May pledges to build Brexit consensus

Queen Elizabeth, with Prince Charles beside her, delivering the Queen's Speech during the state opening of Parliament in London yesterday. Lawmakers will spend the next few days debating the government programme before bringing it to a vote next Thur
Queen Elizabeth, with Prince Charles beside her, delivering the Queen's Speech during the state opening of Parliament in London yesterday. Lawmakers will spend the next few days debating the government programme before bringing it to a vote next Thursday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Queen's Speech promises to get best possible deal to leave EU

LONDON • Prime Minister Theresa May promised yesterday to build a widespread "consensus" on Britain's withdrawal from the European Union as she set out a Brexit-focused government programme that has been pared back to reflect her weakened authority.

The two-year programme, known as the Queen's Speech, was prepared by ministers and read out by Queen Elizabeth in Parliament at its formal opening ceremony.

The speech announced no fewer than eight Bills to implement Brexit - including a Bill that sets out how the government will transpose huge swathes of EU law into British law, and separate Bills on related topics such as immigration, Customs and fisheries.

The Queen told lawmakers from both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament that the government is committed to building "the widest possible consensus" on Brexit, by working with Parliament, regional officials, businesses and others.

"My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union," the Queen said.

Beyond Brexit, the plan included a promise to pay more attention to public concerns about austerity, but did not alter the government's commitment to bring down the budget deficit.

The speech was also notable for what it did not contain. There was no mention of key pledges - such as reform of social care for the elderly and more shake-ups in schools - the Conservatives had given in their manifesto for the recent election, which analysts said had bombed with the electorate.

Also absent was Mrs May's controversial promise to allow a parliamentary vote to repeal a ban on fox hunting, which angered left-wingers.

The traditionally ceremonial address was a crucial testing ground for Mrs May's ability to run the country during its most challenging period for generations.

The June 8 election left her Conservative Party short of a majority in Parliament, damaging her authority just as Britain begins the Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May is under increasing pressure to secure a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her government after nearly two weeks of talks.

In written remarks introducing the government plan, Mrs May admitted that the election result was not what she had hoped for. "But this government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent," she said. "First, we need to get Brexit right. That means getting a deal which delivers the result of last year's referendum and does so in a way that commands maximum public support."

The shift to a more consultative tack drew a cautious welcome from business groups, which worry that Mrs May's plan focuses more on controlling immigration than protecting the economy.

Lawmakers will spend the next few days debating the government programme before bringing it to a vote next Thursday.

If the government loses the vote, Mrs May could be forced to resign.

The Queen delivered the speech in a toned-down ceremony which dispensed with a horse-drawn procession to Parliament and swapped her crown for a blue hat.

The queen was accompanied by Prince Charles after her 96-year- old husband, Philip, was taken to hospital with an infection.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'May pledges to build Brexit consensus'. Print Edition | Subscribe