Boris Johnson able to call early election under proposed new law

Boris Johnson could be given the power to call an early election under a new law proposed by the government.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 took away the prime minister’s power to hold an early election without the approval of MPs.

But the government has now begun the process to scrap the act, as it said it would in its pre-election pledges.

Last month MPs warned against handing the power to set the election date back to prime ministers.

The government said their new bill would reinstate “tried-and-tested constitutional arrangements” and prevent parliamentary stalemates.

The next election is currently scheduled for 2 May 2024.

The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act was brought in by then-Prime Minister David Cameron to reassure his Liberal Democrat coalition partners that he would not call an early election.

The law states that there can only be an early election if the government lost a vote of confidence or if it is supported by a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons.

It also created a fixed five year period between elections.

Before the act, prime ministers would have to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament – essentially meaning prime ministers could call an election whenever they wanted.

At the 2019 election, the Conservatives promised to get rid of the law arguing that it had “led to paralysis at a time the country needed decisive action”.

Last autumn, Boris Johnson tried to call an election following several failed attempts to get his Brexit deal approved in Parliament.

MPs initially rejected, but later accepted, his efforts to call an early election in order to break the Brexit deadlock.

The House of Commons also approved an early election in 2017 at the request of Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May.

In September a Commons committee said the current law had “limited the ability of incumbent governments to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents by choosing an election date that suits their political ends”.

It said: “Whatever legislation replaces the act it is important that this ‘level playing field’ for democracy is maintained.”

Constitution minister Chloe Smith said: “The Fixed-term Parliaments Act caused constitutional chaos last year which, when combined with total gridlock in Parliament, meant the previous government couldn’t deliver what it was asked to do.

“So we are going back to the system that lets elections happen when they are needed – we want to return to constitutional arrangements that give people more confidence in what to expect, and more security.”

A cross-party committee of parliamentarians will scrutinise a draft of the bill.

Elliot Page: Juno star announces he is transgender

The Oscar-nominated star of Juno has announced that he is transgender, introducing himself as Elliot Page in a social media post.

The Canadian-born actor, formerly known as Ellen Page, said he could not “begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self”.

“I love that I am trans. And I love that I am queer,” he wrote on Twitter.

Page also used the post to address discrimination towards trans people.

“The truth is, despite feeling profoundly happy right now and knowing how much privilege I carry, I am also scared. I’m scared of the invasiveness, the hate, the ‘jokes’ and of violence,” the 33-year-old wrote.

“To be clear, I am not trying to dampen a moment that is joyous and one that I celebrate, but I want to address the full picture. The statistics are staggering.”

Addressing the trans community, Page said he would “do everything I can to change this world for the better”.

Page received international acclaim for starring as a pregnant teenager in the 2007 film Juno.

Other major films include Inception and the X-Men series, while the actor has more recently starred in Netflix series The Umbrella Academy.

Page came out as gay in 2014, telling an audience in Las Vegas: “I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission.”

The actor, who is married to choreographer Emma Portner, has been a prominent advocate for LGBT rights.

Trans people across the UK have told me that Elliot Page’s coming out has happened at a “much needed time”.

This news, from one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, who now becomes one of the world’s most famous transgender stars, has happened on a big day for trans rights in the UK.

Today, a legal case about puberty-blocking drugs concluded, with leading charities calling it a “rolling back” of trans rights, and “a catastrophic moment” for trans people.

In Elliot Page’s statement, he referenced how he will now fight for better trans healthcare.

Since coming out as gay in 2014, Page has become known as one of Hollywood’s most outspoken LGBT actors. In his viral speech in 2014, he said “I suffered for years because I was scared to be out… And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain.”

Today’s coming out has triggered another huge international wave of support.

Many praised Page following his announcement on Tuesday.

“Elliot Page has given us fantastic characters on-screen, and has been an outspoken advocate for all LGBTQ people,” said Nick Adams, director of transgender media at advocacy group GLAAD.

“He will now be an inspiration to countless trans and non-binary people. All transgender people deserve the chance to be ourselves and to be accepted for who we are. We celebrate the remarkable Elliot Page today.”

“So proud of our superhero,” Netflix wrote on Twitter.

Esther Dingley: Partner says police looking at non-accident options

Police searching for a British hiker missing in the Pyrenees are “looking at other options” beyond an accident, her partner has said.

Esther Dingley, 37, last messaged her partner Dan Colegate via WhatsApp on 22 November, when she was on top of Pic de Sauvegarde on the France-Spain border.

She had been due to return from her solo walking trek on 25 November.

Mr Colegate said after extensive searches the “prevailing opinion” is she is not in the mountains.

In a post on Facebook, he praised the French and Spanish search and rescue teams’ efforts, but said: “Taking into account Esther’s high level of experience, the nature of the terrain, the good weather she would have had, the fact she had a clearly defined route for Sunday evening and Monday, and various other factors, both search coordinators have essentially told me that the prevailing opinion in the search teams is that she isn’t there.

“If she had fallen from one of the paths, they really would have expected to find her given the intensity, the closeness of the search and the fact most of the trails are really quite straightforward across open ground.”

Mr Colegate said Ms Dingley is now listed as a national missing person in Spain and her case has been passed to a “specialised judicial unit in France”.

“This means they will be looking at other options beyond a mountain accident,” he said.

Mr Colegate said: “While this is a terrifying development in many ways, I’m trying to focus on the fact that it leaves the door open that Esther might still come home.

“She was so utterly happy and joyful when we last spoke, I’d do anything to see her face and hold her right now.”

Ms Dingley had been travelling in the couple’s camper van while Mr Colegate stayed at a farm in the Gascony area of France.

The weekend she set out on the trek, the couple’s story about their adventures around Europe in the camper van since 2014 was published by BBC News.

Ms Dingley had started walking from Benasque in Spain on Saturday and had planned to spend Sunday night at Refuge de Venasque in France, Mr Colegate said.

The couple had lived in Durham before deciding to pack up their lives and go travelling after Mr Colegate nearly died from an infection.

Covid: Pressure on Mark Drakeford over evidence for pub alcohol ban

First Minister Mark Drakeford has come under pressure from his own Labour backbenchers over his ban on the sale of alcohol in Welsh pubs.

Alun Davies demanded to see evidence underlying the decision.

Meanwhile Hefin David said information from a group advising ministers should have been published when the decision was taken.

Mr Drakeford said the case for the need for the restrictions – aimed at easing a rise in cases – was “compelling”.

Pubs, bars and restaurants in Wales will not be able to serve alcohol on the premises from 18:00 GMT on Friday.

Welsh Conservative Senedd leader Paul Davies said many businesses will “not survive” the decision.

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price said it was a “mistake”, said the changes were “not comprehensible” and could damage public trust.

Earlier the boss of Wales’ biggest brewery called the new alcohol rules “closure by stealth” and announced more than 100 managed pubs will be shut from Friday.

During a debate in the Welsh Parliament, Mr Drakeford told Senedd members: “If I have to make an unpopular decision because it is the right decision, I will make the right decision and not just the one that makes me popular.”

Wales is facing a “public health emergency”, he told members, and that the Welsh Government was relying on evidence used to close pubs in other parts of the UK.

Blaenau Gwent’s Mr Davies told the first minister that if he “wants myself and others to support him in these regulations, he must provide the evidence and advice has received from his advisers”.

He said that was needed so members could “explain those decisions to the people we represent”.

The Welsh Government has cited advice from UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), as well as its own Technical Advisory Cell (TAC).

Mr Drakeford told Mr Davies that when he “has a chance to study what Sage has already said, what the TAC will tell him what the figures of positivity, transmission, hospitalisation and death in his part of Wales tell him, he will see very plainly why the actions we are taking are necessary and necessary now”.

Mr David was more supportive of the first minister, saying there was “a logic behind what the government has done”, based on advice from Sage.

However he added: “There is a lot of frustration and anger out there with regard to this decision.”

The Welsh Government’s Technical Advisory Cell usually publishes its latest Covid-19 advice on Thursdays.

“It should be when the decision is announced,” Mr David said.

Mr Drakeford said “we will do our best to expedite” TAC advice but he said they “provide it when they are confident that they’ve got it ready for publication, and it’s very important that I do not attempt to try to influence them in the work that they do”.

Over the course of the day in the Senedd, Mr Drakeford faced calls from the opposition for the scientific basis of the decision to be published.

Mr Drakeford said the evidence is there “in the public health emergency we are facing”.

“Two of our local authorities in Wales have rates of more than 400 per 100,000 of the population; seven of them rates of over 300; 11 of them rates over 200, and those rates are growing – growing across Wales.

“The evidence for the actions we are taking is there to be seen in the reviews published by Sage on 11 and 19 November, reviewing the measures that have succeeded across the United Kingdom, and we have drawn on that to put in place in Wales those steps that will reduce the flow of coronavirus and save lives that need not be lost.

“It’s the same evidence that [the UK government] has drawn on to close pubs and prevent the sale of alcohol in tier 3 levels in England; it’s the same evidence that led the SNP Government in Scotland to close pubs and to prevent the sale of alcohol in level 3 areas in Scotland. It’s why hospitality is closed in Northern Ireland today.”

Pubs are closed in tier 3 areas in England, while in level 3 areas in Scotland they are not able to serve alcohol.

During First Minister’s Questions, Paul Davies described the decision as “catastrophic” and “devastating” for businesses.

“Pubs and restaurants in areas where transmission rates are low will rightly feel upset that their businesses is being put at risk, through no fault of their own,” he added.

Adam Price has called for ministers to allow alcohol to be served until 1900, with a ban on off-licence sales after that time, in what he said would be a “sensible compromise”.

“Off licences and supermarkets should not be allowed to sell alcohol after this time to discourage people from going into each other’s homes,” he said.

Margaret Thatcher statue: £100,000 unveiling event to be underwritten by council

Council plans to underwrite a £100,000 unveiling ceremony for a statue of Margaret Thatcher in her home town of Grantham have been approved.

The statue was offered to South Kesteven District Council after proposals to erect it in Parliament Square were rejected.

The Conservative-led authority agreed to fund the event but “fully expected” the money to be recouped in donations.

Opponents said the cost was an “insult” to struggling local residents.

More news from across Lincolnshire

According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Conservative council leader Kelham Cooke acknowledged there was a debate to be had about the legacy of the former prime minister, who died in 2013.

However, he told a meeting: “What cannot be disputed is that this major event provides a fantastic opportunity for the Grantham community to celebrate its heritage and to promote the district.”

Conservative councillor Robert Reid added: “She was the Iron Lady who put the iron back in Britain.

“Is it too much to ask that we underwrite this important event?”

However, Labour councillor Charmaine Morgan said it was “an insult to the people of our community who are currently fighting to make ends meet”.

Independent councillor Ian Selby also called on the authority to hold a referendum on whether people in the town wanted the statue.

Mr Selby said using taxpayers’ money to fund something which had not been endorsed was “stirring up a hornet’s nest”.

The plan also prompted a backlash on social media, with 2,000 people pledging to attend an “egg throwing contest” planned to coincide with the unveiling.

The post’s author later asked people to make a donation to a foodbank instead.

The 10ft (3m) statue is due to be erected next year, but a date has yet to be fixed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Louth crash: Keith Lennon pleads guilty over three deaths

A 21-year-old man has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of three people from Northern Ireland following a car crash in County Louth.

Keith Lennon, of Forest Park, Dromintee, County Armagh, appeared at Drogheda Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Bryan Magill, from Newry, County Armagh, and Mary and Kevin Faxton, from Bessbrook, in County Armagh, died in the two-vehicle crash on 29 February.

It happened on the N1 at Carrickarnon, Ravensdale, Dundalk.

The court heard Lennon wanted to surrender his bail as an acknowledgement of the serious wrongs committed.

Judge Patrick Quinn adjourned the case to January and remanded Lennon in custody to appear by video-link.

Covid: Daily Mail gave NHS masks linked to Chinese Uighur factory

A charity set up by the Daily Mail to buy protective equipment for NHS staff donated 100,000 face masks suspected of being made by workers in a controversial Chinese labour programme.

The masks were flown in from China by the paper’s Mail Force campaign, which was launched in April to buy PPE.

They were bought from Medwell Medical Products, a firm suspected of using Uighur Muslims in the labour scheme.

Mail Force said it had been unaware of allegations about Medwell at the time.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “The masks in question represent 0.2% of the 42 million items of PPE we delivered to the UK. We are implacably opposed to forced labour of any kind.”

In April, amid reports of PPE shortages in the UK, the Daily Mail newspaper and owners General Trust launched the Mail Force charity, to source and provide equipment for NHS and care workers.

The registered charity – which has a separate board of trustees – has since provided millions of items of PPE, as well as testing equipment to hospitals such as London’s Great Ormond Street, as well as care homes, and charities such as Mencap.

More than £11m has been donated by readers, the Daily Mail, partner businesses, and from the paper’s owner, Viscount Rothermere

Just a few days after the charity was set up, it delivered 100,000 masks and 50,000 coveralls to NHS workers, bought through a third-party agent in China. The Daily Mail then published two videos showing reporters delivering boxes of PPE. The boxes of disposable masks are clearly marked “Medwell”.

In fact, Medwell’s factory, in the town of Fenglin, in Jiangxi province, eastern China, was identified by the New York Times in July as using suspected forced labour from the country’s Uighur minority.

According to the paper, Uighur Muslims make up 25% of the workforce at the factory.

China is facing global political criticism over its alleged persecution of the Uighurs – a Muslim minority group that lives mostly in Xinjiang province, north-west China.

It is believed that the Chinese government has detained up to a million Uighurs over the past few years, in what the government defines as “re-education camps”. China has also been accused of a programme of forced sterilisation against Uighur women.

Medwell makes a variety of PPE and ships its products around the world, including to the US, where it is registered with the regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

At least some of the firm’s masks have ended up at the NHS supply warehouse, based in Daventry, Northamptonshire, the centre from which the NHS supplies Britain’s hospitals and care homes with PPE.

Earlier this month, health minister Lord Bethell confirmed an investigation of stocks at the warehouse did “show a record of receiving PPE masks produced by Medwell Medical Products”.

The BBC understands that those masks were supplied by the Mail Force charity.

The Department of Health and Social Care said it “does not hold direct contracts with Medwell Medical Products and their products stored in Daventry were donated to DHSC”.

“We expect all suppliers to the NHS to follow the highest legal and ethical standards and proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts.”

A spokesperson for the Mail Force charity added: “Working with relevant government departments, we ensured that all items met the relevant procurement standards.

“Every batch was approved by Department of Health inspectors prior to being bought and prior to delivery. Despite this, we became aware in November that part of one consignment of PPE may have originated in one factory in China, where it has since been suggested that forced labour has been used.”

The charity said more than 60% of the PPE it has supplied was manufactured in the UK.

In a statement, China’s UK embassy said workers of all ethnic groups have “the freedom to choose their jobs and locations of work with zero restriction on their personal liberty”. It said there was “no such thing” as forced labour in China.

The BBC has asked Medwell Medical Products for comment.

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