Boris Johnson has described Virgin Trains’ decision to stop stocking The Daily Mail as an “absurd” and “pompous” ban that resembles censorship.
The Foreign Secretary weighed in on the row between the newspaper and train operator.
Virgin has declared the Mail “not at all compatible” with its brand in an internal note to West Coast line staff in November.
Virgin Trains also said staff had raised “considerable concerns” about the Mail’s “editorial position on issues such as immigration, LGBT rights and unemployment”.
Mr Johnson tweeted: “Absurd ban on Daily Mail by Virgin! Pompous, censorious and wrong #virginontheridiculous”.
Theresa May has been clear about the importance of having an independent press, but that ultimately it was a decision for Virgin, a Downing Street source said.
Asked if the Prime Minister shared the Foreign Secretary’s opinion, the source said: “She has always been clear on the importance of a free press to our democracy and indeed to our society.”
A spokesman for Jeremy Corbyn said the Daily Mail would not be banned on the publicly-owned railway envisaged by Labour.
“Jeremy is an enthusiastic supporter of a free press and the pluralism of the press,” he said.
“Obviously private companies will decide what they want to stock on their trains.”
He added: “There will be no bans on a publicly-owned railway.”
The Mail has said Virgin Trains told them the only reason the paper would no longer be stocked was to “save space” and that it only ever sold 70 copies a day.
A spokesman for the newspaper accused the train operator of only selling pro-Remain titles the Mirror, Financial Times and the Times, in line with owner Sir Richard Branson’s views.
The Mail spokesman added: “It is disgraceful that, at a time of massive customer dissatisfaction over ever-increasing rail fares, and after the taxpayer was forced to bail out Virgin’s East Coast mainline franchise, a decision strongly criticised by the Mail, that Virgin Trains should now announce that for political reasons it is censoring the choice of newspapers it offers to passengers.”
A spokesman for Virgin Trains said: “We regularly review the products we have on sale for customers in the shop on board our west coast trains and after listening to feedback from our people, we decided in November 2017 that we would no longer stock copies of the Daily Mail.
“When we stocked the Daily Mail on board, we sold one copy for every four trains.”
The Society of Editors has said it is concerned about the move, which “smacks of censorship”.