Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson could be prosecuted privately for comments made in the run-up to the EU referendum after a judge agreed to hold a public hearing on the matter, a campaigner has said.
Marcus Ball, 29, is bringing the private case against Mr Johnson for allegedly abusing public trust during the EU referendum campaign.
The next stage of the case will take place on May 23 – the date of the European Parliament elections.
Mr Ball alleges that the former foreign secretary committed misconduct in public office by endorsing and making statements which he knew to be false at a time when he was mayor of London and an MP.
The allegation relates to the much-trumpeted claim by the Vote Leave campaign that the UK sends £350 million a week to the European Union, which was found to be misleading by the UK Statistics Authority.
Mr Ball appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday afternoon for a behind-closed-doors legal hearing ahead of the case starting properly later this month.
Giles Bright, Mr Ball’s solicitor, said: “The court has determined that a public hearing will take place on Thursday May 23 at this court, at which the judge will consider the application to issue a summons against the proposed defendant, Mr Boris Johnson MP, for the offence of misconduct in a public office.”
Speaking before the hearing, Mr Ball said: “This is a purely legal case, it is not about political point-scoring.
“And we must remember he is innocent until proven guilty.”
In a tweet posted to his 13,000 followers before he headed into court, Mr Ball said: “Today is the first day, after almost 3 years of work, that our prosecution case against Mr Johnson MP is being heard in court.”
More than 30 supporters gathered outside the court while Mr Ball’s case was heard.
They were joined for a brief moment by self-styled Boris Johnson lookalike Drew Galdron – but the 35-year-old left a short time later after Mr Ball’s supporters said the “stunt would muddy the waters” and distract attention from their cause.
Before the hearing, Mr Ball said: “This case is a world first, it has never happened before. A member of Parliament has never been prosecuted for misconduct in public office based upon alleged lying to the public.
“My backers and I aspire to set a precedent in the UK common law making it illegal for an elected representative to lie to the public about financial matters.”
Mr Ball previously said he raised more than £370,000 across several crowdfunding campaigns to finance the case, but he declined to provide an update outside court.