
Lionel Barber is the author of The powerful and the damned, life behind the headlines of the financial age, published by Penguin