Thin Queen’s Speech sheds little light on Brexit plans

by Luke Lythgoe | 21.06.2017

We should by now be used to Theresa May’s failure to outline her plans for Brexit. This Queen’s Speech was no different, despite coming hot on the heels of a humiliating election upset. Eight out of the 27 bills and draft bills announced in the speech are aimed at delivering Brexit. Specific details of their content, however, remain in short supply.

Well-worn Mayisms peppered the speech: the “best possible deal” for the UK, a “deep and special partnership” between the UK and EU, a desire to “forge new trading relationships across the globe”.

On the legislation front, we had plans for Brexit-specific bills on immigration, customs, trade, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear safeguards and international sanctions, as well as the previously touted Great Repeal Bill (now being referred to by the government as simply the Repeal Bill).

Much of this legislative agenda – which must be debated and voted on by Parliament over the coming week – remains vague. Take the Immigration Bill, which promises to “control the number of people coming here from Europe while still allowing us to attract the brightest and the best”. But how will it do that? Will it involve work visas or migrant quotas, and if so for which industries? Who constitutes “the brightest and best”, and will the system also be open to low-skilled workers who are equally important to some sectors of the UK economy? Will it aim to meet the manifesto promise of reducing net immigration to “tens of thousands”, or won’t it?

Or the Agriculture Bill, which promises to “provide stability to farmers”. Does this mean continuing to pay subsidies in line with the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and echoing CAP controls on non-EU food imports? How will the government ensure agricultural products aren’t slapped with high tariffs by EU markets once Britain is outside the customs union?

We did learn some useful things. The Office for Nuclear Regulation is to take over the role of Euratom, ensuring the UK sticks to international rules on nuclear safeguards and proliferation. A new framework for international sanctions will be introduced. And the government has once again stuck to its plan to leave the EU customs union.

There was also a shift in tone. The speech began by promising to work with “Parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others to build the widest possible consensus” on Britain’s post-Brexit future.

This sort of conciliatory language also appeared – albeit somewhat buried – in the prime minister’s Lancaster House speech announcing hard Brexit in January. But failing to build consensus is no longer an option for May. She’s lost her majority in Parliament, must rely on the Democratic Unionists to pass legislation, and faces business leaders and her own chancellor demanding a Brexit which puts prosperity ahead of nationalistic dogma.

The government’s partners and the public should expect to be drip-fed the details that fill in the legislative gaps of this speech over many months. That is if the Commons votes it through next week, and if May and the Tories manage to cling to power for the whole Brexit process.

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Edited by Bill Emmott

One Response to “Thin Queen’s Speech sheds little light on Brexit plans”

  • Lots of stuff in 82 page briefing, but only about what UK law needs to do.

    Absolutely nothing about kind of settlement we want with the EU… keeping your powder dry its called. But that is useless to us to decide if we like it or not.