Britain’s Online Safety Bill set to be delayed

LONDON — Progress on Britain’s proposed new content regulation law is expected to be delayed until the fall, amid the fallout from Boris Johnson’s resignation as Conservative Party leader.

The Online Safety Bill, which ministers had hoped to move through the House of Commons before MPs go on their summer break on July 21, is expected to be dropped from the parliamentary schedule next week, according to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport official.

A parliamentary staffer, who has seen a draft parliamentary running order, confirmed a change to the schedule is expected.

If the bill is dropped it means it will not be allotted parliamentary time before Johnson leaves Downing Street on September 6, the day after the U.K. parliament returns.

Next week’s parliamentary schedule is due to be announced by ministers Thursday.

The U.K. government will hold a confidence vote in itself on Monday, using up parliamentary time which had been expected to be given to the passage of the bill. It blocked an effort to bring a confidence vote by the opposition Labour Party after ministers objected to its wording. Labour wanted a vote of confidence against both the government and Johnson to try to force him to leave earlier than September.

Johnson’s departure has cast doubt on the future of the so-called online harms legislation with one of the candidates in the race to replace him, former Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch, openly critical of it.

The bill would impose a legal duty of care on internet companies such as Twitter and Facebook to keep users safe. Moves to include some legal but harmful content in the scope of the bill have been controversial.

The legislation still has to be scrutinized by the House of Lords so would not have made it onto the statute books before Johnson left No. 10 anyway.

Badenoch, who secured enough votes to make it into the second round of the leadership contest Wednesday night, said in an article for the Times at the weekend: “Rather than legislate for hurt feelings as we risk doing with the Online Safety Bill, we must strengthen our democratic culture at a time when democratic values are under assault from without and within.”

Responding to reports the legislation could be delayed, Badenoch tweeted: “This would be the right move. The bill is in no fit state to become law. If I’m elected prime minister I will ensure the bill doesn’t overreach.”