Brexit campaign was 'criminally irresponsible', says legal academic

Liverpool University professor says claims were ‘at best misrepresentations and at worst outright deception’

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The Independent Online

A leading legal academic has said the campaign for the UK to leave the EU was “criminally irresponsible”, in a scathing assessment of how the referendum debate was played out.

Michael Dougan, professor of European law at the University of Liverpool, lambasted the Leave campaign’s inability to define what Brexit would entail, which has led to uncertainty among financial markets and a 31-year-low for the pound sterling.

He said in a video posted on Facebook: “Leave conducted one of the most dishonest campaigns this country has ever seen.

“On virtually every major issue that was raised in this referendum debate Leave’s arguments consisted of at best misrepresentations and at worst outright deception.

“And by doing so – by normalising and legitimising this type of dishonesty as a primary tool to win votes, I’m afraid that Leave have inflicted quite untold damage on the quality of our national democracy.”

Mr Dougan, who before the referendum attacked the Leave campaign’s “industrial scale dishonesty” in a viral video, pointed to a number of inaccurate claims about £350m going to the NHS, the imminent accession of Turkey and the creation of an EU army.

He continued: “I’d expect that many of the people who voted Leave on the basis of some of the things we’ve talked about will come to regret that decision.

“But really I’m more fearful that many of the people who voted Leave genuinely believing they were going to get the things they’d been falsely promised are only going to end up feeling more disenfranchised, more marginalised, more angry.

“Around half the country is going to feel like democracy has let them down and that’s a sad and really quite troubling outcome.”

Endorsing calls for the Government to ignore the referendum result, Mr Dougan said there is a “constitutional responsibility to protect the national interest”, with Parliament the ultimate decision-maker on whether the UK actually leaves the European Union.

Mr Dougan's pre-referendum video, seen by almost seven million Facebook viewers, apparently drew abuse from those who didn’t agree with his position on Brexit.

He said suggestions he benefitted from EU funding were “completely untrue”, adding: “I am an employee of the University of Liverpool and my entire salary is paid by the University of Liverpool and the University of Liverpool does not receive a penny of external funding in order to pay that salary.”

In an out-of-office email response, he had earlier claimed to have been accused of being “paid by the European Commission” and having his “snout in the EU trough”.

Mr Dougan, originally from Northern Ireland, wrote: “If you have sent me an abusive message, e.g. falsely claiming that I am paid by the European Commission / that I have my snout in the EU trough / that I am only worried about saving my own job / that you hope I get deported sooner rather than later, please do not be offended if I do not treat replying to your message as a priority.

“If you have sent me a threatening email, or one containing racist abuse, I will report it to the police.”

Last week France’s finance minister Michel Sapin said the Leave camp appeared to be “totally unprepared for any of the consequences” of Brexit. 

Research by Opinium suggests 1.2 million who voted for a Brexit in the EU referendum now regret their choice.