29 May 2019 | UK NEWS
The political campaigner Marcus Bell has crowd-funded £200,000 to launch legal proceedings against Conservative MP Boris Johnson, who stands accused of misconduct in public office in relation to claims he made during the EU referendum campaign on behalf of Vote Leave.
Specifically, Mr Bell takes issue with Mr Johnson’s prominent claim that the UK sends £350 million per week to the European Union, saying that this claim has been disputed to the extent that it is arguable in law that Mr Johnson wilfully misled the British public. Mr Johnson’s lawyers have responded by claiming that these legal proceedings are “a stunt” whose sole aim is to damage the Leave cause and contribute towards reversing the 2016 referendum decision.
Mr Johnson faces three allegations of the offence, covering both the referendum campaigning period and the 2017 General Election. The case could potentially be a landmark in establishing the extent to which comments and standpoints made during political debate are viewed as a matter of law in the United Kingdom.
Ruling that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with a trial, District Judge Margot Coleman said: “The applicant’s case is there is ample evidence that the proposed defendant knew that the statements were false. I accept that the public offices held by Mr Johnson provide status, but with that status comes influence and authority.”
However, fellow Conservative MP and prominent Leave campaigner Jacob Rees-Mogg said: “It is a grave error to try and use legal process to settle political questions. The issue at hand is whether it was right to use the gross or net level of our contribution to the European Union – that is a matter of free speech and the democratic process.”
The political commentary blog Guido Fawkes carried a story today suggesting that Mr Bell has been previously associated with groups whose goal is to stop Brexit, in contrast to his claims that these legal proceedings are intended solely to address the issue of elected officials misleading the public.
Meanwhile, former Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell has been expelled from the party after he publicly admitted to voting for the Liberal Democrats in last Thursday’s European Parliament elections. Dawn Butler MP, the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said that members who openly admitted to voting for other parties were “automatically excluded”. She added: “It’s just part of the rulebook. Everyone knows that.”
Mr Campbell responded by telling reporters: “I think it’s a strange thing to do, and I think people will inevitably draw the contrast between the lack of rapidity in dealing with cases involving anti-Semitism.”
It comes as the Equality and Human Rights Commission announced this week that it has launched a formal investigation into the Labour Party concerning allegations of anti-Semitism.
Elsewhere in UK political news, The Guardian reports that the Speaker of the House, John Bercow MP, has said he has no plans to stand down from his role in the near future, in contrast to a previous timetable he had set out for his tenure.
The Express also carried an interview with Lord Adonis (Labour) today, in which he stated that the one Conservative leadership candidate he saw as posing an electoral problem for the Labour Party was Rory Stewart MP.