The British prime minister promised a focus on domestic issues if he can “get Brexit done,” as he used the pomp and ceremony of a speech to Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II to announce 26 draft government bills.
Without a majority in the House of Commons, Johnson has little chance of seeing his plans turned into law. With that in mind, he is seeking an early general election — and Monday’s policy package is likely to form the skeleton of his manifesto for that campaign.
Seven of the proposals related to Brexit, but everything hangs on the first one: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill, which would allow the U.K. to leave the EU with a deal — if one is agreed.
In the event that Johnson and the EU can reach an accord before the end of the month, Johnson will try to rush that bill through Parliament. If not, he may try to take Britain out of the bloc without a deal, or he might be forced to delay the divorce.
The issue for Johnson is that he is so far short of a majority he cannot pass any controversial legislation without an election, which the opposition parties won’t let him hold until he delays Brexit or agrees a deal with the EU.
In that context, the speech, delivered to both Houses of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II on her throne in the House of Lords, was a preview of the ground on which Johnson would like to fight that election: Health, crime and education.
“People are tired of stasis, gridlock and waiting for change,” Johnson wrote in an introduction to the Queen’s speech. “They don’t want to wait for their streets to be safer. They don’t want to wait for their schools to have the funding they need.”
There were other measures to deal with Brexit, covering agriculture, fisheries, trade and immigration. A financial services bill aims to maintain the U.K.’s status as an investment center.
Measures affecting business included:
a Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, to simplify trials and prescribing
a pension bill to make it easier for savers to keep track of different pots of money
Moves to give government more powers to scrutinize takeovers of companies with national security links
a crackdown on child abuse online, putting a duty of care on technology companies
The speech also contained lines clearly intended as voter-friendly talking points in an election:
a law to let servers in restaurants keep all their tips
a nationwide roll-out of gigabit broadband
an Animal Welfare Bill, banning the use of wild animals in circuses
Another promise seeks to give Johnson’s Conservatives an answer to the opposition Labour Party’s eye-catching plan to take railways back into public ownership. The government will review how the trains work, with a pledge to simplify ticket structures and a new industry structure, Johnson’s office said in a briefing.
The rest of the week will see debate on these measures in Parliament, but the political focus will be on Johnson’s talks with the EU, and a summit of EU leaders starting on Thursday. The government wants Parliament to sit on Saturday, the first weekend sitting since the Falklands War in 1982, to discuss the outcome of that meeting.
The pageantry of the Queen’s Speech began at 10 a.m., when the Yeomen of the Guard, the royal bodyguards known as “Beefeaters,” searched the cellars of Parliament. The tradition dates back to 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament, and King James I with it.
The Queen then traveled in a gilded coach from Buckingham Palace to the Houses of Parliament, escorted by the Household Cavalry. As the Queen arrived, the Union Flag of the U.K. was lowered and her Royal Standard raised over Parliament.
At 11:30 a.m., Sarah Clarke, the Queen’s representative to Parliament — generally known by her official title of Black Rod — marched to the House of Commons, the lower, elected, chamber. She summoned politicians to hear the Queen, who was waiting in the House of Lords, the upper, unelected chamber. The door of the Commons was slammed in her face.
This ritual symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the Crown: no British monarch has entered the lower house since 1642, when King Charles I tried to arrest five members in the run-up to a civil war that ended with his execution in 1649.
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Tim Ross at [email protected]
Thomas Penny, Andrew Atkinson
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