Boris Johnson’s debut Queen’s Speech has been written off by his opponents as a “stunt” and is viewed by many in Westminster as a pointless endeavour.
Whereas the grand ceremony typically allows the government of the day to announce its new legislative agenda this prime minister will be announcing 22 pieces of legislation that have little hope of making it into law.
Mr Johnson lost his working majority last month when 21 moderate MPs were booted out of the Tory party for supporting parliamentary efforts to stop a no-deal Brexit. The Queen’s Speech could even be voted down for the first time in 95 years.
The speech by the monarch will nevertheless provide Mr Johnson with a valuable media opportunity to outline the Tories’ manifesto for an upcoming general election, expected in the coming months. It will highlight the key themes of his government including education, healthcare, crime and, of course, Brexit. Here are five things to look out for.
Getting Brexit done
Despite the government’s insistence that the speech is focused on domestic issues, Mr Johnson’s political prospects are defined by whether the UK leaves the EU on October 31. The Queen is likely to say that it is her government’s intention “get Brexit done” — one of Downing Street’s approved phrases from focus groups. Yet with talks with Brussels stalling over the weekend and ahead of a crucial EU summit on Thursday, there will be scant detail of how it intends to go about that.
The Queen’s Speech instead is likely to include the prospect of a Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the critical piece of legislation required to to put any new Brexit deal into law. Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May never published such a bill, which is expected to be long and convoluted. But if the prime minister is able to strike a new deal, this legislation would have to be put into law in just 10 days flat if the UK is to leave the bloc smoothly.
Tough on criminals
The most striking new proposals in the Queen’s Speech are expected to be linked to the government’s tough approach to law and justice. Downing Street believes Britons are much more hardline than the Westminster consensus on these matters, hence why the Thatcherite Priti Patel was chosen as home secretary.
This approach will continue in both the speech and the next election campaign. The government will announce plans to clamp down on foreign national offenders, who will receive much tougher sentences for breaking deportation orders. The maximum penalty is expected to go up from “months to years”, according to Number 10 insiders.
New extradition powers will also be introduced to replace the European Arrest Warrant, which tie into Interpol’s notices and allow for quicker arrests. A domestic abuse bill will create a new definition of domestic violence which covers economic, emotional and coercive abuse as well as physical.
Sentencing will also be toughened up. The present automatic halfway release for the most serious offenders will be abolished — including those found guilty of rape, manslaughter and grievous bodily harm. Community sentences will be toughened up too. All of these measures speak to core Conservative support.
More high-skilled immigration
Vote Leave’s infamous “take back control” slogan underpins the Johnson government and its proposals on tackling migration are focused on that sense of regaining control. Ending free movement of people is a key priority for the home secretary Ms Patel.
The Queen’s Speech is expected to include an immigration bill that will introduce a points-based system that will seek to limit low-skilled migration but encourage more high-skilled workers to come to the UK.
Reports suggest this system will include incentives for migrants who speak better English, and those who are willing to live outside of London. The new regime is modelled on Australia’s migration system, with the Home Office consulting with Canberra on how to best implement it in Britain.
Social care and healthcare
Ever since Theresa May attempted to set out proposals for tackling the UK’s crisis in social care during the last election campaign, the Tories have been aware that the status quo must change but they have been reluctant to explain exactly how.
A green paper is thought to exist in Whitehall but has not been published due to concerns from the Treasury over the cost. But reform is urgently needed and Mr Johnson knows his party needs to build trust in the National Health Service.
The Queen’s Speech is therefore expected to announce a bill that would tackle social care, although scant details are known. The address will also reiterate the government’s commitment to building new hospitals and improving efficiency in the health service.
Railways back on track
The review into the state of the British railways being conducted by former British Airways chief executive Keith Williams is expected to announce that the current franchising system — which separates out tracks, trains, stations and service operators — is no longer fit for purpose and will be replaced by a new model that is focused on “performance and reliability”
The review follows a series of mishaps over how railway franchises are granted and growing consumer concerns about ticket pricing, customer service and accountability. Some of the mooted solutions include giving mayors and combined authorities more of a say.
With the Labour party pledging to renationalise the railways, the Tories are keen to neutralise the issue in the election campaign. The Queen’s Speech will include a commitment to publish Mr Williams’ review as a white paper and implemented “as soon as is practicable”. This is expected to commence in 2020.