PETITION FOR SECOND EU REFERENDUM MAY HAVE BEEN MANIPULATED
Data shows citizens of other countries may have signed petition meant only for British citizens and UK residents
A petition calling for a second EU referendum which has gained more than 3 million signatures is under investigation by parliamentary authorities.
The House of Commons petitions committee has confirmed that 77,000 signatures, which were added fraudulently, have been removed. A tweet by the committee said that it would continue to monitor the petition for suspicious activity.
The request for another referendum on the parliament’s official petitions website should have been signed only by UK residents and British citizens living either in the UK or abroad.
The petition’s data showed signatories from countries around the world, including Iceland, the Cayman Islands and Tunisia, and in some cases there were more signatures than the total population.
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Despite Vatican City having a total population of just 800, more than 39,000 residents of the tiny city state appeared to have signed the petition at midday on Sunday, before fake signatures began to be removed.
Helen Jones, the chair of the petitions committee, said that those signatures discovered to be fake would be “removed” and said such fraud “undermines the process of parliamentary democracy”.
She said: “The Government Digital Service are taking action to investigate and, where necessary, remove fraudulent signatures. People adding fraudulent signatures to this petition should know that they undermine the cause they pretend to support.
“It is clear that this petition is very important to a substantial number of people. The petitions committee will be considering the petition at its meeting next week, and will decide whether or not to schedule a debate on it.”
The website’s only identity “test” is a simple checkbox asking to confirm you are either a British citizen or that you are a resident of the UK. While postcodes are required, street addresses are not and no proof of ID is needed.
People from different countries have been tweeting that they signed the petition. Mark Mennell, who is Australian and used to live in the UK, used his old postcode to sign. He said: “Anyone in the world can do it, it seems … It’s a complete farce.”
Meanwhile, some UK residents have been tweeting to encourage followers from other countries to use their postcodes in order to let them add their names to the list.
The petition was started by leave activist William Oliver Healey in May, when polls suggested remain would win. Parliament must consider all petitions that reach a threshold of 100,000 votes for a debate.
On Sunday, Healey posted a statement on his Facebook page attempting to distance himself from the petition. He wrote: “Due to the result, the petition has been hijacked by the remain campaign. Admittedly, my actions were premature, however, my intentions were as stated above.
“There was no guarantee of a leave victory at that time. Having said that, if it had not been mine, it would have been orchestrated by someone on the remain campaign.
“I believe what we need to do now for the good of the country is get behind the will of the British people, unite, issue article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon and move forward, with the process of leaving the European Union.”
Overall, close to 2.5m signatures had been garnered from within the UK by Sunday lunchtime, making up an overwhelming proportion of the whole, although it’s difficult to tell how many of these were genuine.
This article was amended on 27 June 2016 to clarify that the number of signatories from Vatican City was 39,000 at midday on Sunday shortly before this article was first published and before fake signatures began to be removed. It was also amended to clarify that British citizens living abroad are eligible to sign the petition.