The Brexit Queen’s Speech?
For months we’ve been told to expect a ‘Brexit Queen’s Speech’ – an agenda so focused on Brexit that all other legislation becomes secondary. Whilst domestic legislation has not been neglected altogether, with Bills on tackling domestic abuse, reforming the courts, and a consultation on social care, this Queen’s Speech was indeed very much focused on Brexit legislation.
Seven key points for business
1) Eight Brexit Bills – Such is the monumental challenge to engineer Brexit that eight bills relating to exiting the EU have been included. These are: Repeal of the EU Communities Act, Customs Bill, Trade Bill, Immigration Bill, Fisheries Bill, Agriculture Bill, Nuclear Safeguards Bill, and an International Sanctions Bill.
2) Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill – The Government will re-introduce measures in the last Parliamentary session to update the regulatory framework for automated vehicles, and rollout Electric Vehicle infrastructure around the country.
3) Action on Mental Health – Although there was no specific legislation proposed, mental health did get a mention in the Queen’s Speech. The Conservative manifesto stated that the Government will introduce greater workplace protection, as well as better education and assessment of mental health problems.
4) Digital Protection Bill – In addition to publishing its Digital Charter, a follow on from the Digital Strategy published in March, which aims to boost online safety, the Government will also introduce a Data Protection Bill to bring the EU General Data Protection Regulations into UK law.
5) Promoting Technical Education – The Government will likely take forward the introduction of 15 T-Levels in technical courses, and 3,000 new apprenticeships, as set out in the Tory manifesto.
6) National Living Wage and Workers’ Rights – All parties are united behind the need to increase the Living Wage and protect workers’ rights. Although legislation has not been outlined, the Government has said that it will seek to provide greater parental and carers’ rights and more protection for employees.
7) Strengthening Consumer Protection – A flagship part of the Conservative manifesto – pilfered from Ed Miliband’s 2015 offering to the country – was a proposal to protect consumers from rising energy costs, through a price cap. In terms of a wider agenda, this is not dissimilar from the proposed Bill to ban letting agency fees.
Seven measures not in the Queen’s Speech
1)Social Care – The controversial policy to charge social care against the cost of people’s homes, which first appeared in the manifesto last month, has now been downgraded to a more vague consultation.
2) Pensions Triple Lock – The Conservatives stated during the election that they would remove the triple lock on pensions. However, keeping the triple lock is a DUP policy, and it received no mention today.
3) Executive Pay – Ensuring fair executive pay is something which has been on Theresa May’s agenda since her first speech on the steps of Downing Street last year. Yet it received no mention in the Queen’s Speech, possibly due to fears of a backbench rebellion.
4) SME Procurement – The proposal to ensure 33% of government procurement is from SMEs was not included. However, this is likely to become a target, without being enshrined in law due to the limited amount of Parliamentary time available.
5) Fox Hunting – Without a majority they are unlikely to risk putting such a controversial, and previously time consuming, vote before the House.
6) Selective Education – Theresa May has tried to put this back on the Conservative agenda since becoming Prime Minster. The speech included a pledge for fair funding for schools, but nothing on selective education, which is now likely to be downgraded as a priority.
7) Tax reforms for the Self Employed – Still awaiting the findings of the Matthew Taylor report into the modern workforce, there was no mention of reform for workers in the so called “gig economy”.
What’s in it for the DUP?
There were no obvious ‘bones’ thrown in specifically for the DUP. Although DUP sources have said that the Queen’s Speech today was in no way a deadline for any deal, many thought an agreement would have been secured by now. Commentators anticipated something on tourism, transport or infrastructure for Northern Ireland, such as a review of ferry pricing or Air Passenger Duty, but no such policies were included in the speech. It seems that the DUP deal will be grounded on the issue of Brexit, and finer legislative details, and possibly in Budgets rather than on certain legislation for Northern Ireland.
What happens next?
With the Queen now racing back to Royal Ascot, the tricky business of steering the Government’s legislative priorities through Parliament will begin.
Several hurdles have already emerged, with Labour’s members of the House of Lords threatening to defy the tradition of rubberstamping the Commons’ decision and instead attempt to veto the speech. There is also the risky business of the final vote in the Commons, where the Government still does not have enough votes and will need to conclude its deal with the DUP by next Thursday.
That deal is expected to come to fruition by the start of next week. However, the DUP are unlikely to vote against the Queen’s Speech. Given their distaste for Jeremy Corbyn they are unlikely to hand him the keys to Downing Street.
Assuming the Queen’s Speech passes through both Houses of Parliament, the next two years are uncertain, with legislation relating to Brexit likely to both dominate and overwhelm the legislative agenda. The Conservatives’ slim majority with the DUP’s support will have to remain intact over crucial votes, with any government defeats likely to lead to motions of no confidence from the Opposition benches. It remains too early to tell if the Government can make it to the end of next week, let alone to the next set election in 2022.