Today Lord Frost joins Guido in the fight against the Online Harms Bill, launching an all-out assault on its threat to free speech. Frost’s no holds barred attack, including calling the bill “fundamentally flawed” and un-conservative, has been published alongside a new paper by the IEA, which accuses the bill of handing “unprecedented censorship powers to Secretary of State and Ofcom”. Objectively correct.
In full, Frost says:
“There is so much wrong with this Bill that it is hard to know where to start, but the report rightly highlights the fact that it will mean some speech that is legal offline will effectively be impossible online. That makes no sense and will be highly damaging to public debate, especially given the weakness of the free speech protections in the Bill.
“Overall the Bill also panders to the view of the perennially offended – those who think the Government should protect them from ever encountering anything they disagree with. A Conservative Government should not be putting this view into law.
“The best thing the Government could do would be to slim down the Bill so they can proceed rapidly with the genuinely uncontroversial aspects, and consign the rest where it belongs – the waste paper basket.”
Reading through the IEA’s paper, one thing that immediately jumps out to Guido is that the government’s own expected cost of the bill has jumped up from £2.1 billion in May 2021 to £2.5 billion today – a whole £400 million extra in a year. A figure the IEA rubbishes as a nonsense underestimation anyway:
“The impact assessment asserts that it will cost businesses, on average, £700 over ten years to read and understand the regulations, for example. However, this would not realistically cover the fees of a specialist law firm for two hours, let alone the internal staff time costs. The impact assessment specifically assumes staff will only require 30 minutes to familiarise themselves with the requirements of the 255-page legislation and 90 minutes to read, assess and change terms and conditions in response to the requirements. Legal advice is estimated to cost £39.23 per hour an order of magnitude less than the fees of hundreds of pounds per hour typically charged by lawyers in this field.”
Turning to the inclusion of ‘legal but harmful’ speech, which platforms will have to crack down on, huge questions remain on specifics given the government has still not formally specified categories this will include. While the obvious woke labels of ‘misogynistic abuse’ will likely be included, shadow DCMS secretary Lucy Powell has already let the mask slip on the future plans of Labour ministers to massively abuse this power:
“Lucy Powell has raised concerns that the Bill as it stands would allow ‘incels’ and ‘climate deniers’ to ‘slip through the net’. She clearly envisages an extension of the notion of ‘harmful’ to cover matters of public policy debate.”
David Davis also pitches in, warning “could end up being one of the most significant accidental infringements on free speech in modern times.” Guido can’t understand why Nadine believes this won’t backfire on Conservatives like her. Big Brother Watch already proved that her “nail your balls to the floor” tweet, if posted to Facebook, results in the post being deleted by the platform. That’s before her new free speech clamp down comes into force…
Guido encourages all policymakers to read the paper – embedded below. If the government wants to get the Boris show back on the road, and reassure Tory members and MPs that this government is worth fighting for – while saving at least £2.5 billion – scrapping swathes of this big-state bill could not be a more obvious starting point…
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has finally laid out the full details of how it plans to kill off the annoying cookie banners on web browsers. Co-conspirators will know this has been a longstanding campaign of Guido’s – a small, yet meaningful test of the UK’s regulatory sovereignty after Brexit. Switching to an “opt-out” model, rather than blasting users repeatedly with pointless pop-ups, was obviously a more elegant solution. Turns out the government agrees.
Having trailed the move in the Queen’s Speech, and now following a consultation, DCMS has explained how it plans to repeal the Cookie Law for good:
“…the government intends to legislate to remove the need for websites to display cookie banners to UK residents. In the immediate term, the government will permit cookies (and similar technologies) to be placed on a user’s device without explicit consent, for a small number of other non-intrusive purposes. These changes will apply not only to websites but connected technology, including apps on smartphones, tablets, smart TVs or other connected devices.
In the future, the government intends to move to an opt-out model of consent for cookies placed by websites. In practice, this would mean cookies could be set without seeking consent, but the website must give the web user clear information about how to opt out. This would allow the government to realise its ambition to improve the user experience and remove the need for unnecessary cookie consent banners. The opt-out model would not apply to websites likely to be accessed by children.”
The move will be put forward as part of the planned Data Reform Bill, which promises a “clampdown on bureaucracy, red tape and pointless paperwork”. The bill will also remove the need for smaller businesses to have data protection officers, and whack up fines for spam callers and nuisance texts. Finally…
On Tuesday the PM paid a visit to Lancaster House for the FCDO Heads of Mission conference, alongside Ben Wallace and Liz Truss. Plenty of diplomats took to Twitter to show off the very serious topics that had been under discussion: “changing global context”, “how to better protect and promote UK interests”, “international development strategy” all among them. Word reaches Guido it wasn’t a wholly serious affair, however…
Taking to the stage for a sit-down interview in front of the best and brightest of Britain’s diplomatic core, Boris apparently had the crowd in stitches thanking them for their hard and vital diplomatic work… in securing Britain’s weekend Eurovision result, adding he could barely believe it when France gave us “douze points!”. Guido also hears that while DCMS’s Eurovision priority is helping Ukraine in any way they can to host next year’s contest, an offer to host it in the UK if they can’t has been made…
On Tuesday, Guido flagged the dilemma facing the Civil Service in coming days: how to deal with celebrating Prince Andrew’s forthcoming birthday a week on Saturday. According to the official Civil Service guidance, they were set to fly the Union Jack for the disgraced royal on the 19th…
Lo and behold, today the guidance was quietly updated and one royal’s name is no longer on the official list:
Randy Andy won’t be getting it up on his birthday this year…
There are civil service guidelines as to when government buildings should raise the flag. This month we have just celebrated the accession of the Queen and flags were flying particularly high for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. We have a more delicate and tricky situation coming up – the Duke of York’s birthday. The official guidance is that in just over week (February 19th) the flag should be raised in honour of Randy Andy’s birthday. Some might think that a little inappropriate…
There is still time for the civil service machinery to perhaps clarify with a memo whether or not this national honour should proceed this year. Tricky.
The usual suspects were aghast at Nadine Dorries’s appointment as Culture Secretary yesterday: James O’Brien – whom she once labeled a “public school posh boy f**k wit” – is appalled; Anna Soubry thinks it shows “everything that’s wrong and rotten” with Boris’s leadership; Jolyon’s already threatened to send a judicial review pre-action protocol letter (obviously). She’s been in the job for 17 hours and is already annoying all the right people…
Given Jess Brammar’s appointment as executive editor of BBC News yesterday, Guido thought it’d be worth reminding her about the person she’ll now be dealing with at the top of DCMS. In 2014, Dorries advocated for reforming the licence fee, having added her name to a bill amendment that would’ve decriminalised its non-payment. Writing on her blog, she said:
“The BBC as an organisation has become too big, too badly designed and consistently badly managed. Over-promoted television producers, it turns out, cannot run a large organisation efficiently or effectively. Who would have guessed?”
“The model of the BBC, which is in effect state run television, is outdated in this modern world of media and communication. Such a structure of payment and aggressive persecution would be more in keeping in a soviet style country.”
Her views on the TV licence remained the same several years later:
July 2017: “My issue is not what talented people paid but more that BBC hounded elderly on state pensions all way to jail #licencefee #BBCsalaries”
March 2018: “The public are paying a fee/tax for a biased left wing organisation which is seriously failing in its political representation, from the top down.”
She’s also had a few choice words for BBC management:
January 2018: “You are breaking the law paying women less than men and provided cover for despicable paedo Saville #UnfitForPurpose”
February 2020: “…the [BBC] favour strident, very left wing, often hypocritical and frequently patronising views that turn people away.”
Neither will she accept the BBC’s constant disguising of party political activists as ‘expert guests’:
Guido couldn’t think of a better DCMS appointment…