Last week’s election results provided Boris Johnson with a substantial House of Commons majority to deliver his Brexit promise. Whilst today’s Queen’s Speech appeared low key, don’t let that fool you because the Government has doubled down on the proposals from the last Queen’s Speech in October in what is a radical programme covering several policy areas.
Unsurprisingly, the key priority from the speech was Brexit, with a new Withdrawal Agreement Bill to leave the EU on 31 January, but without the compromises granted in the last Parliament to try and garner Labour support. Importantly, there is a legal commitment to ensure that the transition period expires on 31 December 2020. There are also plans to introduce a new Australian-style points-based immigration system for EU nationals to put them on an equal footing with non-EU nationals.
With an aim of banishing the spectre of the £350m a week NHS pledge made during the referendum campaign, the Government has outlined legislation to increase the annual health service budget by nearly double that amount (£33.9billion extra per annum by 2023-24). The plans would pay for 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 more doctors and 6,000 more staff working in primary care. The Government also announced a ‘plan for a plan’ for social care reform, pledging to ‘urgently seek a cross-party consensus’ for its plans on further council tax increase to fund social care, as well as providing local authorities with an additional £1billion funding per annum.
The Government will also publish a national infrastructure strategy in February alongside the budget, which will see £10bn investment in roads, rail and broadband connections.
In terms of rail, to avoid the impact of strike action, the Government will legislate to ensure a minimum level of service on strike days. There is also a pledge to invest in a Midlands Rail Hub and further funding for Northern Powerhouse Rail. The HS2 review by Doug Oakervee will be published next year, although the Government will press ahead with a Bill to allow funding for the route to be built “without prejudice” to the review.
The Government has maintained the 1 million home pledge for this Parliament and has set aside £10bn to deliver essential transport and social infrastructure for housing such as schools, GP surgeries and new roads. Maintaining commitments in the manifesto, renters will be able to transfer their existing deposit to a new property. At the same time, “no fault” evictions will be outlawed to provide long-term security for tenants, although landlords will have greater powers to take back possession of their properties from rogue tenants.
Finally, first time buyers will see a minimum of a 30% discount on new homes in their local area, with the Government giving them a priority on new housing locally.
The 2050 ‘carbon neutral’ pledge for the UK stays put under Boris Johnson, with a £9.2bn investment into energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals and a promise to ensure people who use electric vehicles are always within 30 miles of a charge point. In terms of air quality, there are plans for a legally-binding target to reduce fine particulate matter and powers to ensure vehicles are recalled if they don’t meet legal emission standards. Along with a £800m investment to deliver a carbon capture storage cluster by the mid-2020s, there are plans to deliver the world’s first commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040 (a far safer zero carbon option).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Government will repeal the Fixed-Term Parliament Act and has already signalled that they will not grant a further referendum on Scottish independence. Along with the introduction of photo ID for future general and local elections, the Government is also setting up a constitution democracy and rights commission – I wouldn’t be surprised to see electoral boundary reform, House of Lords reform and even judicial appointments to the High Court and Supreme Court emerging from this piece of work.
Whilst Brexit will still feature heavily in 2020, the decisive election result provides some much-needed stability in Government and today’s Queen’s Speech provides us with a blueprint of their agenda for the next two years in Parliament.
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