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Jo Johnson is among those set to be handed peerages


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Boris Johnson is facing accusations of cronyism after he awarded peerages to a raft of senior party figures and his own brother Jo.

The Prime Minister has come under fire after it was revealed that Tory party donor Michael Spicer, former party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin and Mr Johnson’s own senior adviser, Eddie Lister, are among those set to enter the House of Lords.

A host of senior Brexiteers, including former Labour MP and Vote Leave supporter Kate Hoey, ex-Brexit Party MEP Claire Fox and newspaper columnist Charles Moore have also been put forward for peerages, a list published on Friday showed.

And Jo Johnson, who resigned from the Commons last year over opposition to his brother’s Brexit plans, is also set to become a Conservative peer.

But the announcement has sparked anger from some opposition parties, with the SNP’s MP Pete Wishart saying it was the “worst kind of cronyism”.

“It’s telling that in the middle of a global health pandemic and economic crisis that is costing thousands of people their jobs, Boris Johnson is handing out jobs for life in the unelected House of Lords to friends and those who have done him favours,” he said.

“The Prime Minister’s idea of levelling up involves gifting his cronies, damaging policy facilitators, and family members with jobs as legislators for life – with no democratic mandate or accountability to people across the UK.”

He added: “It’s the worst kind of cronyism that only highlights the rotten Westminster system that is detached from reality.”

Other names on the list includes Evening Standard owner Evgeny Lebedev, former England cricketer Sir Ian Botham and former DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

Former Conservative MPs Philip Hammond and Kenneth Clarke, who both had the party whip removed for opposing Boris Johnson in a crunch Brexit vote, have also been handed peerages, while the last Commons Speaker John Bercow has been snubbed.

Meanwhile, former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson is also set to enter the Lords, but has said she will only take up her seat after the Holyrood elections in March.

A host of former Labour MPs have also been put forward to sit as crossbench peers, including Frank Field, John Woodcock and Ian Austin.

The announcement also revealed that Philip May, husband of Theresa May, is set to be handed a knighthood for “political service” as part of the honours.

But the decision to put forward as many as 36 new peers has drawn anger from the Liberal Democrats following a commitment from then-Prime Minister Theresa May to reduce the size of the second chamber.

Dick Newby, the Lib Dem leader in the House of Lords, said: “Theresa May agreed to limit the number of new Conservative Peers she appointed, but Boris Johnson has ripped up this policy.

“By giving a large number of his cronies peerages, he has shown that the Tories have abandoned any pretence of reducing the size of the bloated House of Lords.

“The Liberal Democrats have long fought to try and get an accountable House of Lords – we must have a properly elected second chamber where individuals are paid a salary, removing any need for outside work to supplement their income.”

 

He added: “Even without such fundamental reform, we could reduce the House to a sensible size by implementing the Burns Review. These appointments show that we are still as far away from that as ever.”

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Dreamworld accident: Australian theme park fined over four deaths

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image copyrightAlamy

image caption(L-R) Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in 2016

The operator of Australia’s Dreamworld theme park has been fined A$3.6m (£2m; $2.5m) over the deaths of four people on a malfunctioning water ride.

Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozbeh Araghi and Cindy Low died in October 2016 when their raft crashed into another and overturned, crushing them.

Park operator Ardent Leisure admitted in July to breaching safety laws.

The company said it accepted responsibility and had worked to improve safety standards.

The four victims – all adults – died almost instantly after the Thunder River Rapids Ride rafts collided, an inquiry heard in 2018. Two children were also on board but survived.

The accident at Australia’s biggest theme park was caused by a pump that malfunctioned near the end of the ride.

On Monday, a court said the company had failed in its duty of care and should have taken steps to make the ride safer.

“Steps were not that complex or burdensome and only mildly inconvenient and really were inexpensive,” Magistrate Pamela Dowse said.

“They operated the most iconic amusement park in the country, which targeted and attracted families.

“There was complete and blind trust placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride.”

image copyrightCORONERS COURT OF QUEENSLAND
image captionThe raft carrying passengers flipped in the collision

The size of the fine reflected the severity of the company’s failure, she added. Ardent had been facing a maximum A$4.5m fine.

Chief executive John Osborne said: “Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy, and we fully accept the consequences.”

Families of the victims also delivered statements to the sentencing court on Monday, expressing grief and anger over their loss.

  • Australia theme park admits guilt over ride deaths

“That Cindy died violently is unacceptable to us,” said Helen Cook, aunt to Ms Low. “Knowing her death could have been avoided is unacceptable and infuriating.”

In February, a coroner found the accident had been “only a matter of time” as the theme park had not properly assessed the ride’s safety risk in over 30 years.

Dreamworld briefly shut down for six weeks after the accident in 2016, during which it demolished the ride.

The company has reported operating losses every year since the accident, including more than A$260m in losses in its theme park division.

It is also fighting a class action from shareholders who claim the company misled them on the park’s safety measures.

Related Topics

  • Theme parks

  • Queensland
  • Australia

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Swiss voters clearly reject curbs on EU immigration

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The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) had forced a binding referendum on the EU agreement in a bid to curb immigration to the country where foreigners make up a quarter of the population.

The measure lost by 62%-38% margin.

The SVP – the biggest party in parliament – has long pushed to take back control of immigration, echoing some arguments pro-Brexit politicians used in the run-up to Britain’s exit from the EU. It won a referendum on the issue in 2014, only to see parliament water down its implementation.

Opponents said the plan would have robbed business of skilled workers and torpedoed accords that enhance non-EU member Switzerland’s access to the crucial EU single market.

Under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, the referendum could have forced the government to annul the EU agreement if negotiations did not produce a deal on ending the pact voluntarily, something Brussels has ruled out.

A “guillotine clause” meant that ending free movement would have toppled other bilateral pacts on land and air transport, procurement, technical barriers to trade, and research.

Around two-thirds of the 2.1 million foreigners living in Switzerland in 2019 were citizens of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which with Switzerland are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The domestic political battle immediately turned to Switzerland’s biggest foreign policy headache: a stalled treaty meant to cement ties with the EU but which critics say infringes too much on Swiss sovereignty and would never win a referendum.

The treaty would have Bern routinely adopt single market rules and create a new platform to resolve disputes.

With questions open over state aid, rules to protect high Swiss wages, and access to welfare benefits, the Swiss have dragged their feet while trying to forge a domestic consensus, triggering a row over cross-border stock trading.

Amid relatively high turnout, voters narrowly blocked an attempt to make it easier to shoot wolves deemed a threat to livestock.

In an unexpectedly close vote, they approved the government’s plans to buy new fighter jets for up to 6 billion Swiss francs ($6.46 billion).

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Pelosi begins mustering Democrats for possible House decision on presidency

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Pelosi, in a Sunday letter to House Democrats, urged them to consider whether the House might be pulled into deciding who is president when determining where to focus resources on winning seats in November. This could lead to more concerted efforts by Democrats to win in states such as Montana and Alaska — typically Republican turf but where Democrats have been competitive statewide. In these states, Democratic victories could flip an entire delegation with a single upset House victory.

“The Constitution says that a candidate must receive a majority of the state delegations to win,” Pelosi wrote. “We must achieve that majority of delegations or keep the Republicans from doing so.”

Pelosi has also raised the issue repeatedly in recent weeks with her leadership team. Other senior House Democrats told POLITICO they’d heard about these concerns from colleagues in recent weeks.

“We’re trying to win every seat in America, but there are obviously some places where a congressional district is even more important than just getting the member into the U.S. House of Representatives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional lawyer.

Trump, too, has taken notice of the obscure constitutional resolution to a deadlocked Electoral College, both in public and private.

“And I don’t want to end up in the Supreme Court and I don’t want to go back to Congress either, even though we have an advantage if we go back to Congress — does everyone understand that?” Trump said at a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday. “I think it’s 26 to 22 or something because it’s counted one vote per state, so we actually have an advantage. Oh, they’re going to be thrilled to hear that.”

In private, Trump has discussed the possibility of the presidential race being thrown into the House as well, raising the issue with GOP lawmakers, according to Republican sources.

Under the Constitution, the winner of the presidential election isn’t officially chosen until Congress certifies the Electoral College vote total on Jan. 6, 2021. That vote comes several days after the newly elected Congress is sworn in, meaning the delegation totals will change to reflect the winners of House races in November.

If neither Biden nor Trump has secured the 270 electoral votes required to win, the newly seated House delegations will then cast votes to determine a winner. States whose delegations reach a tie vote are not counted.

But it’s more than a math equation. If the House is asked to resolve an Electoral College stalemate, the country will be witnessing one of harshest exercises of raw power in history. If Democrats retain control of the House, they could opt against seating potential members whose elections remain contested, even if state officials say otherwise.

An informal whip count has already begun. Democrats hold a one- or two-vote seat edge in seven states that are expected to feature at least one sharply contested House race: Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire. Republicans hold a similarly tenuous edge in Florida. The Alaska and Montana at-large seats are held by Republicans, meaning a Democrat would change the delegation’s vote in a presidential tally.

Pennsylvania’s House delegation is split evenly between the parties, but Democrats are expected to pick up seats after a redistricting that blunted some GOP advantages. Michigan is a wildcard as well, despite the slight Democratic edge in the delegation makeup. Amash, an independent who supported Trump’s impeachment, is retiring, with his seat likely to go to a Republican Trump ally who would leave the delegation deadlocked.

A Democratic Party strategist said the party apparatus was still primarily focused on protecting Democrats in vulnerable districts. But winning state delegations is also on the radar — especially in states where the efforts align.

“It is fair to say that this is something that folks have been thinking about,” the strategist said. “There is a great deal of overlap like Alaska, Montana.”

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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