The former prime minister, who is against Brexit and who has called for a second referendum, said that Mr Greig now had “the power and the potential to change the political discourse of our country”, according to one person present.
Sir John, who is on a family holiday, was unavailable for comment. But throughout Westminster and beyond, there is a keen interest in whether the Daily Mail, a strident advocate for Brexit under outgoing editor Paul Dacre, will change when Mr Greig takes over in September.
Like Sir John, Mr Greig supported the Remain campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum and under his stewardship, the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Mail’s sister paper, has questioned the government’s Brexit strategy in its editorials.
By contrast, the Mail has firmly attacked any critics of Brexit and deplored any attempts to soften the break with the EU or delay the process.
Mr Greig’s colleagues say there is little chance that the Mail will now flip to the other side of the debate, but that there will be some changes. Mr Greig himself did not respond to requests for comment.
“There will be fewer one-sided headlines and quotes from [leading proponents of a no-deal Brexit] Jacob Rees-Mogg and Andrew Bridgen,” said one former Mail on Sunday colleague.
The former colleague added that the Daily Mail’s coverage under Mr Greig would reflect a “balance of views” on Brexit and not “‘Remoaner’ being placed in headlines, which has meant a blurring of comment and news”.
“It’s not that he doesn’t think Brexit shouldn’t happen as it was voted for,” the former colleague said. “But it shouldn’t be at the expense of the union or make voters poorer.”
Mr Greig will report to Lord Rothermere, the chairman of Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns the two titles. Like Mr Dacre, who becomes editor-in-chief, he will be given the freedom to edit how he pleases — without interference from the proprietor — or from Mr Dacre.
The veteran editor turned the Daily Mail into a profitmaking machine with unrivalled political and campaigning clout over 26 years in charge, with a circulation that is nipping at the heels of The Sun as Britain’s biggest selling newspaper. The most recent sales figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation show the Mail selling 1.26m copies a day in June, compared with 1.45m for The Sun — although The Sun’s total includes 118,000 free, or “bulk”, copies.
Observers debate how any change of tone will be digested by that audience. “It’s quite a high-wire act for Geordie Greig — to not alienate readers who have been consuming the forceful Paul Dacre line, yet make his mark by expressing some new thinking,” said Douglas McCabe, media analyst with Enders Analysis.
“Management may take the view that public consensus on Brexit has marginally shifted,” he said, referring to recent polls showing support in some areas has shifted to Remain. “If this is the case, the Mail [and its current Brexit coverage] risks feeling more like an outlier rather than the middle England position it has traditionally occupied.”
He added that anyone succeeding a successful editor “would want to carve out her or his version of the role, without disrupting the core model too much”.
Mr Dacre, who declined to comment, made his own views on the impact of changing the Mail’s Brexit stance overwhelmingly clear in a recent column for The Spectator. “Support for Brexit is in the DNA of both the Daily Mail and, more pertinently, its readers,” he wrote. “Any move to reverse this would be editorial and commercial suicide.”
Mr Greig has already begun speaking to some of the paper’s columnists, many of whom share Mr Dacre’s views on Brexit, to reassure them that they figure in his plans, according to several insiders.
One of those who spoke to Mr Greig was reassured by what he heard and said he was not under any pressure to change the tone of his columns. “You don’t just alter your views because of the boss,” the columnist said, adding that any changes by Mr Greig would be “evolutionary, not revolutionary”.
But he added that Mr Greig would be wise not to take the Mail too far from its position on issues of core importance to Mail readers — such as Brexit. “He has to be wary of tarnishing the brand.”
Regardless of what he does with Brexit coverage, it is clear that Mr Greig’s Mail will be different to Mr Dacre’s.
In a moving tribute at a memorial for the late Peter Preston, the former Guardian editor, Mr Dacre said “an editor, who operates without fear or favour, can’t really have friends . . . good editors need to be outsiders”. Mr Greig, by contrast, is a sociable networker.
There are other differences in style between the two editors. “One does it through charm and the other through shouting,” says one person who knows them both well.
With Mr Greig moving into Mr Dacre’s office, changing the decor and officially taking the reins in a matter of weeks, the Mail’s journalists and its readers are about to find out which approach works best.
Additional reporting by Henry Mance
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