Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Int’l committee calls for pause on false political ads online

An international “grand committee” of lawmakers called on Thursday for a pause on online micro-targeted political ads with false or misleading information until the area is regulated.

The committee, formed to investigate disinformation, gathered in Dublin to hear evidence from Facebook Inc, Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google and other experts about online harms, hate speech and electoral interference. The meeting was attended by lawmakers from Australia, Finland, Estonia, Georgia, Singapore, the UK and United States.

The committee’s inaugural session in London last November featured an empty chair for Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg after he declined to be questioned.

Facebook has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over its decision to not fact-check ads run by politicians, which intensified when rival Twitter announced last month that it would ban all political ads.

Zuckerberg has defended this policy, saying that the company does not want to stifle political speech.

Politicians can micro-target groups of voters on social media based on user data such as location, age and interests, a practice critics fear could intensify the effects of false or misleading information on certain groups and suppress voter turnout.

At a conference in Lisbon on Thursday, Europe’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said, “If it’s only in your feed, between you and Facebook, and their micro-targeting of who you are, that’s not democracy anymore.”

Facebook said on Thursday a doctored video shared by Britain’s governing Conservatives would not have broken its rules on political advertising if it had run as a paid-for ad.

“Ads from political parties and political candidates are not subject to our fact-checking rules,” Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s head of UK Public Policy, told reporters on a call to explain the company’s policies ahead of Britain’s Dec. 12 election.

“What that has meant is what the Conservative party put in that advert has been the subject of ferocious public debate and discussion, precisely because people could see that it was there,” Stimson said.

Facebook partners with global third-party fact-checking organizations to curb misinformation on the site.

Ahead of an election that could shape the fate of Brexit, some politicians have expressed concerns that misleading information could spread swiftly across social media.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s party chairman was forced to defend the distribution of a doctored video clip of a rival Labour Party politician on Wednesday, overshadowing the launch of the party’s election campaign.

Johnson’s Conservatives posted the heavily edited video clip of Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer on Facebook and Twitter, editing out a key response in an interview to give the impression that the party had no answer for Brexit.

The video was shared as a normal post on the Conservatives’ Facebook page, but has not been used as a paid-for ad on the platform, according to a search of Facebook’s Ad Library, a database launched to increase political ad transparency.

REUTERS

British protesters call Johnson Trump’s puppet in nationwide protests

Boris Johnson UK Prime Minister

Hundreds of people blocked London’s normally busy Whitehall road on Saturday to protest Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of the British parliament.

They gathered outside the gates protecting the prime minister’s London residence at 10 Downing Street and chanted “Boris Johnson, shame on you,” “Trump’s puppet, shame on you,” “Liar Johnson, shame on you,” the Press Association (PA) reports.

The protesters also rang a bell, blew whistles and beat a drum, PA reported, adding that they carried placards and European Union flags.

A small crowd gathered in Belfast, more than 1,000 gathered in York and 1,000 in Manchester, according to PA.

Organizers had been expecting hundreds of thousands of people to turn out in London, Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Norwich, Oxford and York, among other cities, and in Aberdeen and Glasgow in Scotland, as well as Belfast.

The anti-Brexit initiative “Another Europe Is Possible” had issued the call to protest.

It was joined by, among others, the leader of the main opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour grassroots organization Momentum and environmental activists from the YouthStrike4Climate campaign.

Johnson on Wednesday successfully petitioned Queen Elizabeth II to prorogue, or suspend, parliament in London from mid-September to mid-October, when he plans to submit his government programme in a new parliamentary session.

“The public outrage at Boris Johnson shutting down democracy has been deafening,” Labour leader Corbyn tweeted on Friday. “People are right to take to the streets – and I encourage everyone to join the demonstrations in London and across the country tomorrow.”

Corbyn did not seem to have turned up on Saturday, but his colleague and shadow home secretary Diana Abbott addressed the crowd in Whitehall, saying that he sent his support for the demonstration.

“We cannot allow Boris Johnson to shut down parliament and to shut down the voice of ordinary British people,” PA quoted her as saying.

Many in the crowd shouted “Where is Jeremy?” PA reported.

Parliament is in fact routinely prorogued, but the move is highly controversial shortly before Britain’s planned exit from the European Union by the deadline of Oct. 31.

The suspension has greatly shortened the time in which members of parliament could debate possible legislative procedures to prevent Brexit happening without a deal.

Brexit roils UK: PM wants to shut Parliament, Queen stays neutral, Labour kicks

Boris Johnson UK PM
Photo credit: AP

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson maneuvered Wednesday to give his political opponents even less time to block a no-deal Brexit before the Oct. 31 withdrawal deadline, winning Queen Elizabeth II’s approval to suspend Parliament. His critics were outraged.

Though Johnson previously had refused to rule out such a move, the timing of the decision took lawmakers — many of whom are on vacation — by surprise.

Lawmakers reacted with fury, including John Bercow, speaker of the lower House of Commons, who was not told in advance of Johnson’s plan.

“Shutting down Parliament would be an offense against the democratic process and the rights of parliamentarians as the people’s elected representatives,” Bercow said. “Surely at this early stage in his premiership, the prime minister should be seeking to establish rather than undermine his democratic credentials and indeed his commitment to Parliamentary democracy.”

The main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to the queen to protest “in the strongest possible terms on behalf of my party and I believe all the other opposition parties are going to join in with this.”

But the monarch declined to get involved, in keeping with her steadfast refusal to interfere in politics. As head of state, she is politically neutral and acts on the advice of her government in political matters.

The House of Commons will convene from Sept. 3-10 and then was scheduled to go on a break until Oct. 9 — though lawmakers had suggested they might cancel that break and stay in session because of the national crisis. But Johnson said he has decided to ask the queen to give her speech that outlines the government’s legislative agenda on Oct. 14.

Since Parliament is normally suspended before her speech, the decision means opposition lawmakers would be unlikely to have enough time to pass laws blocking the U.K.’s withdrawal from the European Union without a negotiated deal on Oct. 31.

The pound plunged on the news, down to $1.2196 from almost $1.2300 the previous day.

The EU is adamant that it will not renegotiate the agreement struck with former Prime Minister Theresa May on the terms of Britain’s departure and the framework of future relations. Without such a deal, Britain faces a chaotic Brexit that economists warn would disrupt trade by imposing tariffs and customs checks between Britain and the bloc, send the value of the pound plummeting and plunge the U.K. into recession.

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tweeted: “Make no mistake, this is a very British coup.”

“Whatever one’s views on Brexit, once you allow a Prime Minister to prevent the full and free operation of our democratic institutions you are on a very precarious path,” he said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit official, called Johnson’s move “sinister.”

“As a fellow parliamentarian, my solidarity with those fighting for their voices to be heard,” he tweeted. “Suppressing debate on profound choices is unlikely to help deliver a stable future EU-UK relationship.”

On Tuesday, opposition lawmakers declared that they would work together to try to stop a departure from the EU without an agreement, setting up a legislative challenge to Johnson and his promise to complete the divorce by Oct. 31.

Some 160 lawmakers have signed a declaration pledging “to do whatever is necessary” to prevent Johnson from bypassing Parliament in his plans.

Johnson has told EU officials it won’t be possible to agree a deal on Britain’s departure from the bloc without the removal of controversial language on a “backstop,” aimed at avoiding the return of a border between EU member Ireland and Britain’s Northern Ireland. He said at the close of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, Monday that he was “marginally more optimistic,” of progress.

Scott Lucas, a professor of international politics at the University of Birmingham, said Johnson’s maneuver touched off the biggest crisis since the abdication of King Edward VIII to marry the divorced American socialite, Wallis Simpson.

“This is biggest constitutional crisis since the 1930s,” Lucas said. “Even World War II didn’t present a constitutional crisis because the coalition government and Parliament agreed the rules of the game.”

It’s also a potential economic crisis because of the projected drop in GDP, he added. AP

 

 

Brits stockpile food worth £4 billion amid no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson UK Prime Minister

British people have hoarded goods worth £4 billion (about $4.8 billion) amid fears of a no-deal Brexit, according to a report released on Monday.

Almost one in five respondents to a survey of 1,052 people have begun to increase their stockpiles of food, drinks or medicines, financial services provider Premium Credit said.

According to the survey, 74 per cent of respondents said they were stockpiling food, 50 per cent said they stored pharmaceutical products, and 46 per cent were stockpiling drinks.

Many experts have predicted that a British exit from the European Union (EU) without a comprehensive deal could result in temporary supply bottlenecks, mainly caused by long waiting times for trucks at customs controls.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that he wants to lead Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31 with or without a deal.

He demands that Brussels abandon elements of the existing withdrawal deal agreed by his predecessor, Theresa May.

The EU has rejected this.

Many companies also fear supply bottlenecks.

Last week, for example, British pizza chain Domino’s announced that it would increase its inventories.

About a third of its ingredients are sourced from abroad, including tomato sauce and toppings like pineapple.dpa/NAN

Experts warn No-deal Brexit could worsen Europe’s shortage of medicines

As the Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union approaches, health professionals are warning that shortages of some medicines could worsen in Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Britain’s food and drink lobby warned last week that the country would experience shortages of some fresh foods if there is a disorderly no-deal Brexit.

Pharmaceutical companies have expressed similar concerns about medicines, and some have reserved air freight capacity to fly in supplies if needed.

But the impact on medical supplies will also be felt beyond Britain. About 45 million packs of medicines are shipped from Britain to the rest of the bloc every month, in trade worth nearly 12 billion pounds ($14.5 billion) in 2016, according to a British parliament report.

Experts say some disruption is inevitable if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will lead his country out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal if the EU refuses to negotiate a new divorce agreement.

Some drugs might not have the required regulatory approval by then to continue being brought in from Britain. About 1 billion packs go in one direction or the other each year, industry data show.

Increased customs controls at ports and other borders between Britain and the EU could also disrupt supplies of drugs and the chemical compounds needed to produce them, regulators and industry representatives say.

“Despite intensive preparation by industry for every scenario, a no-deal Brexit risks disruption to the supply of medicines” throughout the EU, Andy Powrie-Smith, an official at the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, told Reuters.

The EU drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said the bloc is well prepared for Brexit and has finalised authorizations for nearly all the 400 drugs under its watch that required further clearing because of Britain’s impending departure.

But authorization is pending for three medicines that need EU-wide license, an EMA official said without identifying them.

Other essential medicines could also be blocked because of supervisory hurdles because of Brexit, EMA data show.

The agency is the only body that can authorize sales in the 28-country EU of new drugs to treat the most common and serious diseases, including cancer, diabetes and flu.

WORSENING WOES

Many other medicines authorized at national level could also be at risk. Nearly 6,000 of these drugs need to go through a new licensing process after Brexit.

The EMA official said the agency did not have “a full picture” of the situation in all EU states for nationally authorized medicines.

The Netherlands said in February that 50 “critical” drugs were at risk of shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Concerns about most of those drugs have since been resolved, a spokesman for the Dutch health ministry said, but problems could arise for less essential medicines.

In a report in June, the EU’s executive European Commission included medicines and medical devices in a list of sectors for which “continued and particular vigilance” was needed.

Many EU states already face shortages of some medicines because of problems with production, regulators or distribution.

A survey of 21 European countries showed that all of them experienced shortages of medicines last year, according to the Pharmaceutical Group of the European Union, a pharmacists’ trade body. Vaccines were among the drugs most frequently cited as being in short supply.

Britain will need to authorize hundreds of new medicines on sale now only thanks to EU-wide registrations. Britain imports about 37 million medicine packs every month from the EU, industry figures show.

Britain is also losing supervisory and clinical-trial capacities as many operations have already moved to the EU to remain able to test and approve drugs for the EU market after Brexit. This trend could shrink the local pharmaceutical industry and lead to tighter supplies and higher costs.

EU countries face the same logistical hurdles for their imports from Britain.

In the event of Brexit without a divorce deal, “there will be some problems and delays in the supply chain due to border protocols, but I think we will be able to manage,” said Eric Van Nueten, the chief executive officer of Febelco, Belgium’s largest wholesale trader of medicines.

REUTERS