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    MPs could be banned from bullying members of the public on social media

    MPs could be banned from launching “unreasonable and excessive” personal attacks against members of the public on social media. The rule change, which is still subject to confirmation, has been recommended by parliament’s sleaze watchdog in a bid to raise MPs’ standards of public conduct.In a draft report released on Monday the standards committee says it should become “an investigable breach of the Code for a Member to subject anyone to unreasonable and excessive personal attack in any medium”.The committee’s report says it is “concerned that the new world of communications created by social media has created a situation in which personal attacks and abusive content directed at individuals can be widely disseminated in a way which may not break the law but which, in extreme cases, can be regarded as disreputable”.In order to protect MPs’ free speech, the committee says a “member’s views and opinions should continue to be excluded from investigation under the code”.And The Independent understands that any personal attacks would have to be simultaneously both unreasonable and excessive in order to qualify as a breach of the rules.But they add: “Tweets and other social-media comments by Members are not ‘proceedings in Parliament” and are not protected by parliamentary privilege under Article IX. “Nor is the House of Commons itself precluded by Article IX from taking disciplinary action against its own Members, including in respect of conduct in proceedings, if it thinks fit.”The rule change recommended by parliament’s standards committee would be subject to approval by a vote in parliament. The government is expected to accept the committee’s recommendations – though it does not always do so.A number of MPs have been criticised for using social media to make personal attacks in the past. In 2013 culture secretary Nadine Dorries was criticised for telling a journalist she would “nail your balls to the floor” with “your own front teeth”.It comes after the independent commissioner for standards Kathryn Stone told the committee she “would like to see Parliament introduce such a rule in relation to the written and spoken word as well as to the use of social media”.The recommendation in the report is one of a number around the subject of sleaze and second jobs. More

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    UK migration deal will have to be agreed with entire EU, insists France

    Boris Johnson’s hopes of striking a deal with France on the Channel crossings crisis took a further blow as Paris insisted that migration rule changes would have to be agreed between the UK and the EU.Emmanuel Macron’s government has rejected British proposals, and home secretary Priti Patel was excluded from Sunday’s meeting between European ministers on tackling people-smuggling operations.French interior minister Gerald Darmanin ruled out the idea of a speedy bilateral agreement following the emergency summit, saying new arrangements would have to be discussed in Brussels.Mr Darmanin insisted that a “new framework of work with Britain on immigration which must be that of the [European] Commission and of the EU” – but did say France would put forward ideas when it takes over the EU presidency in January.The interior minister again attacked Mr Johnson’s publication of a letter to Mr Macron on Twitter as “a mockery”, and insisted that France would “not be hostages to British domestic politics”.Mr Darmanin told BFMTV on Monday: “When there are serious diplomatic exchanges, and lives that are at stake, and some minutes later you see that a letter, which no one has ever mentioned before, is published on Twitter … it’s a bit peculiar.”Last week the prime minister shared his letter to the French president, which featured a series proposals including joint patrols to prevent more boats from leaving French beaches, and joint maritime patrols in each other’s territorial waters.Mr Johnson also suggested there could be immediate work on a bilateral returns agreement with France to allow migrants to be sent back across the English Channel.But Mr Darmanin insisted that France could not accept British forces in France, and said the idea of British vessels turning back boats mid-Channel was against international law. The interior minister also made clear that the question of returning refugees would have to be agreed with the EU.Mr Darmanin said there was potential deal to be made on the UK returning some migrants in exchange for accepting more unaccompanied minors – as proposed by Ms Patel last week – but only on a “one for one” basis.“If we could send minors to the UK you think we would refuse? No, we would accompany them all the way,” he told The Guardian.Mr Darmanin added: “We are ready to consider minors going to the UK in return for migrants being returned to Belgium, France or Germany or the Netherlands … as long as it is one for one … The British say they want to return a number of migrants for one.”After Brexit, the UK is no longer party to the EU’s “Dublin” regulations, which once allowed the government to ask other European countries to take people back if it could be proved they passed through safe European countries on their way to the UK.The interior minister also said the UK must take responsibility for people attempting to cross the Channel – suggesting Mr Johnson’s government could change employment laws to crack down on migrants working “without having any identity papers”.“When Mr Johnson says that France must ‘take back its migrants’, what he is really asking is for France to exonerate him from any responsibility for receiving them,” Mr Darmanin tweeted on Monday. “The British government must take responsibility.”Meanwhile, an EU plane is set to monitor the shores of the Channel for people crossing, as European leaders stressed the need to better cooperate with the UK after 27 people died when a boat capsized.Interior ministers from France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the European Commission decided on Sunday that from 1 December a plane operated by EU border agency Frontex will help the countries to monitor their shores. More

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    Covid boosters to be recommended for younger adults ‘within hours’, says minister

    Top scientists advising Boris Johnson’s government are set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of Covid booster shots to younger adults on Monday, a health minister has said.The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has been asked to consider boosters for under-40s, as well as reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.“We’re awaiting that advice. I hope it will come, hopefully later today,” junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky News on Monday.On the recommended changes, aimed at limiting the spread of the Omicron variant, he added: “I don’t think [advice] has been formally delivered, but we’d expect that within the coming hours.”It comes as the Scottish government announced that six cases of the Omicron variant have been identified north of the border, with four of the cases in Lanarkshire and two in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area.Professor Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of the (JCVI), has said it would be “sensible” for over-18s in the UK will receive their booster jabs “earlier” than originally planned.The expert described the acceleration of the booster programme – both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose – as a “sensible strategy”. The JCVI is also considering whether second doses should be offered to 12 to 15-year-olds.A third Omicron case was detected in England on Sunday, in a person with travel links to southern Africa who visited Westminster before leaving the country. It is thought the individual visited the London borough and not parliament.The first two infections were identified in Nottingham and Essex, where officials were ordering PCR tests for customers of a KFC in Brentwood as far back as 19 November.Prof Adam Finn, also a member of the JCVI advisory body, was asked about the possibility that the interval between the second and third dose could be reduced from six months to five.He said the scientists are concerned that antibodies offered by existing vaccines might have “reduced efficiency” as a result of the variant. “That would be the reason one would consider giving boosters sooner or giving them to more people,” he told the Today programme.Masks will become compulsory again on public transport and in shops from Tuesday. And teachers and pupils in Year 7 and above are now being “strongly advised” to wear masks in communal areas outside classrooms in England.Close contacts of Omicron variant cases must isolate for 10 days, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, the government has announced. Conservative MP Steve Baker has warned that it could “chaos” in schools again if thousands of pupils are sent home to isolate.Health secretary Sajid Javid insisted on Sunday that it was “nowhere near” time to reintroduce social distancing rules and work-from-home guidance.Mr Argar said he was not anticipating that Covid restrictions would be tightened further in the run up to Christmas, following a change in rules this week. The health minister told Sky News he was “looking forward to a Christmas spent with family and friends”.Asked if the government might tighten up the rules even further in the next three weeks, Mr Argar said: “It’s not something I’m anticipating.”Mr Argar also said “people will make their own judgements” on whether they should wear a face covering in pubs or restaurants, after rules are tightened in shops and public transport.Mr Javid will convene an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday to discuss the variant first detected in South Africa amid concerns it could partially evade existing jabs.Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation said on Monday that the Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where Covid surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas. More

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    Stricter curbs on MPs’ second jobs to be backed by standards watchdog, piling pressure on Boris Johnson

    Stricter curbs on MPs taking second jobs will be proposed by a Commons watchdog, piling pressure on Boris Johnson to act and putting him on a fresh collision course with his own MPs.The long-awaited report on Monday – which No 10 has suggested it will back – is expected to go further than the prime minister’s call for a ban on working as a parliamentary adviser or consultant.It is also likely to reject government calls for a limit on hours worked – allowing up to 20 a week, one Cabinet minister said – after the idea was rubbished by the watchdog’s chair, Labour’s Chris Bryant.But any call by the Commons standards committee to go further than Mr Johnson’s limited move will anger many of his older MPs, who enjoy lucrative outside earnings.Labour, meanwhile, is increasing the pressure, proposing a powerful ‘Integrity and Ethics Commission’ to replace what it calls an “alphabet soup” of sleaze-fighting committees and advisers.The watchdog would enjoy powers to investigate ministers, decide on sanctions for misconduct and ban former ministers from jobs linked to their former roles for at least five years after leaving office.In a speech, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, will accuse Mr Johnson of presiding over a weak system that has failed to prevent government “corruption”.“The current regime is no longer working precisely because we have a prime minister who is shameless in breaking the rules and won’t enforce consequences on others who break them,” she will say.“Corruption – that is the word – is happening in plain sight and it is rife right through this Conservative government.”The report by the standards committee will thrust the row over sleaze, given a rocket boost by the botched attempt to clear Owen Paterson from a lobbying scandal, back centre-stage.Earlier this month, MPs backed a ban on working as a parliamentary adviser or consultant, as well as restricting outside work to “reasonable limits”, but with no cross-party agreement.Questions were immediately raised about a ban on parliamentary consultancy only after it emerged it would not apply to most Conservative MPs with outside work.No 10 appeared to backtrack on an hours limit, pointing to the committee’s looming report and welcoming “further work to be done on a cross party basis”.But Mr Johnson is still rejecting a separate watchdog’s call for him to be stripped of the power to decide whether ministers are investigated for sleaze, despite the rising public anger.Labour says its integrity commission would have powers to:* Open investigations into misconduct and breaches of the ministerial code and obtain any evidence required – without the approval of the prime minister.* Set binding sanctions for code breaches – in place of the “broken system” of the prime minister being able to ignore rule breaches.* Close the “revolving door between ministerial office and lobbying – by banning former ministers from work related to their former job for at least five years.* Force ministers to apply to the watchdog before accepting any job – in place of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is “unable to enforce its rulings”. More

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    Omicron: Public reassured there is no need to change plans for Christmas

    The public has been told to expect “a great Christmas” without new Covid restrictions, despite the arrival of the omicron variant and fears that vaccines will be less effective against it.A day after the return of compulsory mask-wearing was announced, along with more costly tests for travellers, Sajid Javid sought to reassure people that the moves could be lifted soon – and that harsher curbs were not on the way.The health secretary insisted it was not necessary to bring back social distancing or a work-from-home rule, saying: “We are not there yet – we are nowhere near that.”Mr Javid expressed hope that the reintroduction in England of face-coverings in shops and on public transport, together with PCR tests for arrivals, would be reversed “within weeks”. They will come into force early on Tuesday.And he told an interviewer: “I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas; I think it’s going to be a great Christmas,” while offering no “guarantees”.In a further boost, the doctor who discovered the omicron variant said she thought the UK was “panicking unnecessarily”, and that the new variant did not, to her knowledge, appear to make people seriously ill.Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said: “What we are seeing clinically in south Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – that’s where I’m practising – it’s extremely mild.”The health secretary’s comments came as the UK recorded another 51 deaths and 37,681 new Covid cases in just 24 hours, and in spite of the detection of a third omicron infection, in a person with links to travel in southern Africa, who visited London before leaving the country again.Dr Jenny Harries, head of the UK Health Security Agency, said it was “very likely” that further cases of the variant would be discovered in the UK in the coming days.The booster programme will be speeded up, to deliver third jabs to over-18s “earlier” than planned, in an effort to raise “the antibody level in the whole of the community”.The deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Anthony Harnden, called it a “sensible strategy” after the body was asked to explore the move.The JCVI will also review whether second doses should be offered to 12- to 15-year-olds, and whether the six-month gap between second and booster jabs should be cut.In further developments:* Mr Javid admitted that air passengers from South Africa were not tested on arrival on Friday, despite fears they could be carrying the omicron variant* New guidance for schools said that secondary students must wear masks in communal areas and on school buses* Gordon Brown warned that next year’s Christmas is at risk from Covid restrictions unless the UK and other rich nations stop hoarding vaccines badly needed in Africa* Mr Javid was forced to defend not adopting a work-from-home rule – despite the Sage advisory group concluding it to be the most effective Covid-curbing measure* The health secretary said the advice would be updated if omicron symptoms were confirmed to be different, causing extreme fatigue but no loss of taste or smell* New coronavirus regulations will be laid in parliament on Monday, but a vote will not be held until up to 28 days later – long after the measures take effectEarly evidence suggests omicron may be more transmissible than the delta variant, the current dominant strain, and that it may partially evade the protection delivered by current vaccines.The contacts of omicron cases will be told to isolate for 10 days, until any greater danger from its mutations is established by scientists.Ruling out further curbs for now, Mr Javid told Sky News: “We know now that those type of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, and in terms of non-Covid health outcomes, such as the impact on mental health.“If one was to make decisions like that, they would have to be done very, very carefully. We’re not there yet. We’re nowhere near that.”And speaking on the BBC, he said people would not be advised to work from home, adding: “I don’t think that’s necessary.”Rejecting fears of low compliance with mask-wearing rules – five months after the requirement was lifted – he insisted fears about omicron would persuade people to “take them very seriously”.But Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “You only have to walk around parliament to see the problem. Most Tory MPs don’t wear masks.” More

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    Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Cox defends ‘honourable’ second job as lawyer for tax haven

    Conservative MP Sir Geoffrey Cox has broken his silence over revelations he had a lucrative second job working for tax havens in the Caribbean, saying that he was “pursuing an honourable profession”.The former attorney general had been advising the British Virgin Islands government – via London-based law firm Withers LLP – during an inquiry into allegations of state corruption.He was paid more than £54,000 for legal work in October, according to the most recent update of the parliamentary register of interests.This most recent declaration brings his total legal earnings this year to almost £955,000, on top of his MP’s salary of £81,932.Sir Geoffrey has been referred to Westminster’s rules watchdog after allegations he used his parliamentary office while advising the government of the Caribbean islands.He had joined day 55 of the British Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry via video link on Wednesday while the Commons was sitting.The revelations came as a number of Conservative MPs were accused of having inappropriate second jobs including working as lobbyists.Sir Geoffrey told ITV News:: “All I’ve been doing is pursuing an honourable profession and looking after my constituency.”Asked if he was guilty of sleaze, the MP for Torridge and West Devon said: “No, of course not.”He added: “I’m doing in Parliament exactly what John Smith did, what Bob Marshall-Andrews did, what Alex Carlisle did, what dozens of very distinguished Labour and Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs have done for generations in parliament, which is to practise the law.”Sir Geoffrey defended his outside interests by arguing that “it is up to the electors of Torridge and West Devon whether or not they vote for someone who is a senior and distinguished professional in his field and who still practices that profession”.He was asked to advise the BVI government and has described his role at the hearings as being “to assist the public inquiry in getting to the truth”.Sir Geoffrey also insisted that his constituents get his “full commitment at all times”.He continued: “I’ve been voted in many times and I look forward to abiding by the judgement of the electorate next time.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson has faced increasing pressure to take action amid the escalating sleaze scandal engulfing his party.Earlier this month, in a bid to reassure the public, he had said that MPs who break the rules “should be punished”.Mr Johnson backed a ban on MPs working as paid consultants or lobbyists and insisted that anyone “prioritising outside interests” and neglecting their constituents must face investigation.Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the sleaze scandal is a “test of leadership” for the PM.She also said: “Geoffrey Cox is taking the mick and the prime minister is letting him get away with it.” More

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    Christmas 2022 at risk from Covid unless UK stops hoarding jabs, Gordon Brown warns

    Next year’s Christmas is at risk from Covid restrictions unless the UK and other rich nations stop hoarding vaccines desperately needed in Africa, Gordon Brown is warning.The former prime minister has hit out at Boris Johnson for a false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is to blame for a lack of protection in countries with the new Omicron variant.In an article for The Independent, Mr Brown calls on Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical and scientific officers, to “sit Johnson down” and make him understand “basic medical facts”.They are that South Africa and Botswana have administered a “far higher” proportion of their does than Western nations – but that effort is crippled by “broken promises” by rich countries to share more jabs.The UK was already lagging behind the EU and US by pledging only 100 million doses, but has released only 11 per cent of that total in the 5 months since, he says.Mr Brown writes that such delays are “leaving all of us at risk when – through no fault of their own – a number of countries have become spaces for outbreaks of new variants of the virus”.And he urges Professor Whitty and Sir Patrick to “make clear that in all our interests he changes course in the way he is treating Africa”.A failure to do so “will not just put Christmas 2021 at risk but may leave us facing similar problems of a half-vaccinated world next year – and even next Christmas,” the former Labour leader warns.The prime minister provoked astonishment, at the Saturday night press conference where he unveiled the return of some Covid restrictions, with his claims about vaccine-sharing.He rejected criticism that the spread of Omicron in southern Africa showed the folly of hoarding jabs – insisting the problem has “not been supply, but hesitancy and lack of take-up” and arguing the UK has been “leading” the world.In the article, Mr Brown, now the World Health Organisation ambassador for global health financing, quotes a warning from the Africa Union’s Vaccine Delivery Alliance co-chair.Ayoade Alaki said, of the arrival of Omicron: “What is going on right now is inevitable, it’s a result of the world’s failure to vaccinate in an equitable, urgent and speedy manner.“It is as a result of vaccine hoarding by high-income countries of the world, and quite frankly it is unacceptable.”Mr Brown writes: “Not for the first time, Johnson has shown a casual disregard for the facts. But this time his erroneous claims – and the result – a longer-term failure to speed up the delivery of unused Covid-19 vaccines to Africa, is putting lives at risk not only in Africa but round the world.“Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, our well-respected chief medical and scientific advisers, should sit Boris Johnson down and acquaint him with some basic medical facts.” More

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    Boris Johnson faces leadership challenge unless he ‘gets act together’, senior Tory MP says

    Boris Johnson risks a leadership challenge unless No 10 “gets its act together”, says a senior Tory MP, in a sharp criticism of the prime minister.Simon Hoare attacked the botched attempt to rip up anti-sleaze rules to save the disgraced Owen Paterson and a failure to liaise properly with Conservative MPs.The chair of the Commons Northern Ireland committee said it was not yet time to discuss “leadership challenges”, amid claims that some of his colleagues have submitted letters, pushing for that to happen.But he added: “That comes with a health warning, that No 10 as an operation needs to pull its socks up, get its act together, start talking to the parliamentary party far more than it has been doing up until now.“That has, of course, been difficult because of Covid and the restrictions being there … I don’t think we’ve gone past the point of no return, but the act needs to get better.”The criticism comes after Mr Johnson’s speech to the CBI – in which he mislaid part of his text and talked about his visit to the Peppa Pig World theme park – was widely ridiculed.Allegations of sleaze will return to centre-stage at Westminster on Monday, with the publication of cross-party recommendations for a crackdown on MPs’ second jobs.In a U-turn this month, Mr Johnson angered his older MPs with lucrative outside earnings by suddenly proposing curbing outside work to “within reasonable limits”.He had already alienated newer MPs in marginal seats by whipping them to protect Mr Paterson – before a public backlash forced a humiliating retreat and left them exposed to criticism.Meanwhile, crucial announcements on capping social care costs and on improving Northern rail services backfired when key elements of both were watered down.On Sunday Politics on BBC Northern Ireland, Mr Hoare said the forcing through of an amendment to prevent Mr Paterson being censored and suspended from parliament was “manifestly wrong”.And he added: “Clearly the operation of No 10 needs to sharpen itself, the political antenna of No 10 need to be far more acute.”A total of 54 MPs – 15 per cent of the total elected to the Commons – would need to submit letters requesting a leadership challenge before it would go ahead.Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and foreign secretary Liz Truss are the grassroots favourites to take over, with both considered to be “on manoeuvres”.Sajid Javid attempted to bolster the prime minister’s position saying it he is still “absolutely” an election winner, despite the recent difficulties.“Let me tell you why: Because we are delivering on our promises,” he told Sky News, as he discussed the new Covid restrictions. More