LONDON (Reuters) - Former British Prime Minister David Cameron attempted to have the editor of a national newspaper that strongly supported Brexit sacked during last year's European Union referendum campaign, the BBC has reported.
Cameron, who led the campaign for Britain to stay in the EU, met the owner of the Daily Mail tabloid, the country's second-biggest selling paper with the largest online audience, to urge him to either rein in or sack its editor Paul Dacre, according to the report by BBC TV's "Newsnight" program.
A spokesman for Cameron told the BBC he denied the report and had merely sought to persuade them of his pro-EU case.
The Mail, which Dacre has edited for 25 years, has long been a fierce critic of the EU and, like the majority of Britain's national newspapers, was an outspoken supporter of the campaign to leave the bloc.
Britons voted by 52-48 percent for Brexit on June 23 last year, prompting Cameron to resign the next day.
According to the BBC report, Cameron tried to persuade Dacre to "cut him some slack" in a private meeting last February on the day European Council President Donald Tusk unveiled a deal the bloc had agreed with Britain which Cameron hoped would secure victory in the referendum.
The next day the Mail, which sells about 1.5 papers a day and attracts 14 million global users to its website daily, accused Cameron of "delusion and selling the country short".
Then in March, the BBC said Dacre learned that the then-prime minister had tried to press Jonathan Harmsworth, known as Lord Rothermere, to sack him leaving him "incandescent" and vowing to step up his anti-EU campaign.
Cameron's relationship with the Mail's editor had deteriorated after he ordered a public inquiry in 2011 headed by a judge Brian Leveson to examine media ethics in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal at one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, the BBC reported.
The Leveson inquiry revealed the cozy ties between politicians and editors, although both sides insisted neither was unduly influenced by the other.
"It is wrong to suggest that David Cameron believed he could determine who edits the Daily Mail," his spokesman told the BBC, adding Cameron had privately made his case to Dacre and Rothermere for them not to back Brexit.
A spokesman for Rothermere declined to confirm or deny the BBC report, but said the Mail's proprietor had been "leant on by more than one prime minister" to remove editors over the years.
Dacre also declined to comment, saying he had been free to edit the paper without any interference from Rothermere.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)