21st June 2017
Earlier today, the Queen stopped by the Palace of Westminster, for a dressed down State Opening of Parliament, ahead of her annual trip to Royal Ascot. Five weeks ago when the Conservative Party launched their manifesto, today’s Queen’s Speech was due to begin a radical programme for Government which would ‘see the country through Brexit and beyond’. Today’s speech was heavy on Brexit but little beyond.
The Queen’s Speech announced 27 Bills alongside a series of non-legislative measures. While this may sound like a lengthy legislative menu, it will be delivered over a two year period. For comparison, David Cameron announced nearly twice as many Bills during his final two years in office. The reason for the paucity of legislation is clear. The Prime Minister is yet to complete a formal deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, but even once this is agreed she will only have a working majority of 12.
Brexit, unsurprisingly, was responsible for a quarter of the programme. The main legislative vehicle for delivering Britain’s exit from the European Union is the Repeal Bill, which will transpose EU legislation into British law, after which it can be repealed. Alongside Repeal, are Bills on Customs, to allow the UK to impose tariffs; Trade, to create a framework for trade after Brexit; and Immigration, to allow the Government to set its own immigration regime. These Bills were accompanied by more technical proposals on Fisheries, Agriculture, Nuclear Safeguards and International Sanctions.
Today’s State Opening of Parliament was as much about what failed to make it into the royal address, as what was actually announced. With the Prime Minister fundamentally weakened by the shock election result, she has been forced to drop plans to cut free school meals, roll out grammar schools, and end the universality of winter fuel allowance. Reform to the current system of social care did feature, but the centrepiece was a consultation rather than the much maligned cap. Energy prices also received a mention, but proposals were significantly watered down from the Tory manifesto.
Looking at the domestic legislative programme, the Government deserves praise for action on mental health and domestic violence. Theresa May will also be pleased to return to the policy issues she emphasised when she entered Downing Street, such as industrial strategy, housing and technical education. Meanwhile, the Consumer & Markets consultation has the potential to propose reform to those markets which fail to benefit consumers. The reality of the situation though, is that with her reduced majority and personal weakness the Prime Minister will need to focus on the art of the possible. In fact, just surviving the life of this parliament would be a success.
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