The looming march towards Brexit coupled with a minority government… What is in store for the UK?
Which bills made the Speech?
Unsurprisingly, Brexit dominated the Queen’s Speech. A number of bills were announced to facilitate the UK’s departure from the EU:
- The Repeal Bill, no longer touted as the “Great Repeal Bill”, as the name suggests will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, changing EU law into UK law.
- The Immigration Bill will bring free movement of EU nationals into the country to an end.
- The Trade Bill will enable the UK to strike free trade deals with countries around the world.
- The Customs Bill will allow control over goods being imported and exported, ensure the UK has a customs regime on its departure and enable changes to be made to VAT and excise policies.
From the point of view of existing law, there will not be that much of change with EU law effectively being converted into UK law. However, the changes will be seen and felt elsewhere, particular as the UK enters into negotiations with the EU and the rest of world on issues like trade and customs. This is where your pockets are likely to feel the pinch (if they haven’t already after retailers said the Brexit vote has increased import and manufacturing prices).
Other bills contained within the Speech were:
- A Draft Patient Protection Bill will set up an independent Health Service Safety Investigation Body to improve how the NHS investigates mistakes. It will apply to England and Wales.
- A Travel Protection Bill will allow better protection for holidaymakers by updating the UK’s financial protection scheme for holidays.
- A Data Protection Bill will enable people to have the right to require major social media platforms to delete information held about them at the age of 18.
- A Draft Tenants’ Fees Bill aims to ban landlords/agents charging letting fees as a condition of their tenancy.
The Speech was sparse when it came to domestic issues with various bills seeking to address niche areas. With the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party facing a tough road ahead, it was not hard to see why manifesto pledges were abandoned and domestic plans became uncontentious and moved out of the limelight.
What was dropped from the legislative plans?
Some rather controversial Conservative manifesto polices were struck out of the government’s agenda. These included:
Welfare and social care
The ‘infamous’ dementia tax, (which has been cited for derailing the Tories election campaign) was axed from the speech. Means-testing of the winter fuel payment was also dropped.
Free school lunches
The plan to dispense with universal free school meals for 5-7 year olds has been dropped. It had been met with outcry by schools, Tory backbenchers and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver when it was announced.
The introduction of more grammar schools was omitted which was not surprising as this policy had little backing within the Conservative party.
Downgrading triple lock on pensions
Plans to replace triple lock pensions (state pensions increasing in line with the highest of average earnings, the inflation rate or 2.5 per cent) with double lock pensions (state pensions rising in line with inflection or earnings) did not make it into the Queen’s Speech.
So are the country’s elderly and school children saved as a result of these policies being dropped? It is hard to say. For the time being it seems that way, however where welfare and social care is concerned a fresh consultation is promised. So it may well make future headlines. The policy of austerity is still very much alive and kicking; so this reprieve may prove temporary.
It is too early to tell exactly what the details of the proposed bills will be, particularly the ones relating to Brexit. As the weeks and months progress there is no doubt that proposed plans will make the front pages of the press as negotiations get underway.
Already in the media this week was the rights of EU citizens in the UK who the Prime Minister said were an “integral part of the economic and cultural fabric” of the UK. Reports suggest that these EU citizens will be able to acquire settled status if they have lived in the UK for 5 years. This status will allow them to live, work, study and claim benefits in the UK. However, the plans have been labelled by Mr Corbyn as ‘not generous’ and ‘too little, too late.’ In particular they do not address the very real concerns of EU Nationals as to the status of their family members post Brexit.
The coming months and indeed the next few years are going to be a time of challenges and opportunities for the UK. Just how the country moulds a new path to its soon to be acquired ‘independence’ only time will tell.
Jigna Vekaria, Solicitor