Brexit camp threatens legal action over EU vote extension
Brexit campaigners accused the government of trying to rig the EU referendum and threatened legal action on Thursday as former London mayor Boris Johnson squared up for the campaign’s first TV debate.
British MPs on Thursday approved emergency legislation to extend voter registration — a move that has infuriated the “Leave” camp because many late requests have been from broadly pro-EU younger voters.
Arron Banks, co-chairman of the Leave.EU campaign, said it was “a clear attempt to rig the referendum or, at a bare minimum, to load the dice”.
“It’s a desperate attempt by the establishment to register as many likely Remain voters as possible.
“We are therefore considering all available legal options,” he said.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said the vote to change electoral rules during the campaign was “on the cusp of legality”.
“If we saw this happening in some fledgling democracy in the former Soviet Union or Africa, what would we say about the conduct of this poll?” he asked MPs during the debate before the measure was approved.
– ‘Bunch of conspiracy theorists’ –
The outrage was sparked by a glitch with the government’s main registration website just ahead of a previous deadline of midnight on Tuesday, playing into a heated debate ahead of a knife-edge vote.
The deadline is now midnight Thursday.
Education minister and “Remain” supporter Nicky Morgan, said the “Leave” camp was “turning into a bunch of conspiracy theorists”.
Around 132,000 of the 525,000 people who did successfully register on Tuesday were aged under 25, compared to around 13,000 from the 65-to-74 age group.
The “Remain” camp got another boost when Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston announced she was switching sides from the “Leave” camp, telling the BBC late Wednesday she was “uncomfortable” about the credibility of their claims about the cost of EU membership.
Former Conservative prime minister John Major and his erstwhile political rival in the 1990s — Tony Blair put past battles to one side to warn that leaving the EU would be a “historic mistake”.
They warned that “Brexit” could “jeopardise the unity” of the UK, lead to another referendum of Scotland’s future and threaten Northern Ireland’s hard-won truce.
– ‘Foundations at risk’ –
“Although today Northern Ireland is more stable and more prosperous than ever, that stability is poised on carefully constructed foundations,” Blair said.
“We are naturally concerned at the prospect of anything that could put those foundations at risk.”
The former Labour prime minister warned that Brexit would make it “difficult, or impossible” to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland, which would no longer be in the EU, and the Republic of Ireland, which would remain in the bloc.
In Northern Ireland, the Good Friday agreement signed by Blair in 1998 put an end to three decades of armed conflict in which some 3,500 people were killed.
Scotland’s governing secessionist Scottish National Party has said Britain voting to leave the EU, while a majority of Scots voted to stay in, would trigger a second referendum on independence.
Meanwhile, in a boost for “Leave”, leading businessman Anthony Bamford, chairman of construction machinery firm JCB, came out in support of Brexit, telling his 6,000 employees in a letter they had “very little to fear” from leaving the union.
“JCB will continue to trade with Europe, irrespective of whether we remain in or leave the UK,” he wrote. “I am very confident we can stand on our own two feet.”
Former London mayor and leading “Leave” campaigner Boris Johnson will go head-to-head with Scotland First Minister and “Remain” supporter Nicola Sturgeon for a potentially fractious debate later Thursday.
The WhatUKThinks website’s average of the last six domestic opinion polls puts the “Remain” camp on 51 percent and the “Leave” campaign on 49 percent, but bookmakers still have “Remain” as strong favourite.
Investors remain wary, and have recently sent yields of government bonds — seen as a safe haven — tumbling after buying them up as protection against the political uncertainty.
The yield reached a record low of 1.220 percent at around 0800 GMT compared to 1.253 percent at the close of trading on Wednesday.
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