Boris Johnson told to end long delay to social media abuse crackdown after killing of David Amess

Online Harms Bill was promised as long ago as 2019 – but there is still no date for it to be launched

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 18 October 2021 21:03
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<p>Mr Johnson described Sir David as one of the ‘nicest, kindest and most gentle’ MPs </p>

Mr Johnson described Sir David as one of the ‘nicest, kindest and most gentle’ MPs

MPs are urging Boris Johnson to end the long delay to a crackdown on social media abuse after the killing of David Amess and the “toxic environment” laid bare.

An Online Harms Bill – to hit tech companies failing to remove illegal and harmful content with huge fines – was promised as long ago as 2019, but there is still no date for it to be launched.

During tributes to the slain Southend West MP, fellow Conservative Mark Francois said the legislation must now be put “on to the statute book” – and proposed that it be called “David’s law”.

Earlier, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle made the same criticism – as he revealed a car bomb threat – saying: “If it was up to me and I was in charge of legislation, I would have done something.”

In the Commons, Mr Francois said his friend had become “increasingly concerned about what he called the toxic environment in which MPs, particularly female MPs, were having to operate in”.

“He was appalled by what he called the vile misogynistic abuse which female MPs had to endure online and he told me very recently that he wanted something done about it,” he said of Sir David.

“I suggest that, if we want to ensure that our colleague didn’t die in vain, we collectively all of us pick up the baton, regardless of our party and take the forthcoming Online Harms Bill and toughen it up markedly.

“So let’s put, if I may be so presumptuous, David’s law onto the statute book – the essence of which would be that, while people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they can no longer be vilified or their families subject to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity with the connivance of the social media companies for profit.”

After the abuse of England footballers at Euro 2020, then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden said the new laws would be introduced by the end of December.

But his replacement by Nadine Dorries, in last month’s cabinet reshuffle, has sparked concerns that there will be a further delay.

With the continued shock at the second killing of an MP in just over five years, more MPs have revealed the abuse they have suffered – and frustration at the police’ failure to act.

Former Labour MP Paula Sherriff said West Yorkshire Police officers “laughed” at her after she reported a death threat, while deputy prime minister Dominic Raab revealed three threats on “life and limb” in just two years.

In the Commons, Mr Johnson led the tributes to Sir David, hailing him as one of the “nicest, kindest and most gentle” MPs – and announcing Southend would be made a city, fulfilling his dream.

His predecessor, Theresa May, said every MP had “lost a friend” and said he was an example of public service and of how to be a “first-class constituency MP”.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, told MPs: “It took no effort on David‘s part to conduct the business of politics in a civilised, good-humoured way, which came naturally to him. Decency ran through him like the writing in a stick of Southend rock.”

And Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "Each tribute paints its own picture of a committed public servant of kindness, and a man whose decency touched everybody that he met.”

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