When is a democracy not a democracy? When campaign overspending influences the outcome of a vote
There’s growing scrutiny over the fairness of the EU Referendum. A debate will take place in Parliament today, and the UK in EU Challenge is seeking an expedited hearing in High Court.
One of the fundamental characteristics of a democracy is that all votes are fair. If they’re not done fairly they can be overturned.
This is the case for General Elections. It’s the case in European Union elections. It’s the case for local elections. It’s the case for local authority referendums. But it’s not the case in the 2016 EU Referendum.
Electoral commission report
An Electoral Commission report published in July (opens as a PDF) found that the Vote Leave Campaign, fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, exceeded its legal spending limit of £7 million by almost £500,000. Vote Leave repeatedly refused to attend Electoral Commission interviews.
In an EU Scrutiny Select Committee meeting last week Darren Jones, Member of Parliament for Bristol North West, asked Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, whether he had any issues with implementing policy based on an illegal campaign.
“Does it cause you any angst to be implementing these quite wide-ranging and potentially disastrous solutions on the basis of illegality?” enquired Jones.
In response Raab accused Jones of posturing, arguing that the Referendum result reflected the will of the British people.
“…in fairness, notwithstanding the seriousness of any propriety, I don’t think any of that would have vitiated or invalidated the decision of the British people,” said Raab.
Article 50 debate and legal challenge
The UK Government is coming under increasing scrutiny on this issue.
Today Parliament will debate an online petition about Article 50 in which almost 200,000 people have called on the Government to debate whether the UK should rescind notice to withdraw from the EU, if Vote Leave broke the law.
The government commits to respond to a petition on parliament.uk if it gets more than 10,000 signatures. At 100,000 signatures a petition is considered for a debate in Parliament.
The debate and petition before Parliament is based on the same legal premise as the UK in EU Challenge.
The claimants behind the challenge are asking the High Court to declare the Referendum result invalid on the basis of the Electoral Commission findings.
They are also asking the Court to rule on whether the Government’s decision to trigger Article 50 needs to be revisited now that the Leave campaign's fraudulent behaviour has been proven by the Electoral Commission beyond all reasonable doubt.
It argues that the Prime Minister is wrong to rely on the Referendum as result as the "will of the people" now the Electoral Commission has proven wrongdoing. You can read the basis of the case for yourself (opens as a PDF).
The challenge is rooted in basic fairness and adherence to the democratic process which prevents the buying of votes and power.
The case is focused on Brexit but it's not about Leave or Remain, it’s about rights, fairness and democracy. The referendum would almost certainly need to be rerun if it was successful.
On 31 August, the Government responded to the UK in EU Challenge with Summary Grounds of Resistance as per the High Court’s ruling.
The UK in EU Challenge has published these Summary Grounds and its response (opens as a Google Drive), including a list of supplementary questions which have been sent to the Prime Minister’s lawyers.
The campaign is seeking an expedited hearing in the High Court. A decision is expected later this week.
My partner Sarah Hall is acting as the UK in EU Challenge communications director, working with law firm Crofts Solicitors on behalf of the UK in EU claimants, led by Sue Wilson.
The team has unlocked a grassroots movement and raised more than £60,000 in a week via Crowd Justice, a crowdfunding platform for legal action, in a week.