Boris Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech branded an 'uncosted wish-list' with no majority to deliver it

With a general election expected within months, few at Westminster expect Boris Johnson's legislative programme to be delivered

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 14 October 2019 15:10
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The Queen says government will 'ensure it continues to play leading role in global affairs' after Brexit

Boris Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech as prime minister has been branded an “uncosted wish-list” and a “charade” after he set out an ambitious legislative programme despite having no majority in parliament to deliver it.

The legislative agenda set out in the speech is dominated by seven bills to implement Brexit, including a withdrawal agreement bill needing to be rushed through parliament at breakneck pace to meet its promise of taking the UK out of the European Union on 31 October with a deal which is yet to be negotiated.

Among 26 pieces of legislation unveiled by the Queen at the state opening of parliament were measures for tougher sentencing of serious and sexual criminals, as well as an environment bill with provisions to increase powers to tackle air pollution and introduce new charges on single-use plastic items.

The programme also includes highly contentious legislation to require voters to show picture ID at polling stations, which opposition parties and campaigners warn will exclude thousands of people – particularly the vulnerable, disadvantaged and elderly – from taking part in elections, while doing little to counter fraud.

And there are also promises of future bills to accelerate improvements to the NHS, reform adult social care and modernise the treatment of people with mental health problems, at potentially huge financial cost.

With the Brexit deadline just 17 days away, the government 45 MPs short of a working majority and a general election expected within the next few months, there was scepticism at Westminster that any of Mr Johnson’s programme can be implemented.

The government said its European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill will not only ensure the UK leaves the EU with a deal on 31 October, but that it will introduce a “new protocol” governing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic which does not include the controversial backstop arrangements and will implement a transition period during which the government will “negotiate a future relationship with the EU based on a comprehensive free trade agreement”.

However, in an apparent acknowledgement of the doubt which still remains over whether Brexit can be delivered by the end of the month, the Queen said only that “my government’s priority has always been to secure the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU on 31 October”.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott dismissed the speech as an "uncosted wish-list", while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described it as "fool's gold".

Mr Corbyn told the House of Commons: "There has never been such a farce as a government with a majority of minus 45 and a 100 per cent record of defeat in the Commons setting out a legislative agenda they know cannot be delivered in this parliament."

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson said: ”This Queen’s Speech is a charade. Boris Johnson is pursuing a Brexit deal that will be hugely damaging for our economy, our NHS and our security.

“There is nothing in this Queen’s speech that will bring comfort to the factory worker set to lose their job, or the families struggling to put food on the table because of his Brexit policy.”

And TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady described the speech as ”a political stunt, not a serious set of commitments”.

“If Boris Johnson really wanted to rebuild Britain, he wouldn’t be threatening working families with the hardest possible Brexit,” said Ms O’Grady. “Working people shouldn’t trust this prime minister.”

CBI deputy director general Josh Hardie said the speech contained “a domestic vision that could excite enterprise and drive growth” through investment in science, infrastructure and education.

But Mr Hardie warned: “It is impossible to ignore the Brexit straight-jacket. The reality of no-deal is that it would set the country back. To deliver the ambition set out in the Queen’s Speech, the will to get a deal must unlock a way to build a new, closely aligned relationship with the EU.”

Ahead of the speech, chancellor Sajid Javid announced he is planning to hold a Budget just six days after the scheduled date for Brexit on 6 November.

Mr Javid said he would use it to “set out our plan to shape the economy and deliver our infrastructure revolution”.

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell retorted that it would be “an electioneering stunt rather than a budget to rebuild our stalling economy and reset the direction of our country”.

A Queen’s Speech normally sets out the government’s agenda for the year ahead, with the bills listed by Her Majesty expected to pass through both houses of parliament over the coming months and becoming law by the end of the session the following year.

(BBC

But Mr Johnson has made clear that he wants an early general election, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested he will trigger one as soon as it is certain that a no-deal Brexit has been averted, leading many in Westminster to believe Britain will go to the polls long before any of the measures in today’s speech have become law.

In comments which appeared to foreshadow his pitch for an imminent general election, the prime minister said his programme would “get this amazing country of ours moving again” and end the “stasis, gridlock and waiting for change” experienced in the three and a half years since the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

He said his proposals would “get the gears on our national gearbox working again”.

And in the face of widespread warnings of economic slowdown and increased bureaucracy as a result of Brexit, he claimed that leaving the EU would be “a defining opportunity for us to set a new course and a new direction for our country – to do the things we have not been allowed to do for decades, to tear away that bureaucratic red tape, to set our own rules and to release the talent, creativity, innovation and chutzpah that exists in every corner of our United Kingdom”.

(AP

Other measures in the speech include:

- An Environment Bill setting legally binding targets to reduce plastics, restore biodiversity, improve water quality and cut air pollution;

- An Immigration and Social Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end freedom of movement and introduce a points-based immigration system from 2021;

- Railway reform. with a white paper setting out proposals to overhaul the current system of franchising and creating a new commercial model;

- Action on building standards in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire with the establishment of a new regulator with powers to impose criminal sanctions for breaches of building regulations;

- A NHS Health Investigations Bill to create a new independent body with legal powers to ensure patient safety;

- Legislation to introduce “Helen’s law”, directing the Parole Board to take into account the failure of an offender convicted of murder or manslaughter to disclose the location of a victim’s remains;

- A Domestic Abuse Bill to protect victims and children;

- Legal obligations on employers to pass on all tips to workers such as restaurant staff.

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