Monday, November 07, 2016

Crown Prosecution Service to investigate complaint that Vote Leave misleading statements broke law

Anyone who has paid much attention to posts on this blog over the past six months will be aware of my view that too many people on both sides of the EU referendum campaign fell far short of the standard of honesty and accuracy that the British people were entitled to expect.

So I am not in the least surprised at the news that  the CPS is to consider a complaint that leave campaigners misled voters.

I would have thought you could actually put together a case against both sides, but apparently the body which filed the complaint led by Professor Bob Watt, an expert in electoral law from the University of Buckingham, did not do so because, Watt said, dubious comments on the Remain side such as George Osborne’s so-called “punishment budget” threat were “an expression of opinion” rather than a matter of fact.

“Whilst that may be considered by some as deplorable, only claims which amount to assertion of fact are likely to meet the test for undue influence,” said Professor Watt.

“Our primary aim in seeking prosecution is to try to restore some integrity to our democratic processes.
“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.”

Given that certain leave campaigners not only continued to repeat the £350 million figure long after everyone who was paying attention realised it was a significant exaggeration, but claimed that the National Statistical Office supported it long after Andrew Dilnot to whom that office reports had disavowed the figure as misleading, I think the complainants may have a case.

A CPS spokesperson said: “We can confirm that this letter has been received and we are currently considering its content.”

The Guardian report on the complain expresses the opinion that "If a case was brought successfully, it would not have any bearing on the referendum result or prevent the UK leaving the EU, but could result in criminal punishment of anyone held responsible by the courts for making false statements."

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