Wednesday 29 May 2019 11:52 am

Boris Johnson to face court over claims he lied in Brexit referendum campaign

Boris Johnson's defence team has slammed a decision to summon him to court over claims he made in the run up to 2016's EU referendum.

Johnson will appear at Crown Court to answer accusations of misconduct while in public office over his comments during the referendum that the UK sent the EU £350m per week, a judge ruled today.

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The figure was famously plastered on a red campaign bus as Leave and Remain fought for votes in the referendum.

Leave narrowly won with 52 per cent of the vote, compared to 48 per cent of voters who backed Remain.

In filings published today, Johnson's legal team said: "The application represents an attempt, for the first time in English legal history, to employ the criminal law to regulate the content and quality of political debate.

"That is self-evidently not the function of the criminal law."

The case was brought against Johnson in a private prosecution by Marcus Ball, who claims the former foreign secretary purposely misled the public, then did so again at the 2017 general election.

Today District Judge Margot Coleman ruled that Johnson will be summonsed to face the claims in Crown Court for trial.

Ball claimed that Johnson "repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of EU membership, expressly stating, endorsing or inferrring that the cost of EU membership was £350m per week.

"The defendant knew that such comments were false or misleading in that he had on other occasions used accurate figures and showed a clear understanding of how to quantify UK spending in respect of the EU.

"Lying on a national and international platform undermines public confidence in politics, undermines the integrity of public referendums and brings both public offices held by the (proposed) defendant into disrepute."

Ball pointed to one televised debate in May 2016 in which Johnson allegedly said "we send the EU £10 billion per year".

"Therefore he knew that the £350 million per week figure (£20 billion per year) was incorrect," Judge Coleman's summary of the prosecution's case read.

Johnson, who has denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the case as a "stunt" and said it was "brought for political purposes", according to a summary of his defence's position, pointing out that Ball's prosecution attempt was brought via a limited company called Brexit Justice Limited.

Ball crowdfunded £200,000 to bring the case.

"The company and this application owe their existence to the desire on the part of individuals such as Mr Ball to undermine the referendum result," his defence team stated.

Johnson's defence team added: "A complaint about the way in which a political campaigner has deployed publicly-available statistics in the services of a political debate is not a proper basis for the criminal offence of misconduct in public office."

But Judge Coleman dismissed the idea that the prosecution attempt was "vexatious", saying: "The allegations which have been made are unproven accusations and I do not make any findings of fact. Having considered all the relevant factors I am satisfied that this is a proper case to issue the summons as requested for the three offences as drafted.

"The charges are indictable only. This means the proposed defendant will be required to attend this court for a preliminary hearing, and the case will then be sent to the Crown Court for trial. The charges can only be dealt with in the Crown Court."

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