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LONDON (Reuters) - A headline in Britain's top-selling newspaper The Sun claiming that the "Queen backs Brexit" was significantly misleading, press regulator IPSO ruled on Wednesday, although the paper stood by its story.
Buckingham Palace had complained to IPSO over the March 9 report, which quoted unnamed sources as saying Queen Elizabeth had made her opposition to British membership of the European Union clear on at least two occasions in the past decade.
Britons will vote on June 23 in a referendum on whether to remain in the bloc, and the suggestion that the popular monarch was in favor of leaving was potentially an important factor in the debate.
"The headline was not supported by the text and was significantly misleading," IPSO said in its ruling, published on its website.
"The headline contained a serious and unsupported allegation that the queen had fundamentally breached her constitutional obligations in the context of a vitally important national debate."
Under her constitutional role, the 90-year-old queen must remain politically neutral and she has studiously avoided letting her views become public during her 64-year reign.
The Sun published the headline "IPSO rules against Sun's Queen headline" at the foot of its front page on Wednesday, as well as an article at the bottom of page two that set out what both sides had argued and what IPSO had ruled.
But in a combative editorial, the newspaper owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, which sells some 1.7 million copies a day, defended its headline and said it stood by the entirety of its story.
"Does the Queen back Brexit? We're sure she does," the editorial read.
"Having devoted her life to Britain, we believe (her opinions) are particularly strong about the erosion of our sovereignty by the EU.
"A newspaper wouldn't be a newspaper if it got wind of such views, so clearly in the public's interest to read, and didn't publish them."
The palace had argued that the headline gave the impression that the queen backed the "leave" camp in the referendum debate, a view it described as misleading and distorted.
The newspaper said it was nonsense to say that the queen always kept her thoughts to herself, citing some remarks about Chinese officials she described as "very rude" in a private conversation that was caught on camera last week.
Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Toby Chopra