The Queen opened parliament earlier, the first time in two years, but perhaps not the last this year with the very real prospect of a general election in the coming months. Some at Westminster have suggested this was as much manifesto launch than legislative agenda, and its easy to see why.
The 26 Bills outlined today include the European Union Withdrawal Agreement Bill, the complex divorce agreement. Today’s speech was a statement of intent, but the government cannot say it will pass the legislation it announced.
So, what can we read into it?
Firstly, a Johnson Government would prioritise security and policing, with these themes comprising of twelve of the Bills announced. Seven other Bills related to Brexit (Bills that were not carried over from the previous session) and two to the NHS. The remaining include Bills that were inevitable or already laid – the High Speed Two Bill (reaffirming the Government commitment to it), the long-awaited Environment Bill and a Bill enabling measures for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games in 2022.
Another theme – albeit one that did not carry much firm legislation – was infrastructure. Government has confirmed it will publish a National Infrastructure Strategy in the autumn, which responds to the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission, bringing forward a White Paper following the Williams Review on overhauling railway infrastructure, as well as commitments on R&D funding for space research. Expect more on this in the next Budget, planned for 6 November.
This Queen’s Speech was supposed to prove that this is a government that is looking past Brexit. Yet it cannot escape from its gravitational pull.
The fact that we don’t know whether these Bills will ever get introduced – never mind passed – and that there is no certainty on when a Budget might take place, shows that this is a Queen’s Speech unlike any other.
The fact that security, the NHS, infrastructure and explicit Brexit Bills dominated the speech, are all tacit acknowledgements of the Government’s need to instil confidence, deliver on promises, and ensure economic growth after Brexit.
For an attempt to move past the gridlock – it looks remarkably like the gridlock it was supposed to leave behind.
Focus now shifts to the European Council meeting before a big day in the Commons on Saturday where the prime minister hopes to present his Brexit deal, if one is to be done, to parliament.