Above: The Queen, accompanied by her eldest son Prince Charles, reads the Queen’s Speech
After being delayed last week the Queen’s Speech finally took place today. The Queen’s Speech was delayed in order to allow the Government to continue their negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), with whom they are attempting to come to an agreement in order to give the Conservatives a working majority in the House of Commons. The deal has still not been finalised nearly two weeks after the General Election on 8 June The speech, which is written by the Government but read by the Queen, lays out the Government’s proposed legislative programme for the coming parliament. It generally reflects what the Government had been promising in their manifesto and campaign if there had been, as there was this year, a General Election. Today’s speech, however, disposed of much of what the Tories had been promising because they did not achieve the majority they were anticipating. This meat they would struggle to bring in controversial legislation so have simply dropped large chunks of their pre-election manifesto.
The snap election this year meant that preparations and rehearsals for the usual traditional pomp and ceremony of the State opening of Parliament did not have the time needed. As a result the traditions were also discarded today. The Queen, who usually arrives at Parliament in a gold horse-drawn carriage and enters the robing room where she is dressed in the the regalia of the State, including a crown (which travels to the Parliament in its own carriage!). This year she arrived by car instead and was wearing her “day clothes.” – though her crown still travelled to Parliament in its own car. The crown was used during the ceremony but she did not wear it while reading the speech. She was accompanied by Prince Charles instead of her husband the Duke of Edinburgh. This has nothing to do with the scaling down of the ceremony but because the Duke of Edinburgh is in hospital with an infection. This scaled-down ceremony is the first to forgo the usual pomp since 1974 when the second election in that year forced a cut-back.
Above: The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in their usual regalia on the State opening of Parliament
The Queen’s Speech included 27 proposed bills, eight of which are based on the upcoming Brexit, including bills that will impact industries and sectors post-Brexit such as immigration, trade, fisheries and farming. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, urged MPs to “seize this moment of national change” but the dramatic dropping of much of the Government’s election manifesto was seized upon by the opposition who claimed she had lost her authority, had no majority, and no mandate to bring in legislation it was campaigning on only two weeks ago. The most obvious absences from the Queen’s Speech were the Government’s proposals on social care, to end the triple-lock of protection for state pensions, to expand grammar schools, to scrap the winter fuel payment for all but the poorest pensioners and to end free school meals an replace it with a “breakfast.” Despite the massive backtracking a Downing Street spokesman still said the Queen’s Speech would “command the confidence” of the House of Commons. MPs will vote on the Queen’s Speech next week. Failure at that stage for the Government would be disastrous and almost certainly lead to the Government’s collapse. At the moment they still don’t appear to have a working majority in the House of Commons but it seems unlikely that the Queen’s Speech will fail to pass, especially if the Conservatives can finalise their deal with the DUP.
Above: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on the shadow front-bench with Diane Abbott and Tom Watson
The Leader of the Official Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, dismissed the “threadbare” Queen’s Speech in a debate in the House of Commons following the reading of the Speech in the neighbouring House of Lords. He said that the Prime Minister had “apparently run out of ideas altogether.” Mr Corbyn highlighted the absence of key Conservative manifesto policies such as the expansion of grammar schools and the cuts to winter fuel payments and said that Labour was “a government in waiting.” Mrs May joked that she congratulated him on coming a “good second” in the General Election. Mr Corbyn was barracked by the Tory benches for not letting MPs interrupt him, which is allowed but only if the person speaking agrees. He continued:
“From Cardiff to Canterbury, from Stockton to Kensington, people chose hope over fear and they sent an unequivocal message that austerity must be brought to an end.”
Mr Corbyn singled out police cuts, which have been in the news with recent terror attacks in the UK and the overstretching of the emergency services responding to them. He said: “I hope the current prime minister will correct the mistakes of the former home secretary.” Mrs May is, of course, the current Prime Minister and the previous Home Secretary he is referring to. She held the latter post for six years before becoming Conservative leader and Prime Minister in 2016 after the resignation of David Cameron. He also spoke of the Grenfell Tower fire which he said was a “tragedy and an outrage.” He called for emergency funding to check the cladding on tower blocks after it is suspected that the fire at Grenfell Towers spread rapidly due to inferior – possibly illegal – cladding used in a recent renovation. He said that “something has gone horrifically wrong” and people were “demanding answers and they are entitled to those answers.”
Mrs May responded on this latter point by saying that families affected are getting help, including payments for food, clothing and other essentials and she apologised for her response to the fire a week ago today by saying it had been a “failure of the state, local and national, to help people when they needed it most”.
Above: Cartoon by Marin Rowson, The Guardian
The Brexit-related bills are:
- the Repeal Bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and convert EU laws into UK Laws. The UK parliament will then be free to set its own laws without redress to the EU;
- the Customs Bill will ensure the UK has a stand-alone customs regime on exit from the EU. It will give flexibility to trade deals with the EU and others. It will ensure the UK can make changes to the VAT and excise regimes on exit, and the Government will be able to collect customs duties, administer the customs regime and deal with tax avoidance. The UK will have control over imports and exports;
- the Trade Bill enables the UK to end free movement of EU nationals into the UK, but allows the UK to attract the “brightest and the best.” EU nationals and families in the UK will be subject to relevant UK laws;
- the Fisheries Bill will enable the UK to control its waters and fishing quotas;
- the Nuclear Safeguards Bill will ensure a UK nuclear safeguard regime on exit from the EU and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euatom). The UK will continue to honour its international obligations for nuclear safeguards through the International Atomic Energy Agency. It will support international non-proliferation and protect UK’s electricity supplied by nuclear power;
- the International Sanctions Bill. The UK will ensure it remains a permanent member of the UN Security Council. The UK will continue a central role in the fight against terrorism, and against proliferation of nuclear weapons. Non-UN sanctions decisions will be taken by the UK. The UK will continue to comply with international law. Individuals will have right to challenge sanctions imposed upon them. Certain activity will be exempted on an individual review basis for things such as payment for foods and medicine that would otherwise be covered by sanctions.
Above: Cartoon by Steve Bell, The Guardian
The main non-Brexit bills in the Queen’s Speech were:
- a Civil Liability Bill, designed to address the “compensation culture” around motoring insurance claims;
- a Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, establishing a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner to stand up for victims and survivors and monitor the response of the authorities;
- a Tenant’s Fees Bill, banning landlords from charging “letting fees”;
- a High-Speed Two Bill to authorise the second leg of the rail link from Birmingham to Crewe;
- a Data Protection Bill to strengthen individuals’ rights and introduce a “right to be forgotten”;
- an Armed Forces Bill allowing people to serve on a part-time and flexible basis.
You can read a detailed break-down of all the bills in the Queen’s Speech HERE on the BBC. You can read the complete Queen’s Speech HERE. And, of course, more sources and further reading are listed at the end of the blog.
Above: American president Donald Trump
An interesting and, in my opinion, a welcome absence from the Queen’s Speech was any mention of a proposed State Visit to the UK by the US President Donald Trump. This almost certainly means it is now not going to happen – at least in the near future. Theresa May had outraged many in the UK by not only being the first world leader to visit the President in the States after his inauguration in January, but also for not more openly and aggressively attacking his controversial and divisive policies. Most criticism was, however, saved for her incredible decision to invite the President on a State Visit to the UK later this year. It is unheard of a world leader to get such an honour so quickly after assuming office. Many US presidents have not been given a State Visit at all, and even President Obama had to wait several years into his administration before getting the invite. Generally they are not offered the privilege unless they are re-elected for a second term. Many believed that Trump has done nothing to earn the honour of a State Visit, others were embarrassed on behalf of the Queen who would have to make nice with the President and entertain him at a formal State Dinner at Buckingham Palace.
President Trump was recently reported to have changed his mind about coming on a State Visit because of the inevitable protests that will welcome him to our shores. However, a Trump official was telling the BBC today that the two Governments are “discussing dates,” and Downing Street said that it wasn’t mentioned in the Queen’s Speech as dates haven’t been agreed. This may be the case, but its notable absence from the Queen’s Speech is probably a not-so-subtle prelude to announcing the cancellation or indefinite postponement of the visit. Another excuse that may be convenient to cancel the visit is the Queen’s continuing busy schedule, despite being 91. The Queen’s Speech also outlines her own schedule for the upcoming year. She will welcome Spain’s King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia on a State Visit next month and she will host the Commonwealth summit in April next year. As the Queen ages she has been reducing her public engagements and there is perhaps no more demanding roles than hosting State Visits and Commonwealth summits. It may be that it is decided that another State Visit this year would be too much.
James Landale, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent, argues that the visit is certainly not coming this year. He added that with Mr Trump’s concern about protests it would be bad for Anglo-American relations if the US President were embarrassed – particularly this president whose ego and personality could not take it too well..
The White House spokesman Sean Spicer – who, of course, is always accurate with his assessments of what the President is up to – said:
“Her Majesty extended an invitation to the president. He’s accepted that invitation. And we look forward to scheduling that trip.
“There is nothing that was scheduled and we look forward to working out a mutually acceptable date with the United Kingdom, and look forward to sharing that date.”
So that’s settled, then.
Sources & Further Reading:
- Queen’s Speech: Brexit bills dominate government agenda – bbc.co.uk/news – 21 June 2017
- Queen’s Speech: Jeremy Corbyn attacks ‘threadbare’ programme – bbc.co.uk/news – 21 June 2017
- Queen’s Speech summary: Bill-by-bill at a glance – bbc.co.uk/news – 21 June 2017
- Queen’s Speech: Donald Trump’s UK state visit in fresh doubt – bbc.co.uk/news – 21 June 2017
- Corbyn is primed to play politics after an embarrassingly threadbare Queen’s Speech for Theresa May – independent.co.uk – 21 June 2017 – by Andrew Grice
- Brexit: Britain leaving EU now ‘very much open to question’, Lord Heseltine says – independent.co.uk – 21 June 2017 – by Ben Kentish
- Theresa May drops key manifesto pledges from Queen’s speech – theguardian.com -21 June 2017 – by Heather Stewart, Jessica Elgot and Peter Walker