Queen’s Speech unveils Brexit-focused agenda at troubled time

Posted at 11:18 AM, Jun 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-21 11:18:24-04

A somber Queen’s Speech laid out a Brexit-heavy policy agenda and dropped key pledges made by embattled Prime Minister Theresa May, who on Wednesday officially began the challenge of leading a minority government.

Queen Elizabeth II read out a list of the government’s intentions — as is tradition before parliament begins a new session — at a tumultuous time for Britain and as May’s leadership comes into question.

The speech included eight bills centered on the UK leaving the European Union, and measures to address recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, as well as last week’s deadly apartment block fire.

The agenda is essentially a watered down version of the Conservative Party’s election campaign manifesto, a document widely blamed for the party’s loss of command in Parliament.

The speech did not make reference to pledges in the manifesto to tax the elderly more heavily for their own care and cut back on free lunches for schoolchildren, policies slammed by opposition parties and the public.

While the Queen said she planned to welcome the Spanish King and Queen in July, she made no mention of a visit by US President Donald Trump. The Queen invited Trump to Britain, but a date has never been set and UK media has speculated that the trip may be scrapped due to a lack of public support.

May had hoped to officially secure support from the Democratic Union Party (DUP) of Northern Ireland, whose 10 seats in Parliament would give her enough votes to push her legislative agenda through. But as of Wednesday morning, no deal had been made.

The agenda appears to be deliberately modest in ambition and there were no real surprises, reflecting the Conservative party’s weakened position in Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, shot the agenda down as “threadbare” and sign of a government “in chaos.”

“This is a government without a majority, without a mandate, without a serious legislative program led by a prime minister who’s lost her political authority, and is struggling even today to stitch together a deal to stay in office,” he said in Parliament after the MPs were sworn in.

What was in the speech?

The Queen announced that the Great Repeal Bill would be introduced to convert all EU laws into UK law, allowing the country to decide at a later date which to keep and which to scrap.

Bills on trade and customs will be introduced — Brexit means Britain will try to strike new deals with the EU but also with other nations that it was unable to negotiate with while a an EU member.

“My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union,” the Queen said.

Parliament will also introduce a new bill on immigration. Immigration was the centerpiece issue in the campaign to leave the EU, and the government has promised to deliver a policy that controls the inflow.

The Queen confirmed that there would be a full public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire and that an independent public advocate, who will act for bereaved families after public disasters, would be introduced. At least 79 people are presumed dead in one of the country’s worst disasters in a generation.

In light of recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, existing laws would be revised, but no new bills were announced.

“My government’s counter-terrorism strategy will be reviewed to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers they need and that the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offenses are sufficient to keep the population safe,” the Queen said.

While powers will be revised, there was no mention of police resources. After the recent terror attacks, May came under criticism for cutting 20,000 officers from police forces in her time as Home Secretary, and senior politicians, including London Mayor Sadiq Khan, have openly called on her government to boost police numbers.

Corbyn repeated his call in parliament Wednesday for May to boost police resources and blamed the government’s cuts to councils for the disaster. Corbyn had already said that his party could vote against the Queen’s Speech and even offer up some amendments.

The Queen’s Speech lacked the usual level of pomp and pageantry, with the Queen ditching her traditional red velvet Robe of State and crown for a blue day dress and hat, and swapping her horse-drawn carriage for a car.

She was accompanied by her eldest son, Prince Charles, after Buckingham Palace confirmed that her husband, Prince Philip, had been hospitalized with an infection.

May’s future in doubt?

The Queen’s Speech comes at a time when May’s premiership has become vulnerable and the country’s future uncertain, with negotiations over Britain’s departure from the European Union having only just begun.

May’s own position has been called into question ever since her decision to call a snap election. Her attempt to secure a larger mandate ahead of the Brexit negotiations backfired with her losing her commanding majority.

In written remarks prepared for the first day of Parliament, the troubled Prime Minister began trying to undo some of the key messages from the Conservatives’ election campaign, saying that social care would be addressed and that every school should be fairly funded.

Parliament must pass the Queen’s Speech in a vote, but with May yet to secure a deal with the DUP, she is aware that failure to get the speech through could be seen as a vote of no confidence.

The Queen’s Speech usually sets out the government’s legislative plan for the 12 months ahead, but this year’s is different. May’s government intends to run a two-year parliamentary period to complete the country’s exit from the European Union.