London, Dec 19 (AFP/APP): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will set out his plans for government on Thursday following a sweeping election win, focused on delivering Brexit and supporting the health service.
Queen Elizabeth II will open parliament in a lavish ceremony where she will read out the Conservative leader’s legislative programme for the months ahead.
But in a sign of a looming constitutional battle, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was to stake her claim for a new vote on independence, just before the monarch’s address.
Top of Johnson’s to-do list will be a bill to ratify the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, which he negotiated in October but could not get through parliament.
Equipped with a majority of 80 in the 650-seat House of Commons, he hopes to push through the deal in time to “Get Brexit Done” on the next EU deadline of January 31.
He has also vowed to address concerns about public services, particularly among the many working-class voters who backed the Tories for the first time in this election.
There will be a bill to enshrine in law spending increases for the state-run National Health Service, which has faced cuts during a decade of Conservative austerity measures.
– Brexit cliff-edge –
The Queen’s Speech normally takes place about once a year but there was one in October, following Johnson’s election as Conservative leader in July.
Rebellions over Brexit left him without the support in the Commons he needed to govern, so he called a snap election — and won a landslide.
As a result, Thursday’s speech will be scaled down, with the 93-year-old monarch eschewing her horse-drawn carriage for a car and her crown for a hat.
But it will still be rich in pageantry.
The highlight will be the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) to ratify the terms of Brexit, which will be put to a first vote among MPs on Friday.
It covers Britain’s financial obligations to the EU, the rights of European expatriates and new arrangements for Northern Ireland.
The bill will also enshrine the dates of a transition period, which will keep EU-UK ties largely unchanged until December 31, 2020, to allow both sides to sign a new trade deal.
The period can be extended for up to two years, but London insists this will not be necessary.
Johnson was a leading figure in the 2016 referendum vote for Brexit, and says it is time to end years of political wrangling over the result.
But the EU has warned the timetable is extremely tight to agree a new relationship after Britain leaves the bloc’s single market and customs union.
“In case we cannot conclude an agreement by the end of 2020, we will face again a cliff edge,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
“This would clearly harm our interests but it will impact more the UK than us.”
The WAB will also include plans to allow courts other than the Supreme Court to overturn European Court of Justice rulings, to ensure Britain can more swiftly extricate itself from European case law.
– Health service pressures –
At a reception for healthcare staff at Downing Street on Wednesday, Johnson said the NHS was the “single greatest institution in this country”.
“But the pressures and demands are enormous and we have to help you cope with that,” he said.
Aside from the spending increase, the Queen’s Speech will include plans for a new immigration system with fast-track visas for healthcare professionals.
Officials said there will also be commitments to boost education spending and tackle violent crime — and committing the government to the United Kingdom.
After winning a majority of seats in England last week, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Sturgeon will meanwhile publish her case for a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Scots voted by 55 percent against independence in a 2014 referendum.
But they also voted to stay in the EU in 2016 and with Brexit all but assured, nationalists argue it is now time to go their own way.
“There is a clear mandate for this nation to have the power to decide its own future,” Sturgeon was expected to argue.
“The result of last week’s general election makes that mandate unarguable.”