UCL's Constitution Unit issues damning verdict on EU referendum conduct

University College London academics spearhead drive for independent inquiry into both sides’ “misinformation” and “outright falsehood”

By Jim Dunton

24 Jun 2016

One of the most authoritative voices on UK constitutional affairs is leading a calls for an inquiry into referendum rules in the wake of the nation’s decision to leave the European Union.

University College London’s Constitution Unit said the conduct of both the “Leave” and “Remain” sides in the run-up to yesterday’s landmark vote had raised “serious concerns” about the veracity of claims.

It also wants the independent probe to look at the government attempts to “tilt the playing field” before the referendum’s purdah period, and explore how greater prominence can be given to promoting impartial information in future referenda without damaging free speech.

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Constitution Unit deputy director Dr Alan Renwick was scathing about the conduct of both campaigns and said steps must be taken to ensure that future referenda were conducted on a more enlightened and open basis.

"No democrat could be content with the referendum campaign we have just been through,” he said. “Voters have been left confused and bewildered by misleading claims and counterclaims and have struggled to know whom to trust.  

“Such problems are very hard to solve. But some possible improvements are clear and others deserve careful consideration.  

“We should try to ensure that the next referendum held in the UK, whenever it comes, is better designed to deliver a fair, informed, and considered outcome.”

The Constitution Unit said it also wanted the inquiry to look at whether campaigners could be prevented or dissuaded from making false or misleading claims; whether enforceable rules of conduct and use of public resources could be introduced; and whether broadcasters had interpreted rules on impartiality correctly.

It said the campaign had the support of more than 250 academics.

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