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CPS Brexit Complaint Being Examined Over Claims Leave Campaigns Misled Voters

Complaint alleges Vote Leave and Leave.EU had 'undue influence' on referendum.

07/11/2016 15:04 | Updated 07 November 2016

The director of public prosecutions is considering a complaint that voters were misled during the EU Referendum by Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on Monday confirmed it had received a complaint which the Guardian said was lodged by an independent group, led by professor Bob Watt.

A CPS spokesperson told the Huffington Post UK: “We can confirm that this letter has been received and we are currently considering its content.”

The complaint alleges the groups’ had “undue influence” on the referendum, in breach of electoral law

Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
The CPS is looking into a complaint that Leave campaigners misled voters; Boris Johnson is pictured above former adviser to David Cameron, Steve Hilton, next to a ad being cited in the case 

Watt, an expert in electoral law from the University of Buckingham, told the newspaper that the case centres on “instances where the leave campaigns continued to make assertions of fact that were knowingly misleading”.

These assertions include the Vote Leave claim that the EU cost the UK £350m a week which Watt said was at odds with evidence from the Office for National Statistics. Boris Johnson is pictured above next to a Leave campaign bus bearing the claim. 

Other instances include alleged misrepresentations on pro-Brexit leaflets that Nissan and Unilever supported leaving the EU, Vote Leave’s posters alleging Turkey is joining the EU and the claim that “the UK has no border controls whilst in the EU”, the Guardian reported. 

Evidence accompanying the complaint reportedly includes a 1992 case involving members of the Liberal Democrats which was later deemed by the courts to be an attempt to mislead voters. The members had produced a leaflet that purported to set out Labour policies in Tower Hamlets, east London. 

The action was not considered to be an offence at that time, but since then the law has changed. Under the Electoral Administration Act of 2006 an attempt to mislead voters is an offence of “undue influence”.

Watt said other cases had been excluded from the complaint, including George Osborne’s pro-Remain “punishment budget”, because it was an “expression of opinion”. He explained that only claims amounting to an assertion of fact were likely to meet the requirements needed to be deemed ‘undue influence’.

The professor said that the action was aimed at restoring “integrity to our democratic processes”.

University of Buckingham
University of Buckingham professor Bob Watt is behind the complaint

He told the Guardian: “None of us is willing to allow the UK to be dragged down to some kind of populist ‘who can lie and deceive the most?’ race to the bottom, such as we witnessed earlier this year.”

While the action will not impact on the referendum result it could lead to anyone being held responsible for misleading voters being punished.

“Ultimately it will be for parliament to decide, based on the court’s judgment on evidence that there was undue influence, if that has bearing on whether the EU referendum result should be considered as democratically safe,” Watt added.

Vote Leave no longer exists, but its successor, Change Britain, is yet to comment on case, as is Leave.EU.

The challenge comes after the High Court last week ruled that Theresa May has to seek parliamentary approval before triggering Article 50, following a case brought by Gina Miller.

The Government is set challenge the decision next month when Nigel Farage will lead a mass march to the Supreme Court where the matter is being heard.

Reaction to the latest complaint around the EU Referendum has been mixed, with some on social media saying that “all MPs proven to have lied”, while other were not going to hold “my breath”. 

Bob Watt is no stranger to electoral challenges. 

Last year successfully advised a group of voters to challenge corrupt former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman by seeking an election petition. The rare proceeding, which dates back to 1770, allows the public to scrutinise a vote in a civil court.

The action led to Rahman being found guilty of a host of corrupt and illegal practices, the vote being declared void, and the politician being banned from standing again.

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