Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
Tel. +44 (0)20 7287 4414
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.
The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

Bruges Group Blog

Spearheading the intellectual battle against the EU. And for new thinking in international affairs.

Not fit for purpose: cheating Remainers undermine UK petitions website

Oh, the irony. All that conspiracy theory about Kremlin interference in the EU referendum, and now the desperate Remain campaign cheats our public petitions website by encouraging signatures from anywhere in the world. Russians are aplenty among the millions of petitioners urging revocation of Article 50. Nigel Farage is rightly asking why this form of Russian interference isn't getting the political and media attention given to spurious allegations about the Leave campaign. Where is Carole Codswallop when you need her?

The petitioners include 'Queen Elizabeth', 'Idi Amin' and indeed 'Nigel Farage'. But worse, people are boasting of signing several times. How does an official and supposedly robust petitions website allow this to happen? As the sheer size of this petition is being exploited at a critical period in the Brexit impasse, the Bruges Group has written a letter of complaint to the government petitions office (see below).

The petition 'Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU' was created by Margaret Anne Georgiadou, a former humanities lecturer who lives in Cyprus (it is debatable whether anyone from outside the UK should be allowed to start petitions on a national resource; wait till the Chinese government catches on to this). Georgiadou was courted on the BBC and other mainstream media, and told the Guardian that she had received death threats. However, scrutiny of her social media activity by Guido Fawkes showed that Georgiadou is not averse to violent incitement. Earlier this year she had a lengthy exchange on Twitter about getting a gun to take to Westminster to shoot Theresa May, while also making murderous comments about Brexit voters.

We do not doubt the ability of the Remain campaign to garner millions of legitimate signings in pursuance of their cause. But the petitions website is fundamentally flawed if it allows the abuses detailed in the letter. The petitions office's response to serious concerns so far has been dismissive, referring to 'technical problems' while stating that petitioners must give a name, postcode and e-mail address, but as clearly seen, this is hardly watertight.For three days the website was not fully operating, purportedly due to overwhelming use, but signings continued to add to the total of 'Revoke Article 50', while a petition to leave the EU without a deal was blocked. In the context of institutional bias against Brexit, it is not unreasonable to suspect foul play here.

The website is now back up and running, and readers will be pleased to see the 'No deal' petition steadily growing. Is this any more trustworthy than 'Revoke Article 50'? I would say so, having followed the former petition closely since it was launched some weeks ago. The geographical spread shows support is quite well distributed across the UK: statistically there is a narrow standard deviation around the average of 1000 per constituency. By contrast, the 'Revoke Article 50' petition is like a map of Saudi Arabia: major cities surrounded by desert. Petitioners are heavily concentrated in areas of affluence or university cities: Bristol, Bath, Brighton and Cambridge, as well as some London boroughs. Of course, this is not in itself suggestive of gamesmanship, but it could be an effect of multiple signings by individual people in Remain-voting hotspots.

This is not merely a storm in a teacup. It is another symptom of the distortion of public services to override ordinary people around the country, who already felt neglected before the bastions of power and privilege defied the referendum result. With the abuse of the public petitions website, facilitated by a blasé if not biased authority, determined Remain campaigners show themselves to be unscrupulous and Machiavellian.

Consequently, Leave voters could not possibly trust our establishment to run a second referendum, as demanded by the 'People's Vote' movement. Vote-rigging was a significant problem in the 2017 General Election, as young people were encouraged to vote twice by student unions and activists. Add to that calls to expand the franchise to 16-year-olds and everyone from EU countries living in Britain. Abuse of the 'Revoke Article 50' petition shows that any further vote on Brexit would surely be rigged.

Inevitably there will be counter-accusations about the 'No deal' petition now that it is heading towards a million, but if there was ever a competition between Leavers and Remainers in cheating, the latter would win hands down. In a properly functioning political system, the only vote that should count is the EU referendum itself, and we know who won - fairly and squarely - at the ballot box.

25th March 2019

Complaint: abuse of Government Petitions website

Dear Sir / Madam

We are writing with concern about widespread, systematic abuse of your petitions website. As you know, last week a petition 'Revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU' was created, which gained four million subscriptions within four days. While we do not dispute the genuine appeal of such a petition (16 million voted to remain in the EU), it seems that a substantial number of signings are not legitimate, as reported in the media.

The government petitions website is a highly valued public asset. Millions of ordinary people use it in the belief that petitioning for particular causes may have influence on politicians and policy. However, the credibility of the website has been undermined by the aforementioned petition, detracting from its contribution to the workings of a fair, democratic society.

Scrutiny by the Guido Fawkes website (21st March) showed that tens of thousands of signings of 'Revoke Article 50' were from Europe or farther afield, including Russia, Afghanistan, North Korea, and a fictitious country 'Western Sahara'. We have seen your response to journalists explaining that British citizens living abroad are allowed to sign petitions, but is eligibility of overseas signings properly checked?

The Guardian (23rd March) reported that 96% of signings were from the UK. However, people have been able to sign multiple times. For example, one person signed under the names Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier and Jean-Claude Juncker (Daily Express, 22nd March). According to Guido Fawkes (22nd March), there were 8000 signings under the name of Jacob Rees Mogg. Numerous petitioners have been sharing their addresses and post codes on Twitter, encouraging others to use these. According to Bruce Lawson on Twitter (@sapere_vivere), after signing several times by using different e-mail addresses, he found that he could sign multiply from the same address.

                       I've just signed the #RevokeArt50Now petition 10 times. Started off using different email addresses but then noticed you can sign it multiple times using the same email address. So fill your boots.

How can this be possible? As well as individual acts of cheating, the website is apparently vulnerable to robots (from Britain or abroad), which could generate an infinite number of fake signings.

For an official petitions website, this is scandalous. Ordinary people would expect that the system would be sufficiently robust to prevent abuse; instead, it seems to have no more credibility than a Twitter poll.

This is not merely a problem of an untrustworthy petitions facility. We are amidst a highly charged political situation over the EU withdrawal, and this huge but corrupted petition is being exploited by influential figures as ammunition in their call to overturn the verdict of the referendum.

We emphasise that our concern is not that a large mass of people has signed a petition, but that your website has been exposed as open to rampant abuse. Will corrective actions be taken to repair the operation and reputation of this public resource?

We suggest that the 'Revoke Article 50' petition is closed until proper checks are made and illegitimate signings removed.

Yours sincerely

Robert Oulds & Niall McCrae

Bruges Group

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Tel: 020 7287 4414
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