May meets Tory welfare rebels to stop vote loss

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Theresa May has met with Conservative MPs threatening to rebel over the Government’s flagship welfare reforms, to avert a public showdown in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister met with Heidi Allen, Sarah Wollaston and Johnny Mercer on Tuesday afternoon to listen to their concerns over the roll-out of Universal Credit, which was meant to simplify and streamline the benefits system but has been beset with problems.

The meeting comes ahead of two events that will put the troubled roll-out into the spotlight on Wednesday.

Labour is trying to stoke Tory division with an opposition day debate on Universal Credit, while work and pensions secretary David Gauke is due to give evidence to a select committee inquiry.

Ms Allen, the Tory MP for Cambridgeshire South, claims she has 25 Conservatives prepared to rebel on the matter.

Heidi Allen at the Save The Children evening reception at the Conservative Party conference
Image:Cambridgeshire South MP Heidi Allen was among those at a meeting in Downing Street

One would-be rebel told Sky News on Tuesday that they expect the number to rise as the roll-out extends across the country and other MPs’ postbags fill up with complaints from constituents.

The programme combines six means-tested benefits into a single payment and is designed to help more people back into work. The system pays benefits in arrears to mirror the way wages are paid.

Rebel MPs are not opposed to the principle of reforming the welfare system but are worried about its roll-out: claimants are having to wait up to six weeks for their benefits, leaving many unable to buy food and pushed into debt and rent arrears.

Video:Universal Credit rebels gather in Downing Street

The dissatisfied MPs have presented ministers with a list of demands to improve the scheme.

Suggestions include scrapping any wait period and giving claimants’ money immediately, stopping phone-line charges – it costs 55p a minute to call the helpline – and changing the system so that money is paid out fortnightly rather than monthly to help claimants budget.

But it is not just Conservative MPs giving the Government a headache over Universal Credit; the work and pensions committee inquiry was launched last month in response to the concerns over the roll-out.

Image:Work and pensions secretary David Gauke is also trying to head off rebel Tory MPs

Frank Field, the committee’s Labour chair, has accused ministers of withholding bad news over the progress of the welfare scheme.

And he complains that the Department for Work and Pensions has so far refused to answer four formal letters requesting statistics and clarifications of the policy in recent weeks.

The Prime Minister and Mr Gauke have sought to assuage MPs’ concerns over the roll-out but have also signalled they will not apply the brakes as its implementation accelerates to 50 new job centres a month.

Video:Is new benefit forcing people into foodbanks?

Ms May said at party conference earlier this month that the move to Universal Credit was “an important change to the benefits system”.

“I think it’s important that we do roll it out,” she told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Mr Gauke, who has met with MPs in recent weeks to listen to their concerns, has insisted he is not taking a “reckless or risky approach” to the roll-out of the scheme.

“If I looked at it and thought this was a mistake I would be agitating to do something to stop it,” he said. “But I don’t.”

Battle ‘over’ against Islamic State in Raqqa

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Military operations have ended against Islamic State in its Syrian stronghold of Raqqa, say the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Clearing operations were continuing to flush out the remaining fighters and locate landmines and booby traps.

Dozens of fighters were making a last stand in the city’s stadium – also being used as its weapons’ store – and some may still be holed up in its warren of tunnels.

About 100 fighters are left in the city, the US military estimated.

:: Raqqa ‘broken in every sense’ after IS occupation

:: The rise and fall of Islamic State in Raqqa

Earlier on Tuesday, the SDF said they had killed 22 fighters as they captured the city hospital, being used by IS as its headquarters.

The US-backed SDF is made up mainly of Kurdish fighters, but also Arab and other militias.

It has been battling since June to take the capital of Islamic State’s self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’, where the terror group would command military operations and foreign terror plots, and carry out brutal public executions.

Video:SDF raise flags around Raqqa
Image:SDF forces near Raqqa’s city hospital, which was captured from IS on Tuesday

Coalition air strikes involving RAF jets have bombed IS positions in recent weeks to help set up the final push.

A formal declaration that the city has been fully liberated is expected when the clearing operations are over.

Fighters celebrated and waved yellow SDF flags in Raqqa’s al Naim square – which became known as “Hell Roundabout” after IS used it for numerous executions, often leaving severed heads and bodies on display for days.

:: The enormous cost of Islamic State’s demise in Raqqa

Video:Sept: Sky’s Alex Crawford with fighters in Raqqa

More than 1,100 civilians died in the battle for Raqqa, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) group.

IS first captured the city in 2014 and tens of thousands who fled are badly in need of aid, with charities saying “camps are bursting at the seams”.

The end of the Raqqa battle comes after IS was driven out of its main Iraqi base of Mosul in July.

Sky’s diplomatic editor Dominic Waghorn said it was now effectively a “mopping up” operation in Raqqa, but warned of a high risk that many buildings have been left booby-trapped with explosives.

Image:A formal declaration that the city has been liberated is expected when clearing operations are over
Image:Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have become refugees after fleeing from IS

The victory in Raqqa is “hugely significant”, he says, but IS is far from defeated in Syria.

It still has fighters in other areas, such as the eastern city of Deir al Zor, and many fighters from Raqqa will have fled there.

However, Syria’s state news agency SANA, as well as the SOHR group, said government troops had captured several villages in the area, as well as most of the city.

The demise of IS in Raqqa has an enormous cost

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For three years, Raqqa was capital of the biggest, richest, and arguably most evil terrorist organisation the world has known.

At its height, as many as eight million people lived on land that Islamic State controlled in Iraq and Syria.

When the organisation took the Iraqi city of Mosul, it looted its banks.

Added to other revenues acquired through oil smuggling and taxation, IS had resources that other terror groups could only dream of.

:: Raqqa: Battle ‘over’ in Islamic State’s Syrian capital

Video:Is this the end of Islamic State?

But for a while, at least, it also had a unique selling point: as long as it was expanding its territory, it was able to claim it was rebuilding the Islamic Caliphate.

Thousands of people heard its siren call and travelled from ordinary homes across Europe and beyond to swell its ranks.

Among them were throat-slitting psychopaths, rapists and child abusers, aware they would be able to indulge those behaviours with impunity – executing prisoners and filming their actions for cynical propaganda purposes, and enslaving and repeatedly raping women and young girls.

:: The rise and fall of Islamic State in Raqqa

Image:Fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces walk along a street in Raqqa

Raqqa was the administrative heart of Islamic State, where its brutal repression of millions in Iraq and Syria was controlled. It was also from where it planned, inspired and launched murderous terror attacks far beyond Syria’s borders.

Anyone appalled by its grotesque reign of murderous terror can celebrate its demise in the city that was for so long its base.

But the cost has been enormous. As many as 1,000 civilians are thought to have been killed in the allied air bombardment that supported the assault against IS on the ground.

Video:Fighting IS in the ‘hell’ that is Raqqa

Most of the city is now rubble, pulverised by airstrikes and artillery.

More than 250,000 people were forced to flee as the fighting around Raqqa intensified.

And the battle against IS is far from over.

Image:Hundreds of thousands have fled IS in Syria and become refugees

Hundreds of fighters have escaped Raqqa and fled east – it’s thought to land still controlled by IS, in particular Deir al Zor towards the Iraqi border.

Many others may have travelled further afield, back to their home countries.

As IS loses the battle to control territory in both Iraq and Syria, it will adapt and metastasise, mutating so it is able to present new threats in the countries its fighters came from and in its Middle Eastern heartlands.

One crucial battle is over; the war will go on.

Brexit reversal would boost UK, says OECD

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A political decision to reverse Brexit would have a “significant” positive impact on the UK economy, according to a leading global think-tank.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said growth could be boosted if a second referendum or “change of majority” were to cancel the decision to leave the European Union.

The latest survey by the Paris-based OECD projects economic growth of just 1% in next year.

:: Analysis: The boldest Brexit forecast since the EU vote

It sees the uncertainty surrounding Brexit negotiations as meaning that the UK is likely to be without a free-trade agreement with the EU by its official exit date in 2019.

The economy could be further hit in the case of a “disorderly Brexit” – if talks between the EU and UK are cut short – the OECD warned.

It said this would trigger a sharp financial market reaction, send the pound to new lows and lead to a downgrade in the UK’s credit rating.

“Business investment would seize up, and heightened price pressures would choke off inflation,” the OECD added.

The risk that Scotland and Northern Ireland could vote to stay in the EU would also have a major impact on the national economy, it said.

But the OECD said the risks could be avoided with a Brexit reversal.

It said: “In case Brexit gets reversed by political decision (change of majority, new referendum, etc), the positive impact on growth would be significant.”

Video:Amber Rudd: No deal on Brexit ‘unthinkable’

The report admitted that Brexit negotiations were hard to forecast and that they could prove “more favourable” than it had assumed.

But this would require “an ambitious EU-UK agreement and a transition period to allow for adjustment to the new agreement”.

“Meantime, however, uncertainty could hamper domestic and foreign investment more than projected and hurt consumption even more were the exchange rate to depreciate even further,” the report said.

OECD secretary-general Angel Gurria said: “The United Kingdom is facing challenging times, with Brexit creating serious economic uncertainties that could stifle growth for years to come.

“Maintaining the closest economic relationship with the European Union will be absolutely key, for the trade of goods and services as well as the movement of labour.”

Responding to the report, the UK Government said it was “working to achieve the best deal with the EU that protects jobs and the economy”.

“We are leaving the EU and there will not be a second referendum.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond said companies in Britain and the EU would benefit from the greater certainty provided by a time-limited Brexit transition period.

Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the OECD was “fearful of what a Tory Brexit could mean for the UK economy”.

The boldest Brexit forecast since the EU vote

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The sky did not fall in in the months after the EU referendum.

There was no recession. Economic growth remained positive. Wages did not collapse – and nor did the stock markets.

Yes, the pound fell sharply on referendum night, but for all the scary forecasts from Britain’s economists, Armageddon this was not.

One upshot was that Britain’s cadre of professional forecasters had a crisis of confidence.

Image:Mark Carney was among those who raised fears of a post-EU vote recession

Sure, technically speaking they didn’t get it all wrong: many of their pessimistic post-Brexit predictions were focused on the very long term – in other words could only be borne out (or not) over a matter of decades – but they were still tarred with the same brush.

A recession was forecast; a recession didn’t happen. Ergo no-one can rely on experts’ economic forecasts any more.

And so the Treasury went silent on the issue. It has still refused to publish any updated projection of the impact of Brexit – deal, no deal or something in the middle – since last year’s vote.

Many independent forecasters were hushed as well. Even the International Monetary Fund was noticeably sotto voce about Brexit in its World Economic Outlook last week.

Image:The IMF has held off making Brexit commentary

It left its forecasts for UK growth this year and next unchanged, and tried to say as little about Brexit as possible – save that its managing director couldn’t imagine no deal being done with the EU.

Now the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is breaking the silence.

It now expects the UK to grow slower than any other G7 country next year. It thinks Brexit is a full-scale economic disaster, and unlike many other forecasters, it is not afraid to say so.

:: OECD: Brexit reversal would boost UK growth

For evidence, look no further than the OECD’s latest comprehensive survey of the UK economy, published today. It believes Brexit is already causing damage to the UK economy.

Growth is weaker than the EU and OECD average. Share prices of truly UK-based firms (selling locally, as opposed to the international firms simply listed on the FTSE 100 and 250) have dramatically underperformed their global counterparts.

Of course, Britain had plenty of homegrown issues and challenges long before Brexit came along.

The economy is deeply imbalanced; households are overly reliant on debt and on housing wealth; the productivity rate is too weak; exports are too low and the performance gap between different regions is greater than in most other developed economies.

The OECD has moaned about such things for years. The difference this time around, it says, is that Brexit is actually making them all worse.

Not the prospect of Brexit, mind. The direct economic impact of the vote last year, it says.

So: it says that households are facing a bigger squeeze as a result of post-referendum devaluation/inflation. They are borrowing more to finance their spending. Productivity growth has dropped to new lows in recent quarters. Exports show little sign of rebounding despite the fall in the pound.

Indeed, according to the OECD’s analysis, the country’s export performance has hit a record low in recent months.

And the very regions of the country facing the biggest productivity shortfall are precisely the areas which are most reliant on EU funding – which could dry up if Britain crashed out of the EU without a deal.

There are some solutions, according to the OECD. But here things get, well, ironic.

For pretty much every one of its major solutions has already been dismissed by the Government itself. So what’s the best thing the Government could do to get growth going? According to the OECD: reversing the referendum decision altogether. That’s a no-no.

Another idea it suggests (to boost productivity and stop people slipping into low-paid jobs) is introducing new higher National Insurance rates for self-employed workers. As you’ll recall, the Treasury already tried to do that in the Budget, and was forced into a hasty u-turn.

Or, it says, the Government could abolish the pensions triple lock and simply raise pensions in line with wage growth, or inflation. Again, no longer an option, following the DUP confidence and supply agreement.

In other words, the OECD report is a significant reminder of the constraints on economic policy at the moment.

There is no recession. But the more data that comes in, the clearer it is that Britain is growing at a weaker rate than previously – and the signs are this is at least partly down to Brexit. And the most obvious solutions are, well, no longer viable.

There is, of course, a chance the OECD has got it wrong. There is a chance its numbers are inaccurate and its analysis is flawed. But even the most sceptical would have to concede that eventually one of these experts might just get something right.

Sainsbury’s plans to cut 2,000 UK jobs

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Sainsbury’s has unveiled proposals that are expected to result in up to 2,000 job losses.

The UK’s second-largest supermarket chain said it was consulting on a series of measures that would mainly affect human resources and payroll staff.

The FTSE 100 company said it wanted to remove all HR and payroll clerk roles from in-store completely – hitting around 1,400 people.

It said 600 further roles were under threat from a restructuring that would consolidate HR and other support roles across its grocery chain, Argos and Sainsbury’s Bank.

A spokesman said: “The UK grocery market is changing at a rapid pace and it’s crucial that we transform the way we operate to meet future challenges and continue to provide customers with best in class service.

“Following a comprehensive review, we are proposing some updates to our HR structures and systems, as well as changes to a number of other support roles, subject to consultation.

“This has been a difficult decision and we appreciate that this will be a tough time for those colleagues affected by the changes. We will support them in any way we can.”

The company confirmed the cost-cutting plan after the markets had closed for the day.

The shake-up means Sainsbury’s, which took over Argos last year, is following rivals in the fiercely competitive grocery sector in looking to make efficiencies to invest more in its customer proposition.

The so-called big four chains, which also include Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, have been battling a customer drift towards discounters since the end of the financial crisis.

More follows…

Car bomb kills renowned journalist in Malta

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Malta has been left in shock by the killing of its best-known investigative journalist.

Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was renowned for exposing corruption in Maltese politics, died when a bomb exploded in her car as she drove away from her home in Mosta.

Ms Caruana Galizia’s son wrote on Facebook that he discovered his mother’s body in pieces, and he alleged Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of being complicit in her killing by presiding over a “culture of impunity” in a “mafia state”.

“My mother was assassinated because she stood between the rule of law and those who sought to violate it,” Matthew Caruana Galizia said. “She was the only person doing so.”

The killing near the village of Bidnija stunned the Mediterranean island.

Frans Sant, who was driving in the other direction at the time of the blast, said: “I saw a small explosion coming from the car and I panicked. A few seconds later, around three to four seconds, there was another, larger explosion.

“The car continued coming down the hill, skidding at high speed, full of fire. The car missed me by around 3m (10ft). I tried to help but the fire was too much and the car ended up in the field.”

Image:The killing had shocked Malta and raised concerns over freedom of expression

Thousands attended a candlelit vigil for the slain journalist on Monday.

In a country of just 430,000 people, her blog could attract daily audiences of up to 400,000.

Ms Caruana Galizia’s work took aim at corruption and cronyism, and included exposes on the offshore holdings of political figures as revealed in the leaked Panama Papers.

Politico listed her as one of 2017’s 28 most influential Europeans: a “one woman Wikileaks, crusading against untransparency and corruption”.

She had been sued by leading Maltese politicians – and in February, her bank was frozen after she reported that the leader of Malta’s Labour Party had visited a brothel.

Image:Ms Caruana Galizia was facing lawsuits as a result of her work

Police have also confirmed she reported death threats two weeks before she was killed.

The European Commission expressed horror at the killing, and joined advocacy organisations in calling for a thorough investigation.

Pauline Ades-Mevel, head of EU-Balkans at Reporters Without Borders, told Sky News: “It’s a very dark day for Maltese democracy and journalism.

“It is absolutely not expected to see such a murder inside the EU.”

Ms Ades-Mevel said the “horrific” killing recalled mafia assassination methods.

“It’s extremely violent, and probably also intentionally traumatic,” she said.

Image:Thousands gathered for a candlelit vigil in memory of Ms Caruana Galizia

Maltese authorities have vowed to carry out a full investigation and politicians – some of whom were engaged in lawsuits against Ms Caruana Galizia – expressed horror and offered their condolences.

“Everyone knows Caruana Galizia was a harsh critic of mine, both politically and personally, but nobody can justify this barbaric act in any way,” Prime Minister Muscat said.

But Matthew Caruana Galizia, also an investigative journalist, said the leader’s words were “little comfort”.

“If the institutions were already working, there would be no assassination to investigate – and my brothers and I would still have a mother,” he wrote.

UK inflation hits five-year high

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Inflation rose to 3% in September, its highest level in more than five years, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure of inflation rose from 2.9% in August thanks partly to higher food prices – adding to the squeeze on households as pay growth lags behind.

But the increase will be welcomed by those receiving the state pension, as the September figure is used to calculate increases in the benefit next April under the Government’s “triple lock” guarantee.

Video:What’s caused the rise in inflation?

It is the first time CPI inflation has reached 3% since April 2012. The Bank of England targets inflation at 2%.

The CPI figure – which was in line with expectations – should bolster expectations that the Bank will hike interest rates next month, though some have cautioned against such a move at a time of tepid economic growth.

A slump in the pound since the Brexit vote last year, which makes imports more expensive, has contributed to rising inflation, though the ONS said increasing global commodity prices could also be a factor.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney told MPs on the Treasury Select Committee that a rise in inflation to more than 3% had been anticipated.

Video:The ‘trade-off’ facing Bank on rates

He said: “We had signalled prior to the referendum that in the event of a vote to leave… we expected sterling to fall sharply – it did. That passes through to prices.”

Despite the rise in inflation, the pound slipped by nearly a cent against the US dollar to less than $1.32 on Tuesday – after the Bank’s new deputy governor Sir David Ramsden told the same committee that he was not close to voting for an interest rate hike.

The latest ONS data showed food and non-alcoholic beverage prices were climbing at the highest rate since October 2013.

Computer games, together with a change in the way the ONS accounts for air fares in inflation data, also contributed to the rise in inflation, as did an increase in fuel prices.

Clothing costs, which rose by less than they did in the same period last year, had a downward effect.

Inflation has been running well ahead of wage rises, which according to latest official data were just above 2%.

The TUC called on the Government to “face up to Britain’s cost of living crisis” and give five million public sector workers “the pay rise they have earned”.

The Treasury pointed to actions it has taken to help families, such as a freeze on fuel duty, increased free childcare and the national living wage.

Kallum Pickering, senior UK economist at Berenberg, said there was “light at the end of the tunnel” and that households could be past the worst of the real wage squeeze with inflation likely to trend downwards over coming months, and wages likely to strengthen.

For pensioners, the uptick in inflation helps, as the Government has committed to increasing the state pension by 2.5%, earnings growth, or CPI inflation in September; whichever is higher.

But there was a blow for businesses as the separate Retail Price Index (RPI) measure of inflation, which includes owner-occupier housing costs, was unchanged at 3.9% – its highest level since the start of 2012.

The figure will be used to calculate next April’s increase in business rates, prompting calls for a rates freeze and a warning from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) that many shops could be left “struggling to survive”.

‘Tortured and raped’: Rohingya women speak out

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Rabia sits in front of me on the floor of a small hut inside Kutupolong Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh.

Light streams in through the straw walls. It makes strong shadows that streak across Rabia’s partially covered face.

She is here to share her story with me.

Rabia was stripped, beaten and raped at gunpoint just for being a Rohingya in Myanmar.

“They came into the village and started firing at us,” she says.

:: ‘I watched my children drown’: Rohingya mother shares devastating story

Image:‘The soldier kept raping me until another soldier blew a whistle’, says Rabia

“We hid all our money and ornaments inside secret pockets that we had sewn inside our dresses.”

She turns the hem of her dress inside out to show me some loose hanging thread and explains that was where the pocket had been sewn.

“They stripped us naked and stole all our jewellery. And this was in front of everyone.

“Many of them came, four, five … they came in groups and one or two stood guard while the rest went in to the house to torture the women.”

Rabia says the men who attacked her were Myanmar army soldiers.

Video:Inside a Rohingya refugee camp

“They came and found me. One grabbed my hand and took me to a path between some trees and then he pushed me.

“I fell down and then he began raping me. I started to scream but then another soldier came and pointed a gun at me.

“The soldier kept raping me until another soldier blew a whistle in the village and then they all left.”

Rabia is wearing an orange headscarf across her face. From time to time during the interview it slips a little. I can see tearful eyes that are full of pain.

“What can I tell you of the torture that I’ve been through. If I tell you I will start crying.

Image:Hundreds of thousands of refugees are packed into the camp at Cox’s Bazar

“No one can live with the violence that has happened to us. We could not tolerate the torture and misery anymore and had to leave for this country.

“If we were educated or knew how to read or write I could have told you what we have gone through. But we are uneducated and I can’t explain. There is no peace for us.”

Listening to Rabia’s heartbreaking story is Shazia.

She knows only too well the anguish Rabia is suffering because she was also raped by army soldiers.

“When the chaos started in the village we ran for our lives in different directions,” says Shazia. “A large number of military soldiers came and they tortured and raped whoever they could catch.

Video:Rohingya children from capsized boat buried

“After our village was burned down I escaped to the hills. They got me there alone. That’s where they did what they wanted to do.”

She continues: “If we knew they would torture us so much we would have left much earlier. We were in peace in Burma and that’s why we stayed there.

“We have been through all forms of violence: rape, burning our homes and villages, killings and stealing our land. That’s why we have left our country and come to a foreign land.”

Shazia’s husband is listening and says nothing – he is clearly in as much pain as his wife.

He will carry the burden of a man who could not protect his wife. But against one of the most ruthless military machines in South Asia he had no chance.

Video:Special report: Rohingya’s Exodus

It is rare for aid agencies to accuse a state of rape, but UN doctors working inside Rohingya refugee camps have reported hundreds of cases during the first wave of refugees last October and with this recent influx too.

Shazia and Rabia, not their real names, told me they wanted their story told so others like them still inside Myanmar might be saved.

They say they feel safer inside this refugee camp. And importantly, although persecuted by the outside world, these Rohingya women have not been ostracised from the community.

They think it is because the attacks have targeted so many of their women. During conflict, rape is used as a deliberate military strategy.

The Myanmar army still denies it is engaged in ethnic cleansing, but if it is ever held to account for the atrocities the testimonies of these brave women and other survivors could prove otherwise.

Bond girl Eva Green: ‘I had to push Weinstein off’

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Casino Royale actress Eva Green has said she felt “shocked and disgusted” after an encounter with Harvey Weinstein in which she allegedly had to “push him off”.

The Bond actress is the latest star to speak out in the widening sex harassment scandal involving one of Hollywood’s most powerful producers.

Green’s statement came after her mother, Marlene Jobert, told a French radio that her daughter “was a victim of this horrible man”, and that he did to her what he did to “all the others”.

“He promised them, like everyone, to promote their career in exchange for sexual favours,” Ms Jobert told Europe 1 radio.

In a subsequent statement to Variety, Green said: “I met him for a business meeting in Paris at which he behaved inappropriately and I had to push him off.

“I got away without it going further, but the experience left me shocked and disgusted.”

:: The Accusers:

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Green said she had not discussed the case before because she wanted to maintain her privacy, but had decided to speak out as other women share their stories and risk having “their personal reputations tarnished by association”.

Green praised what she said was the bravery of these women and said: “The exploitation of power is ubiquitous.

“This behaviour is unacceptable and needs to be eliminated.”

The scandal broke out when The New York TImes published an expose last week.

Since then, around 30 women, including Kate Beckinsale, Cara Delevingne, Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie, have said Weinstein has sexually harassed or assaulted them.

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    Colin Firth, who won an Oscar in the Weinstein-produced The King’s Speech, also weighed in on the scandal, saying actress Sophie Dix told him 25 years ago about an alleged incident involving Weinstein.

    Firth told the Guardian: “I remember her being profoundly upset by it. To my shame, I merely expressed sympathy.”

    “I didn’t act on what she told me,” he added, saying the “conversation has come back to haunt me in the light of these revelations”.

    “It’s the only direct account of this kind of behaviour by Harvey Weinstein that’s ever been told to me,” he added. “What I heard, it turns out, was part of a horrifying pattern.”

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    The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss throwing Weinstein out.

    The meeting will involve the Academy’s 54-member board of governors.

    The Producers’ Guild of America is also meeting to discuss the scandal and consider possible disciplinary proceedings and Weinstein’s membership, a report says.