The Queen’s speech may have been light on content, but it doesn’t make that content any less important. Unsurprisingly, it was dominated by Brexit bills as the UK starts to define the laws that will govern its exit from the EU. This sense of focus on Brexit was heightened by the removal of several more controversial key Tory policies, indicating both the relative weakness of the Prime Minister’s position in her party and the ongoing negotiations with the DUP to establish a majority.
On Brexit, May is looking to maximise certainty for British businesses and reduce the burden on the UK government of managing the process, by effectively copying and pasting EU Laws into UK Laws and cutting out the bits she doesn’t like. This sounds simple enough. However, the relationship between EU law and UK law is complex, and interwoven, built up over more than 40 years. One thing is clear – her position in many key areas hasn’t softened. A bill will legislate for the end of free movement from the EU with an indication that only those with high skills, or those in most demand – the ‘best’ and ‘brightest’ – are allowed into the country.
Other Brexit bills include:
- New nuclear safeguards, with plans for regulation from the UK rather than EU
- Measures towards an independent trade policy
There were signs that the Government intends to refocus Britain back towards advanced technologies in the wake of Brexit and the financial crash. Bills to enable commercial spaceflight from the UK and the expansion and regulation of automated and electric vehicles hint that the Government is serious about its Industrial Strategy and cementing the UK’s place as a leading location for the development of these technologies.
Equally, the turbulence and volatility of both Brexit and a hung Parliament do not seem to have undermined the Government’s commitment to invest in HS2. Powers to build the second phase of the high-speed rail line were included, fast-tracking the ability to deliver the western leg up to Crewe, bringing HS2 within touching distance of Manchester ahead of the original schedule. Significantly, the Bill included powers to compulsory purchase the land along the new routes required to build HS2 – a crucial element needed to physically deliver such a complex project. These moves should reinforce confidence that the Government still intends to deliver on at least this element of high speed rail for the UK.
Given the dominance of Brexit in the UK Government’s consciousness, it seems incredible to think that we had never heard of Brexit two or three years ago. But a year is a long time in politics. It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will still be referred to as the Prime Minister long enough to implement many of the Bills she proposed yesterday.