Boris Johnson, the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, has been summoned to court over allegations of misconduct in public office due to a claim he made during his time campaigning in the 2016 Brexit referendum. A judge announced the official ruling on Wednesday, May 29th.
Johnson claimed that Britain contributed £350 million ($442 million) to the European Union each week. This statement has been widely disputed and led to a judge ruling that Johnson has to answer allegations that he lied and misled the public during the 2016 referendum campaign.
In the "leave" campaign that advocated a break with the EU, Johnson played a key role. One of the most effective actions taken by campaigners was funding a tour of England by a big, red bus, its sides emblazoned with a promise that voting for Brexit would mean that instead of sending £350 million weekly to the EU, the funds could be used for Britain's National Health Service (the NHS).
Boris Johnson, who recently joined the race to be Theresa May’s successor as Prime Minister, is a popular figure in British politics due to his character and easily-recognisable appearance. With a head of untamed blonde hair and his guy-next-door attitude, he gained people’s trust during his time as mayor of London from 2008 to 2016 and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2016 to 2018. In the British media he is often simply referred to as “Boris”.
Johnson is, however, also well known for missteps in both his personal life as well as his political career. He has managed to offend many foreign politicians over the years in circumstances that left many confused when he was appointed as foreign secretary in 2016. The BBC commented at the time that Johnson was “a man who, let's not forget, said he wanted to see fewer foreigners during the EU referendum” and compiled a list of his most controversial foreign insults. Included were comments directed at Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, as well as a comparison Johnson drew between the EU and Nazi Germany.
British District Judge Margot Coleman ruled on Wednesday, May 29th, that Johnson will have to answer questions about his claims. The case outlines three allegations of misconduct in public office, between February 21st and June 23rd 2016, and between April 18th and May 3rd 2017. The accusation relates to the same offence performed at different times, during both the referendum campaign and in 2017’s general election.
The judge said in a written statement that the allegations against Johnson are "unproven" and that she is not judging the evidence to determine if Johnson is at fault. But, she said, "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."
Johnson’s lawyers denied that he acted dishonestly. According to AP, the date for the hearing has not yet been set. But the timing is unfortunate, with Johnson currently the bookmakers’ favourite as the race for leadership of the Conservative Party gathers pace.