Prince Charles today channeled Boris Johnson as he unveiled the Tory government’s plan for Britain.
Those aren’t words you’d expect (or perhaps want) to hear, but that’s how the Queen’s Speech works.
Taking the place of his mother – who missed the State Opening of Parliament for the first time in 59 years due to mobility issues – the heir to the throne outlined the Prime Minister’s 38 laws for the year ahead in a ceremony laden with pomp.
The Bills are expected to be the second-last batch from Boris Johnson before the next general election in 2024 – unless, of course, he decides to stretch the session out for two years, or is ousted over Partygate and there's a snap election.
They include sweeping away EU law in a ‘ Brexit Opportunities Bill’ as well as Bills on schools, levelling-up and privatising Channel 4.
A new Bill will allow UK ports to block ships that fail to pay their seafarers the minimum wage after the P&O Ferries scandal.
New laws will crack down on fake reviews on websites and hacking of ‘smart TVs’. The first new Bills will be introduced tomorrow.
Prince Charles speaking at the State Opening of Parliament today
Genetically-engineered tomatoes could become more common under plans to extend powers for scientists.
And in a move that will enrage civil liberties campaigners, already-defeated plans to criminalise protesters who lock themselves to gates will be brought back.
Meanwhile, while there are long-term plans for energy security there is no immediate new cash for the cost-of-living crisis – with the government only saying it will offer more help “if needed”.
Boris Johnson's official spokesman said bluntly: "Our capacity to inject money is finite, rightly so, and we need to make some key decisions about how to use that funding." He insisted "those most in need will get the help they need" but added "no government can fully tackle these global pressures we are seeing".
Resolution Foundation director Torsten Bell said: “British politics is out of ideas.”
Dan Paskins of Save the Children said: “Families we work with are skipping meals, rationing their power and taking on unsustainable levels of debt. But again, instead of taking serious action ministers have buried their heads in the sand.”
Boris Johnson's official spokesman said bluntly: "Our capacity to inject money is finite, rightly so"
Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group Alison Garnham said: “With 38 bills but no direct help with spiralling costs, this speech was a far cry from what struggling families needed to hear today.”
Boris Johnson also cruelly snubbed workers by failing to promise an Employment Rights Bill – despite years of promises.
Ben Harrison, Director of the Work Foundation at Lancaster University, said “vital opportunities have been missed”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The Prime Minister promised to make Britain the best place in the world to work. But he has turned his back on working people. Today, bad bosses up and down the country will be celebrating.
“No employment bill means vital rights that ministers had promised – like default flexible working, fair tips and protection from pregnancy discrimination – risk being ditched for good."
Prince Charles arriving for today's Queen's Speech in his mother's place
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson walking side by side to the Lords to hear the Queen's Speech
And angry campaigners blasted Boris Johnson for again failing to outline plans to ban trophy hunting imports – or a ban on foie gras. Boris Johnson's spokesman refused to rule out dropping the plans completely.
The long-promised ban was again missing from the Queen’s Speech – despite ongoing Tory promises to stop the sick trade.
Eduardo Goncalves, of the Campaign to Ban Trophy Hunting, said: “This is starting to feel like Groundhog Day.
“The Government promised to ban British trophy hunters from bringing home their sick souvenirs three years ago. It did it again after the 2019 general election, again last year, and now here we are yet again.”
Jailing protesters for six months
A Public Order Bill will allow police to jail protesters for six months if they “lock on” to public transport infrastructure or glue themselves to roads, tactics used by groups like Insulate Britain.
Stop and search powers will also be extended, enabling cops to stop anyone in the vicinity of a protest whether they are on their way to work or peacefully protesting.
Boris Johnson claims the Bill will only target a “minority” of protesters using “guerrilla tactics” that “put lives at risk”.
But the draconian measures were already defeated when introduced last time in the Lords, as civil liberties groups say they are an attack on the right to protest.
Shadow Policing Minister Sarah Jones said: “Home Office Ministers should be asking themselves why they are taking no action to tackle the shameful collapse in prosecutions, put more rapists behind bars or crack down on criminal fraudsters."
The ceremonial maces arrive by car at the Palace of Westminster
Sweeping away EU laws
A Brexit Freedoms Bill will allow the government to sweep away swathes of EU law without consulting Parliament on all the detail.
It’ll allow ministers to “amend, repeal or replace the large amounts of retained EU law” without an Act of Parliament.
Instead there’ll be secondary legislation which can’t be amended and sometimes isn’t scrutinised by MPs before passing at all.
Government insiders insist many of the EU laws would never have been Acts of Parliament if they were passed in the UK.
But Greenpeace UK's head of politics Rebecca Newsom said: “When it comes to our environmental standards, a levelling down may be on the cards. All too often, bonfires of so-called 'red tape' end up incinerating vital green rules to protect wildlife.”
There will also be a Financial Services and Markets Bill, "cutting red tape in the financial sector" after Brexit. And data protection "red tape" will be scaled back too under a Data Reform Bill. And a Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill will allow changes to procurement rules as part of those post-Brexit trade deals.
Energy security – but no immediate cost-of-living help
An Energy Security Bill will allow the energy price cap to continue past 2023, and try to bring down the costs of heat pumps.
It’ll also enable the “first ever large-scale hydrogen heating trial” ahead of a 2026 decision on whether to roll it out more widely.
But there’s no immediate help for the cost-of-living with briefing notes instead listing what the government has done already.
The notes add: “We will be ready to take further steps, if needed, to support households.”
Members of the Household Cavalry arrive at the Sovereign's Entrance to the Palace of Westminster
'Ban' on some conversion therapy – but not for trans people
A Conversion Therapy Bill will ban “conversion therapy practices intended to change sexual orientation”.
This will partially fulfil a Tory pledge that was first made by Theresa May in summer 2018.
Over-18s will only be protected if they are "coerced or forced" to undergo conversion therapy – a move that provoked anger when announced. Under-18s will be protected regardless of circumstances.
There will also be Conversion Therapy Protection Orders, which could remove the passports of those at risk of being taken abroad.
But the ban will not cover trans conversion therapy after a government U-turn that has enraged some LGBT+ campaigners.
The government said: “Recognising the complexity of issues and need for further careful thought, we will carry out separate work to consider the issue of Transgender Conversion Therapy further.”
Scrapping treasured Human Rights laws
Once again the Tories pledge a new British Bill of Rights. This time it doesn’t explicitly pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act but it's understood that could happen as part of the process.
The Bill vows to “establish the primacy of UK case law” over that from Strasbourg. And “UK courts can no longer alter legislation contrary to its ordinary meaning” under the Bill, the government says.
It will also “guarantee spurious cases do not undermine public confidence in human rights so that courts focus on genuine and credible human rights claims,” according to the government.
All this will be viewed by campaigners as a fresh assault on the right to bring legal actions against the government’s policies.
Sacha Deshmukh, Amnesty International UK’s CEO, said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act and replacing it with a narrower, meaner Bill of Rights will make it even harder for ordinary people to challenge mistreatment at the hands of the state."
Liberty’s Director, Martha Spurrier, said: “Scrapping the Human Rights Act poses a real, imminent threat to rights in the UK. It’s a blatant, unashamed power grab from a Government that wants to put those in power above the law. They are quite literally rewriting the rules in their favour so they become untouchable."
Registers of home-schooled kids
A Schools Bill will be brought forward to overhaul England's schools, with crackdowns on truancy.
There will be compulsory registers for home-schooling to track down "ghost children" who fell through the cracks during the pandemic.
The Bill will allow councils to establish their own academy trusts and ask their schools to join them by 2030.
Ofsted will be given stronger power to crack down on illegal schools and funding for schools will be reformed under the plans.
It is also expected to include plans for a 32.5-hour school week, boosted targets for Maths and English skills and a "parent pledge" to inform mums and dads if their children are falling behind.
Rachel Johnson, sister of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the House of Lords ahead of the State Opening of Parliament
Trying to put flesh on the bones of ‘levelling up’
A Levelling up and Regeneration Bill will attempt to fulfil Boris Johnson’s great manifesto pledge of 2019 but it’s still vague.
It says levelling-up involves “improving economic dynamism and innovation to drive growth across the whole country, unleashing the power of the private sector to unlock jobs and opportunity for all.”
In practice this means “laying the foundations” for all of England to have the “opportunity” to “benefit from” a devolution deal by 2030 – plenty of caveats there. These include a new combined authority model called the County Deal.
There would be a new “non-negotiable levy” from house builders to pay for schools, GPs and roads – reforming the current system of "section 106" payments already given by developers. But the exact way they'll be reformed is still very unclear.
And councils will get new powers to force the owners of boarded-up shops to let them out under “rental auctions”.
But other plans will be derided as tinkering round the edges – like residents getting more say over changing street names, and ensuring Covid al-fresco dining continues.
Planning reforms are also largely dropped, with the speech instead saying the current system will be “strengthened and digitised”.
Pulling back from the brink on Northern Ireland
Despite No10 refusing to rule out one at a later date, there is no Bill announced today to override Boris Johnson’s 2019 Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.
The DUP are refusing to help form a new government in Stormont until the PM’s Northern Ireland Protocol – which slaps EU checks on some goods traded within the UK – is overhauled.
However, the issue of Troubles prosecutions will be revisited after years of heated debate.
A Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill will establish an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery to probe Troubles deaths.
People will get immunity from prosecution – but after protests this would let people off for crimes, this will only be for “individuals who cooperate with the new Commission”.
There will also be an Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill to deliver a “new cultural framework”.
Prince Charles delivered the speech after the Queen missed it for the first time in 59 years
More private sector involvement in railways – and self-driving cars
A Transport Bill will fulfil the Tory pledge to create Great British Railways , one body to oversee rail contracts.
But at the same time it will “expand” the role of the private sector, “introducing new passenger service contracts focussed on getting the trains running punctually and reliably”.
There is also the threat of “efficiencies and economies of scale across the rail sector”.
Meanwhile the Bill will introduce new laws allowing self-driving cars and rolling out more electric car charge points.
Elsewhere a High Speed Rail (Crewe-Manchester) Bill will continue the framework to get HS2 to Manchester… but only by 2041, and the line to Leeds has been binned off.
And the Procurement Bill will reform rules on councils using private firms for work, which will be welcome to some but could raise concerns of privatisations by the back door. It also won't commit public bodies to "buy British" as that could breach trade laws.
Prince Charles observing the crown that would normally have been worn by his mother
Genetically-engineered fruit and veg
Genetically-engineered food will be produced in the UK under new Government plans to “deliver on the promise of Brexit”.
The new Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill aims to make food more nutritious and reduce our reliance on pesticides.
The Bill will allow gene-edited plants to be treated differently to genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
GMOs have strict rules that only one is grown commercially in the EU. But genetic-engineering is said to pose fewer risks.
Experts believe gene-editing has the potential to improve the sustainability and productivity of farming and animals could also be less vulnerable to disease.
The use of gene editing had been hampered by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2018 that technology had to be regulated in the same way as genetic modification.
Privatising Channel 4
A Media Bill will put the legal bones on the government’s controversial pledge to privatise Channel 4 after 40 years of public ownership.
It will also once again pledge to repeal Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 – which would have imposed punitive sanctions on certain newspapers not signing up to a certain regulator in the wake of the Leveson inquiry.
Lifelong student loans – but you’ll pay through the nose
A Higher Education Bill will bring in a Lifelong Loan Entitlement.
Adults can get a loan equivalent to four years of post-18 education (£37,000 in today’s fees) that they can use over their lifetime for a wider range of studies, including shorter and technical courses.
But it comes after interest rates were jacked up – and repayment thresholds lowered – on student loans, leaving graduates paying more.
The government is also bringing back the controversial Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill to ban student unions ‘no-platforming’ speakers.
And the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions Bill will ban public bodies from boycotting (for example) Israeli goods if the UK government hasn’t taken the same stance. It's understood this could apply to the Scottish and Welsh governments, councils, and even individual universities. Details are expected relatively shortly.
Renting and social housing reforms
A Social Housing Regulation Bill will give more powers to a regulator to “intervene with landlords who are performing poorly on consumer issues, such as complaints handling and decency of homes”.
It could also “inspect landlords to make sure they are providing tenants with the quality of accommodation and services that they deserve”.
Meanwhile a Renters Reform Bill restates the government’s long-unfulfilled pledge to scrap “no fault” evictions – after more than a fifth of renters did not end their last tenancy by their own choice.
Prince Charles after reading the Queen's Speech as he holds it in his hands in the House of Lords Chamber
POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Benefits and minimum wage
A Harbours (Seafarers’ Remuneration) Bill will let ports “ultimately refuse access to ferry services that do not pay an equivalent to the National Minimum Wage to seafarers while in UK waters.”
This is designed to tackle a loophole that says seafarers can be paid under UK minimum wage, after the P&O Ferries scandal. A consultation opens today.
Meanwhile a Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill will be the legal framework for a long-awaited reform to expand fast-tracked benefits for the terminally ill, from six months before possible death to 12 months.
But Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Workers and communities are suffering. We are in the middle of a cost of living crisis and a recession is looming. So where is the programme to address these issues head on? Where are the laws to stop profiteering and prevent attacks on workers? Where is the help for the millions who are already faced with the shocking decision of whether to heat or eat?”
Stopping the hacking of smart TVs
The Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill will force "manufacturers, importers and distributors of smart devices to comply with minimum security standards".
This means putting up measures to ensure smart devices can't be hacked as easily. The government said in the first half of 2021 alone, there were 1.5 billion attempted compromises of connectable products, double the equivalent 2020 figure.
- Non-Domestic Rating Bill: Shortens the business rates revaluation cycle from five to three years from 2023.
- UK Infrastructure Bank Bill: "We will complete the establishment of the UK Infrastructure Bank, utilising its £22billion financial capacity" to help achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.
- Electronic Trade Documents Bill: "Put electronic trade documents on the same legal footing as paper documents, removing the need for wasteful paperwork and needless bureaucracy".
- National Security Bill: A previous pledge to reform espionage laws and make foreign agents in the UK register themselves. But it's thought the register of foreign agents won't be in the first form of the law, as No10 admits it's a "complex area, we need to take time to get it right". The PM's spokesman also couldn't commit that “everything will be published”.
- Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill: "will crack down on illicit finance and strengthen the UK’s reputation as a place where legitimate businesses can grow."
- Modern Slavery Bill: "Strengthen the protection and support for victims of human trafficking"
- Online Safety Bill: Was previously promised but didn't make it through in time. Introduces a duty of care on online companies, making them responsible for protecting users and tackling illegal content
- Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill: Banning the exports of livestock for fattening and slaughter, tackling puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets that can travel under the pet travel rules; introducing a new pet abduction offence.
Some vital reforms are only proposed in ‘draft’ form – meaning they won’t actually be made law by this time next year.
Given they include help for victims, terror attacks, mental health and the like, this lack of action is likely to enrage campaigners.
They are the Draft Victims Bill,Draft Protect Duty Bill, Draft Mental Health Act Reform Bill,Draft Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, and Draft Audit Reform Bill.