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Matthew Rycroft told MPs that “additional layers of assurance” had been added (Parliamentlive.tv/Twitter)


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The Home Office’s permanent secretary has said new measures have been put in place to prevent “political” messages being shared on official accounts, after a tweet that made mention of “activist lawyers”.

Matthew Rycroft told MPs on Wednesday that “additional layers of assurance” had been added to ensure no language was used on social media which is not “compatible with what civil servants should be using”.

But the Liberal Democrats said there needed to be “absolute clarity about what that really means in practice”

It comes after the department received backlash for posting a video with a caption that stated the current rules on deporting asylum seekers are “open to abuse… allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns.”

The tweet was later amended, but home secretary Priti Patel reignited tensions by using the phrase “activist lawyers” in a separate tweet a week later. 

There have since been calls from the Liberal Democrats for the Attorney General to intervene over Ms Patel’s comments and condemn her language as “completely inappropriate”. 

Speaking to members of the public accounts committee, Mr Rycroft said he wanted to “pay tribute” to the department’s staff who were “grappling with complex fast-moving, and sometimes divisive issues” in their work.

“On this occasion, they used in a video, which as you know came out from the Home Office Twitter account, using lines which were, in my view, political,” the senior civil servant continued. 

“They’re absolutely fine for a minister or a special advisor or any other politician to use, but they weren’t, in my view, compatible with what civil servants should be using. 

“So that was why, having been brought to my attention, I decided that it shouldn’t be used from a home office account.”

When asked by Labour MP Yvette Cooper who approved the message, Mr Rycroft added: “It had been produced by civil servants in the Home Office press office, but using lines which would have been created in part by special advisers.”

And, setting out the measures currently in place, he continued: “First of all, every civil servant needs to know what the civil service code says. They need to understand what it means for each of them in their own roles. Each line manager needs to check that everyone working for them has got that understanding. 

“In relation to the press office, in particular, there are additional layers of assurance to check before anything goes out that no such inadvertent error is about to happen again.”

“And those checks are in places, but there’s an extra level of checks which is now in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Responding to his comments, Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Justice Spokesperson, said: “It’s always been clear that Cummings has set his sights on politicising and ultimately undermining our world-renowned civil service.

“This case shows just how dangerous that would be.  It was right that this abhorrent Tweet was removed, but it should never have got that far. 

She continued: “It’s reassuring to hear new checks are in place. But there must be absolute clarity about what that really means in practice. We cannot tolerate a situation where inappropriate political content ends up being issued from official civil service channels.

“If Dominic Cummings wants to put out Tory propaganda attacking the rule of law, he should stick to 20,000-word blogposts on his own website, not corrupt the official Home Office Twitter account.”

The Home Office has been contacted for comment.



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Tony Chung: Hong Kong activist detained near US embassy charged

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Hong Kong teen activist Tony Chung has been charged under a new national security law, just days after he was detained outside the US consulate.

Mr Chung, 19, had reportedly planned to enter the consulate and claim asylum.

The activist faces the possibility of life in prison if found guilty of secession, conspiracy to publish seditious content and money laundering.

Mr Chung, the second person to be charged under the law, was denied bail by the court.

The controversial law was imposed by China on Hong Kong in June, making it easier to punish protesters and reducing the city’s autonomy.

What do we know about his detention?

According to the South China Morning Post, Mr Chung was detained on Tuesday morning at a coffee shop opposite the US consulate.

UK-based activist group Friends of Hong Kong said he had planned to enter and claim asylum. Instead, footage taken from near the consulate showed him being carried away by plain-clothes police.

Mr Chung, who was a former member of pro-independence group Studentlocalism, said activists had not given up fighting.

“At the right moment, we will come out to protest again,” he told BBC Chinese in a recent interview.

“Yes we lose at this moment. But the road to democracy is always long.”

He will remain in custody until his next court appearance on 7 January next year.

What is Hong Kong’s new security law?

Hong Kong’s national security law was imposed by Beijing in June after months of huge pro-democracy protests last year against an extradition bill.

The new law makes secession, subversion of the central government, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.

In July, several were arrested under the new powers, including a man carrying a “Hong Kong Independence” flag.

  • China’s new law: Why is Hong Kong worried?

  • UK makes citizenship offer to Hong Kong residents

The law gives Beijing extensive powers it has never had before to shape life in the territory.

Critics say it effectively puts an end to the freedoms guaranteed by Beijing for 50 years after British rule ended in Hong Kong in 1997, but China says it will return stability to the city.

After the passing of the security law, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would offer up to three million Hong Kong residents a chance to settle in the UK and ultimately apply for citizenship.

China has condemned this, saying it would take countermeasures against the UK should it grant residency to Hong Kong residents.

Related Topics

  • Hong Kong national security law

  • China
  • Hong Kong

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AOC: ‘I don’t know if I’m really going to be staying in the House forever’

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President Donald Trump has taken particular pleasure in warning that Ocasio-Cortez poses a threat to Schumer, while describing prominent Democratic leaders including presidential nominee Joe Biden as beholden to her more liberal agenda.

Ocasio-Cortez is also viewed as one of the likeliest inheritors of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ progressive coalition if she were to run for president. The congresswoman, who endorsed Sanders in the 2020 White House race, turned 31 earlier this month and would meet the constitutional presidential age requirement of 35 by November 2024.

Another possibility is Ocasio-Cortez joining a potential Biden administration in some capacity. She was tapped in May to serve as a co-chair of the Biden-Sanders joint task force on climate change — one of six working groups meant to advise the Biden campaign on policy.

But Ocasio-Cortez told Vanity Fair she did not “want to aspire to a quote-unquote higher position just for the sake of that title or just for the sake of having a different or higher position.”

“I truly make an assessment to see if I can be more effective,” she said. “And so, you know, I don’t know if I could necessarily be more effective in an administration, but, for me that’s always what the question comes down to.”



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Covid: Macron promises solidarity for new French lockdown

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Schools and universities will remain open and officer workers will stay home as President Emmanuel Macron places France into lockdown for the whole of November.

There will also be mandatory rapid Covid-19 testing for all international arrivals at the country’s ports and airports to ensure the virus is not brought in from other territories.

The president announced the new measures in a national address, pledging solidarity with French citizens adding “we will all get there together”.

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