UK: Boris Johnson to face court over Brexit lies

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Former British Foreign Secretary and favorite to replace Theresa May as British prime minister, Boris Johnson has been ordered to appear in court over allegations he lied about Brexit by stating Britain would be 350 million pounds a week better off outside the European Union. A judge ruled gave the order yesterday.

The summons was sought by “Brexit Justice”, a crowdfunded group seeking a private prosecution against Johnson, arguing he deliberately made false comments about the cost of Britain’s EU membership before both the referendum and the 2017 national election.

“During both time periods outlined above, the (proposed) defendant repeatedly lied and misled the British public as to the cost of EU membership, expressly stating, endorsing or inferring that the cost of EU membership was 350 million pounds ($442 million) per week,” its application said.

The figure, famously emblazoned on a campaign bus, was a central and controversial part of the Leave campaign’s successful “take back control” message ahead of the 2016 Brexit referendum. Opponents argued that it was deliberately misleading and it became symbolic of the divisions caused by the referendum, which saw Britons vote by 52%-48% to leave the European Union.

District Judge Margot Coleman ruled that Johnson, an ex-mayor of London, must answer a private summons alleging he had committed three criminal offences of misconduct in a public office.

Misconduct in a public office carries a maximum sentence of life in prison and if he were found guilty, it could spell the end of Johnson’s political career.  Critics said the case itself showed he was unfit to be prime minister although other commentators suggested it could boost his leadership campaign by burnishing the anti-establishment image the Eton and Oxford-educated Johnson has cultivated.

In her written ruling at London’s Westminster Magistrates’ Court, Coleman said the accusations were not proven.  But she added: “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.

“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,” she said.  Johnson’s lawyers argued the case was no more than a stunt by those opposed to Brexit and an attempt to use criminal law to regulate the content of political debate for the first time in English legal history.

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