Shortly after 11.30am today the 64th Queen’s Speech of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was delivered at the State Opening of Parliament. This important ceremonial event aimed to set the UK parliamentary agenda for the next two years.
The context for the 2017 Queen’s Speech was unusual in at least four ways. It was generally less formal and more muted, with attendees’ customary ceremonial robes exchanged for “day dress”. The Queen’s Speech also encompassed two years of parliamentary business, instead of one. Assuming the current Queen’s Speech is voted through Parliament next week, and barring the collapse of the government in the months to come, the next Queen’s Speech will not take place before March 2019 and the deadline in the Brexit talks. This was therefore the first, and perhaps the only, Queen’s Speech for Brexit. Finally, although the Queen’s Speech was delayed for the first time in decades to accommodate negotiations between the Conservatives and the DUP, those negotiations were still ongoing this morning, so the Queen’s Speech was drafted by the Conservatives alone, as a minority government. These remarkable circumstances might yet be compounded by ‘Day of Rage’ protests in Westminster and the fact that 21 June 2017 is the longest, and possibly hottest, day this year.
Turning to the substance, the legislative agenda advanced in the 2017 Queen’s Speech, comprising some 27 bills and draft bills, was also unusual in two ways. First, some of the more controversial aspects of the 2017 Conservative manifesto were left out or downplayed, in recognition of the post-general election political arithmetic. For example, there was no mention of departing from the triple-lock on pensions or withdrawing winter fuel payments, and the proposed social care reforms, which proved so controversial during the general election campaign, appear to have been postponed and made subject to consultation. Second, Brexit dominated the Queen’s Speech, with eight bills announced, including the highly significant ‘Repeal Bill’, about which we have written previously on our Brexit Blog . Other Brexit legislation will cover immigration (for general commentary in this area see our Immigration Law Blog), international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries, trade and customs. It was confirmed that there is intended to be an independent trade policy and that support will be offered to help British businesses to export to markets around the world.
Relatively few new details were provided about the crucial content of the Brexit legislation. The immensity of the challenge of legislating for Brexit has been much discussed since the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority on 8 June 2017, including by us on our our blog "Will legislating for Brexit be almost as testing for the new minority government as the forthcoming negotiations?" The Queen’s Speech stated, in particular, that the government’s priority remains to secure the best possible deal for the UK as it leaves the European Union, and, in what could be seen as a conciliatory indication, that the government is committed to working with Parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others to build the widest possible consensus. The aim, previously articulated in the Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk triggering Article 50, of developing a “deep and special partnership” with European allies, was reiterated. However, it remains unclear whether a ‘softer’ or more ‘open’ vision of Brexit has gained ground since the recent general election.
Aside from Brexit, other announcements included:
- Justice, crime and security: Modernisation of the court system is on the agenda, as is the protection of critical national infrastructure to safeguard national security. A commission was announced to counter extremism, including on the internet, so that it is denied safe spaces in which to spread. A review was also announced of counter-terrorism strategy to ensure that the police and security services have the powers they need and that custodial sentences are long enough to keep the population safe. (For general commentary in this area see our Criminal Law Blog.) Efforts to help the victims of domestic violence and abuse were also announced, you can read our blog on this subject here, which was published today.
- Grenfell Tower Inquiry: A full public inquiry will take place to ascertain the causes of the disaster and ensure that the appropriate lessons are learned. New support will be provided to victims through the introduction of the role of ‘independent public advocate’, to act for bereaved families following a public disaster and support them at public inquests.
- Data protection: The government intends to make the UK the safest place to be online through reforms to data protection.
- Employment: An increase to the national living wage, enhanced rights and protections in the workplace, efforts to tackle the gender pay gap and address discrimination were all mentioned. You can read more on employment law topics here.
The need to continue to improve the public finances, support the NHS, schools and public services, and develop a modern industrial strategy was stressed. Mental health, infrastructure, the environment, consumer protection, housing and the armed forces covenant also featured.
Prominent reference was made to the aim of making the UK more united through the strengthening of social and economic ties, and through devolution. Finally, the Queen’s Speech expressed the goal that the UK should continue, and indeed enhance, its leading role on the world stage after Brexit, including through tackling terrorism (by military action where necessary), addressing mass migration, and helping to alleviate poverty and bring an end to modern slavery.
Background briefing notes providing more detail across the range of areas addressed in the Queen’s Speech have just been published by the Government here.