Brexit

High Court judge describes challenge by British expatriates to halt Brexit as "hopeless"

Prime Minister Theresa May who triggered Article 50. Photo by Yui Mok/PA
Sian Harrison

A HIGH Court judge has described a challenge by a group of British expatriates who want to halt Brexit as "hopeless" and said it should never have been brought.

The UK in EU challenge group argued that breaches of spending limits by pro-Leave campaigners in the run-up to the vote meant the 2016 referendum result should be declared void.

They also said the prime minister's decision to trigger Article 50, the mechanism by which the UK will leave the EU, should be quashed.

In a ruling on Monday, Mr Justice Ouseley said the referendum result and the Article 50 notification were lawful.

He said: "I consider that the claim was hopeless.

"I consider that, on its merit, it had such severe problems that it should never have been brought."

The judge also said Theresa May was entitled to treat the referendum result as valid and was not obliged to wait until the outcome of electoral commission and criminal investigations were known.

The UK in EU Challenge group said it was considering an appeal against the ruling.

Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and referred to the police while Leave.EU was fined £70,000 following investigations by the electoral commission.

UK in EU Challenge argued at a hearing on Friday that the electoral offences meant the 2016 referendum was not a "free and fair vote".

Their lawyers argued that the vote was "not democratic" and asked Mr Justice Ouseley for the issues to be considered at a full judicial review.

At the outset of a ruling on Monday, the judge refused permission for a further hearing.

UK in EU Challenge said the electoral offences rendered the result of the referendum and the notification to leave the EU under Article 50 void.

Their lawyers previously told the court that the case, brought against Mrs May, was one of "grave constitutional importance".

Mr Justice Ouseley dismissed the case, saying it was brought too late and was "without arguable merit".

He added: "It is difficult to see how the government could proceed if it had to wait for the outcome of an Electoral Commission investigation, keeping everyone - including the EU 27 - on the hook, waiting to see what the UK was going to do, or waiting for the conclusion of other investigations."

The judge also said evidence provided on behalf of the group regarding the number of Facebook users who accessed pro-Leave posts after the spending limits had been breached was full of "speculation".

He described the report's treatment of 80 million Facebook users as individual voters as "palpable nonsense".

Susan Wilson, lead claimant in the case and chairwoman of Bremain in Spain, said: "Whilst I am obviously disappointed with this ruling, this challenge is far from over.

"We are now working through the judgment in depth and considering an appeal, however this is a costly course of action and we are reliant on crowdfunding support.

"The court has heard facts about repeated Vote Leave illegal payments and the ways in which these funds were directed to influence the referendum outcome.

"For the court to let this matter pass indicates a shocking level of tolerance for illegal behaviour in our democratic process.

"It would be a mistake to deny this wrongdoing and the impact it has had.

"Throughout this case, the Government has aggressively countered our claims, despite the detailed findings of the Electoral Commission and expert witness evidence.

"In doing so, it has shown a blatant disregard for UK democratic values."

Joseph Barrett, representing the Prime Minister, told the court the case was a "political campaign by legal means".

The judge ordered UK in EU Challenge to pay £17,200 towards the Government's legal fees.

The latest update on the group's Crowdjustice page indicates it has raised £95,880 through crowdfunding.

Mrs Wilson thanked everyone who donated to the legal fund.

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