Brexit: Court date for campaign to get Johnson prosecuted for referendum 'lies' about paying EU £350m a week

'This would be the beginning of the end of lying in politics in the UK,' private prosecutor says

Tom Embury-Dennis
Monday 13 May 2019 08:18 BST
Boris Johnson says that the Brexit process has become satirical

A crowdfunding campaign attempting to have Boris Johnson prosecuted for his “lies” about Brexit will receive a hearing in court later this month.

The Brexit Justice campaign alleges Mr Johnson abused public trust by “intentionally misleading” voters over his claim Britain pays £350m a week to the European Union.

The former foreign secretary has previously been warned by the UK’s official statistics watchdog the figure, which was infamously emblazoned on the side of a Brexit campaign bus, is a “misuse of public statistics”.

Mr Johnson’s case will receive its first private hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 14 May, where the campaign hopes it will proceed to trial on criminal charges for misconduct in public office – an offence carrying a potential prison sentence.

Marcus Ball, a private prosecutor who brought the case against the Conservative MP, said: “If a company director lies to shareholders about financial matters they can be prosecuted. If a self-employed person lies to HMRC about their spending or income they can be prosecuted. If a member of the public lies to the police about an ongoing investigation they can be prosecuted.

“This is because society and public trust cannot function based upon false information. So, why shouldn’t a politician be prosecuted for abusing public trust by lying about public spending figures?”

Since its launch last year, Mr Ball claims thousands of backers have donated more than £370,000, while celebrities such as Sir Alan Sugar and Paloma Faith have tweeted their support.

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Mr Ball, who revealed he has been working on the prosecution for three years, said the “world first” case was an attempt to make it illegal for MPs to “lie to the public about financial matters”.

“This would be the beginning of the end of lying in politics in the UK,” he added.

Mr Johnson has previously been rebuked over the £350m-a-week claim.

In 2017, Sir David Norgrove, head of the UK Statistics Authority, wrote to him saying: “I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week, in connection with the amount that might be available for extra public spending when we leave the European Union.

“This confuses gross and net contributions. It also assumes that payments currently made to the UK by the EU, including for example for the support of agriculture and scientific research, will not be paid by the UK government when we leave. It is a clear misuse of official statistics.”

Mr Johnson has previously defended his use of the figure.

Earlier this year he told The Guardian: “There was an error on the side of the bus. We grossly underestimated the sum over which we would be able to take back control.

“As and when the cash becomes available – and it won’t until we leave – the NHS should be at the very top of the list.”

Mr Johnson has been contacted for comment.

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