Boris Johnson, the leading candidate to replace British Prime Minister Theresa May, has been told to appear in court to face questions concerning alleged misconduct during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.
District Judge Margot Coleman ruled Wednesday that Johnson must be questioned about whether he mislead voters during the campaign when he said that Britain contributed £350 million ($442 million) to the European Union each week.
“The allegations which have been made are unproven accusations and I do not make any findings of fact. Having considered all the relevant factors I am satisfied that this is a proper case to issue the summons as requested for the three offenses as drafted. The charges are indictable only,” Coleman said in the ruling.
Boris Johnson is in the running for leader of the Conservative party following the announcement of Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation. (Getty)
“The allegations which have been made are unproven accusations and I do not make any findings of fact. Having considered all the relevant factors I am satisfied that this is a proper case to issue the summons as requested for the three offenses as drafted."
— District Judge Margot Coleman
“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. The charges can only be dealt with in the crown court.”
The ruling comes after Marcus Ball, a 29-year-old businessman, launched a crowdfunding effort to fund the private prosecution of Johnson. He raised nearly £400,000 ($505,000) to finance the legal effort.
His lawyers told Westminster magistrates court that Johnson lied and engaged in criminal conduct when he said the figure during the Brexit campaign, according to The Guardian. The lawyers stressed that the case has nothing to do with preventing or delaying Britain leaving the European Union.
Johnson’s attorney Adrian Darbishire QC said last week that the legal challenge was brought by Ball for political purposes and was merely a “political stunt,” the Guardian reported.
The move could potentially harm Johnson’s bid to replace May as the leader of the party and take control of the country. May announced her resignation last week, setting her official departure date on June 7.
Bookies suggest Johnson remains the leading candidate, though other lawmakers such as Environment Secretary Michael Gove and former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab have made inroads and launched serious challenges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.