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With both UK’s biggest parties supporting the “Online Harms” bill, Britain faces a chilling blow to free speech

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Utilizing the killing of MP Sir David Amess, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked PM Boris Johnson to bring the second reading of the Online Harms Bill by the end of the year. Starmer made the request during the PMQs (Prime Minister’s Questions).

“It is three years since the government promised an Online Safety Bill but it is not yet before the House – meanwhile the damage caused by harmful content online is worse than ever,” the Labour Leader said. He added that if the Conservative government brings the bill before parliament before the end of the year, his party would support it.

Supporters of the bill claim it will protect people from online abuse. The bill also addresses misinformation and terrorism. But critics maintain it would have a chilling effect on free speech.

The bill was not expected to be brought to parliament again until next year.

Responding to Starmer, the PM said that the bill would be brought and “complete its stages” before the end of the year.
“The safety of MPs, indeed of all public servants, everybody who engages with the public is of vital importance,” said the PM.

The exchange between the two party leaders was inspired by the killing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess. The MP was stabbed to death during a constituency surgery in his constituency, Southend West in Essex. Law enforcement is treating the stabbing an act of terrorism.

Boris Johnson insisted that the Online Harms bill would bring “criminal sanctions with tough sentences” on platforms allowing harmful content. He added that the government is working on “ensuring that we crack down on companies that promote illegal and dangerous content.”

“We will have criminal sanctions with tough sentences for those who are responsible for allowing this foul content to permeate the internet.”

The stabbing of Sir Amess raised debates on how politicians have become targets of online abuse.

In an interview on Sky News, Home Secretary Priti Patel said MPs could be given protection by the police while they are in constituency surgeries. Patel touted banning online anonymity as a means of ending online abuse, saying, “We can’t carry on like this.”

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