Britain's Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (Reuters)
LONDON – Boris Johnson, the favourite to replace Theresa May as British prime minister, must 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 (EU), a judge ruled on Wednesday.
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 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the European Union.
District Judge Margot Coleman ruled that Johnson, a former British foreign secretary and ex-mayor of London, must answer a private summons alleging he had committed three criminal offences of misconduct in a public office.
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.
“The decision to summon Boris Johnson is extraordinary. It is not the role of criminal law to regulate political speech,” said an unnamed source close to Johnson, according to quotes cited by the Daily Mail newspaper’s deputy political editor.
“This runs counter to centuries of British political tradition and risks undermining our democracy.”
Polls suggest that the flamboyant politician, known for his tousled blond hair, is well ahead of the other ten declared candidates in the contest to replace May as leader of Conservative Party and prime minister.
He was one of the leading supporters of Brexit during the 2016 vote and quit the government over May’s EU divorce deal which parliament rejected three times, leading her to announce she would step down as party leader on June 7.
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. (Reuters)