A Queen’s Speech for Brexit and beyond
June 22, 2017
It was inevitable that this year’s Queen’s Speech, covering the next two years of Parliamentary activity, would have a heavy focus on delivering the ‘best deal for leaving the EU’. Indeed, 8 of the 27 bills and draft bills appear linked to Brexit.
But what was interesting was the emphasis I saw on seeking the ‘widest consensus’ on the UK’s future outside the EU. Will this mean that Brexit discussions will become more consultative? The Speech certainly highlighted the desire to work with ‘Parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others’ on the country’s future outside the EU. Although this is a challenge given only 21 months to the planned end of the Article 50 process, it is important to provide the foundations for future success.
On proposed legislation itself, the repeal of the European Communities Act (the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’) needs to address at present around 19,000 EU legislative acts in force (according to data on the EU’s Eur-ex database). Alongside this major bill other Brexit-related legislation is designed to make a success of Brexit including bills on trade, customs, export support as well as immigration, agriculture and fisheries. All are important to build the global Britain needed when we leave the EU.
Beyond Brexit, the nature of minority government meant that the Queen’s Speech was much lighter than usual on delivering the government’s manifesto, mirroring the reduced ceremony at this year’s event. So what does this tell us about the ability of this government to enact change domestically?
Early on, the Speech emphasised strengthening the economy. But will the legislative programme deliver on growth, productivity and increasing living standards? There were commitments on progressing the Industrial Strategy and providing a further boost for infrastructure such as through a transport bill covering the next phase of HS2 and incentives for new industries like electric vehicles.
The Speech also committed to improving the public finances. We will need, however, to wait to hear more on whether the government will respond to a sense from the election campaign of weariness with respect to continued public spending cuts. In his Mansion House Speech the Chancellor noted: “Britain is weary after seven years of hard slog repairing the damage of the great recession.” Our UK Chief Economist, John Hawksworth, further commented in The Observer: “People are certainly fed up with austerity.” However, this doesn’t mean that the brake is completely off public spending, given that the UK is still running a substantial deficit (around £50bn in the last fiscal year) and with debt still at 86% of GDP.
Given the need to secure DUP support, it was also not surprising to see strengthening the Union as another key element of the Speech with a ‘priority to build a more united country’. But there was nothing further specifically on English devolution: we may find that the collective force of the newly elected metro mayors is needed to give this a re-boot.
Unsurprisingly given the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, tackling terrorism was high on the agenda. Policing, security and foreign policy all have had elevated profile in recent months, and a commission for countering extremism is the cornerstone of the government’s response.
However, as interesting were the manifesto proposals that seem to have fallen by the wayside, at least for the foreseeable future. The future funding for social care was a turning point in the election campaign but the Speech only alluded to bringing forward ‘proposals for consultation.’ There was no mention of grammar schools and the DUP’s hand can be seen in the scrapping of manifesto proposals to end the triple lock on state pensions and start the means testing of winter fuel payments.
However, the big question remains: will this government have the longevity and the bandwidth to deliver? Whatever happens, the challenge for the public sector remains the same: to deliver the world class public services the public wants but with Brexit front and centre of the political debate and civil servants’ inboxes.