The referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union may face a legal challenge after the government extended the deadline for registering to vote by two days.
Britons had originally been given until midnight Tuesday to register to vote in the historic referendum, which takes place in two weeks’ time. But as the deadline loomed on Tuesday night the government’s online registration system crashed, leaving thousands unsure as to whether they were registered or not.
In response the government yesterday legislated to extend the deadline until midnight tonight.
According to Leave.eu co-chairman Arron Banks, that extension may leave the results of the referendum open to legal challenge. “For the Government to alter election law during an election period is absolutely unprecedented and unconstitutional,” Mr Banks said in a statement.
Speaking to Radio 4’s Today program this morning, he confirmed that he was exploring the possibility of mounting a legal challenge, saying: “We’ve got lawyers that are looking at it at the moment.
“They are tending to say it’s unconstitutional because once you’ve set the rules you can’t really change it halfway through, and Parliament really shouldn’t be doing this.”
Mr Banks, along with many other leave campaigners, have accused the extension of being yet another government stitch-up as those registering on the site at the last minute were overwhelmingly young people, who are more likely to vote to remain within the EU.
“This isn’t some democratic initiative, it’s a desperate attempt by the Establishment to register as many likely Remain voters as possible before polling day,” Mr Banks said.
“Terrific efforts have been made to target young people, thought to be more sympathetic to the EU, while older voters who backed Remain in 1975 but have grown heartily sick of the bloc after forty years of broken promises were given a body swerve.”
525,000 people applied to register to vote on the site on Tuesday, of whom 302,000 were 18-34 year olds.
The most recent polling undertaken by ICM on the referendum found that, of those who said they were certain to vote in the referendum, 61.5 percent of 18-34 year olds said they would vote remain against 29.5 percent backing leave. Yet overall, the poll showed a five-point lead for Leave.
The official leave campaign reacted by urging its supporters to sign up as many of their friends as possible to play the government at its own game.
“They’ve just told the House of Commons that their website crashed last night because of the high demand – but we know that the Government and their allies are trying to register as many likely Remain voters as possible,” they said in an email sent out to supporters.
“Whitehall will do anything to stop this country taking back control from the EU.
“That’s why it’s vital that we use this opportunity to make sure every likely Leave voter is registered too.”
But Mr Banks pointed out that the extension is merely the latest in a series of irregularities which have arisen during the campaign.
He cited numerous concerns including the issuing of polling cards to more than 3,000 EU citizens who have no right to vote in the referendum; Bristol City Council issuing advice on voting which depicted a pen hovering over the remain box; and the government’s infamous £9 million propaganda leaflet, among other incidents.
“Taken together, we believe that the above constitutes a clear attempt to rig the referendum or, at a bare minimum, to load the dice, Mr Banks said. “We believe It is unconstitutional at best and have been advised that with legitimate cause we could challenge this extension. We are therefore considering all available legal options with our legal team, with a view to potentially launching a judicial review now and after the outcome of the referendum on 23rd June.”