Today’s Queen’s Speech could perhaps be summarised by the removal of the word great from the formerly “Great” Repeal Bill. This was an austere speech that focused on core issues like Brexit, social justice infrastructure and technology, stripping away the bravado of May’s previous Government.
Yet it was also an important speech. Firstly we must not forget, it was the maiden speech of a new five-year Government, and secondly it is its plans for the next two years. In effect what the Queen outlined today could dominate half the Parliament. It also tells us something important about what kind of Government this new one will be. If today is anything to go by, it will be austere, solemn, and trying to quietly get on with a difficult job.
On the face of it, today’s speech shows a weakened Prime Minister, in her words: “getting on with the job”. This is perhaps a response to the quite unprecedented political climate. The Prime Minister still has no deal with the DUP, a deeply divided party and she has even fallen behind Labour in many recent polls. May has also lost many of her closest advisers – not just Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill – but alongside the speech, it was also announced that May’s respected head of policy John Godfrey was to stand down, after his deputy Will Tanner was announced to be leaving last week. It’s a Government that doesn’t want the limelight.
The speech was notable for how dominant Brexit was. Whilst it was always expected to feature, it was not expected to be quite so omnipresent. Last year May seemed to be determined to ensure that her legacy was not just Britain’s departure from the EU, and so she spoke frequently on wider issues like social justice and on intervention in the market. Today, the Government’s Brexit Bills were the first to leave the Queen’s lips and one third of all Bills announced – eight out of 24 – are explicitly linked to Brexit, with many others being indirectly related. Perhaps a weakened Theresa May has been forced to shift her focus away from her own projects, towards dealing with the core issue of the day.
Many of May’s manifesto commitments also seem to have been left on the campaign trail. There is no energy price cap in her speech (though this legislation might emerge later, or be included in a green paper or via the regulator) and her promised scrapping of the Triple Lock and a “dementia tax” were also absent.
So is the dominance of Brexit inevitable? While certainly this will be the priority, the industrial strategy and productivity plan live on. The Queen announced legislation to support industries like the automated and electric vehicle sectors, the UK’s space industry and the next phase of HS2. There is also smattering of social justice legislation – protections for tenants, travel protection and new legislation on domestic violence. As expected there is also legislation to merge the Money Advice Service, The Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise into one.
However her eight Brexit Bills are time-limited, and must be law by the time the UK leaves the EU in March 2019. It means Brexit will remain a clear focus for the Prime Minister.
Today seems to show a Government that is trying to avoid the limelight. It wants to focus on the tasks at hand, quietly and persistently. May’s Government is one of necessity – it is focusing on the jobs that need to be done and today’s speech shows it intends to do just that.
H+K Public Affairs team