By Emily Granger – Public Affairs Intern
The Queen’s Speech – which lays out the laws that ministers want to pass in the coming year – is a major moment in the parliamentary diary. It is seen as a critical test for the government and failure to win the backing of a majority of MPs is seen as a vote of no confidence. Typically, the first Queen’s Speech after a general election is made up of the winning party’s election manifesto, but if May can form a minority government using a deal with the DUP it is likely this programme will be watered down in order to avoid defeat by opposition parties, a fact confirmed by Brexit secretary David Davis on Monday morning.
The Queen’s speech this year will almost certainly include the Great Repeal Bill, which will convert existing EU law into UK legislation. Ministers will then decide which parts to keep, and have promised that all existing workplace protections will be maintained. We expect to see new laws on immigration announced, whilst counter-terrorism proposals in the wake of four terror attacks this year are also expected. However, Tory MPs believe that most of the domestic reforms outlined in their manifesto just weeks ago will be dropped because they will not get through the hung parliament.
Theresa May’s plans for a new generation of grammar schools are likely to be reduced to a “rather modest pilot” after she failed to secure a significant majority. She is also likely to have to abandon “poisonous” commitments such as the so-called “dementia tax”, scrapping the triple lock on the state pension and means-testing winter fuel payments. The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said it should be expected that the DUP want a reference to the devolution of Corporation Tax in the deal as the Stormont Executive has long aspired to reduce its Corporation Tax rate. On the whole, the content of the speech is expected to be a moderated version of Mrs May’s manifesto after her authority was weakened by the surprise election result.
The Queen’s Speech on Wednesday will include three Bills designed to funnel investment into major transport infrastructure designed to help Britain boom after leaving the European Union. The legislation, according to the Department for Transport, will allow the launch of satellites from the UK for the first time, horizontal flights to the edge of space for scientific experiments and the establishment of spaceports in regions across Britain. It will also include measures to improve conditions for the 100,000 drivers of plug-in vehicles by removing barriers that are preventing more drivers switching to electric.
In a highly unusual move, the government has decided to ditch next year’s Queen’s speech to ease the way in parliament for new Brexit laws. As a result, the parliamentary session is being doubled to two years. The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom MP, said this would give MPs and Peers the maximum time possible to scrutinize legislation taking the UK out of the European Union, meaning that the government will not put forward a new legislative programme next year.
By cancelling the 2018 Queen’s Speech, Mrs May removes a vote that had the potential to bring her Government from the diary. The step is an unusual one – breaking historical precedence and was last taken in the early days of the Coalition as it scrambled to create a stable government in 2010. Labour at the time accused the coalition of an “abuse of power” and said it was aimed solely at easing the passage of controversial legislation.
Whilst government sources have insisted the move was planned before the election and would give time for laws needed for Brexit to be fully debated, opposition figures have claimed the move was an attempt to shore up Mrs May’s position after failing to win a majority. Some may say that Brexit legislation should not be an excuse for overriding parliamentary democracy. Some also point out that May’s planned informal coalition with the DUP likely undermines the peace process in Northern Ireland.
Many are of the view that the Conservatives seem to be engineering the Brexit process to remove parliamentary accountability to desperately cling to power. However, Andrea Leadsom has insisted that the move was not motivated by fears that it could create a vote that could have brought down the government. She explained that the issue is that the government have an enormous job to do to make a success of Brexit.
Whether a tactical move to avoid resignation or a genuine effort to stress the importance of prioritizing Brexit, Mrs May’s decision to cancel the Queen’s speech in 2018 has proven to be very controversial.