UK Politics

Queen's Speech: Boris Johnson hails 'radical' programme

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Media captionQueen's Speech: Brexit, the NHS and what happened next

Boris Johnson has claimed his programme for government is the "most radical Queen's Speech in a generation".

The prime minister said planned new laws to toughen up criminal justice and increase NHS spending would deliver on the "people's priorities".

But his main priority is the UK's exit from the EU on 31 January.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said many of the PM's promises mimicked the "language of Labour policy but without the substance".

"They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, even when it's a very pale imitation, but I fear those swayed by the prime minister's promises will be sorely disappointed," added the Labour leader.

And SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford accused the PM of "denying [Scotland] the right to choose our own future" referring to the SNP's desire for another referendum on Scottish independence.

"Why did democracy stop in the prime minister's world with the independence referendum in 2014?" he asked.

But Boris Johnson said he felt a "colossal sense of obligation" to the voters.

He told MPs that "a new golden age for this United Kingdom is now within reach" adding that the government would "work flat out to deliver it".

Addressing Parliament for the second time in less than three months, the Queen said the priority for her government was to deliver Brexit on 31 January, but ministers also had an "ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers on the people's priorities".

Of the more than 30 bills announced in the Queen's Speech, seven were on Brexit.

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Media captionQueen's speech outlines plans for Brexit and NHS

It comes as the government says it will close its Department for Exiting the European Union on 31 January.

The seven bills announced that were devoted to Brexit cover legislation on trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, financial services and private international law.

The first to be put to Parliament will be the Withdrawal Agreement Bill - the legislation that enables the UK to leave the EU - on Friday before the Christmas recess.

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Image caption Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn walked to the House of Lords together in silence

Following last week's general election, the prime minister has a Commons majority of 80 - the largest enjoyed by a Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher in 1987.

The prime minister's increased parliamentary authority and command of his party means it is likely to pass without major changes in the New Year in time to meet the 31 January deadline.

In another move welcomed by Tory MPs, the bill will also enable more British judges to depart from previous rulings of the EU's top court.

NHS funding pledge

On the NHS, the government says it will enshrine in law a commitment on the health service's funding, with an extra £33.9bn per year provided by 2023/24.

The PM's commitment on the NHS amounts to a 3.4% year-on-year increase in expenditure, a significant increase on what the NHS received during the five year Tory-Lib Dem coalition government as well as under his predecessors David Cameron and Theresa May.

But it is significantly lower than the 6% average annual increases seen under Labour leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. And when adjusted for inflation, and factoring in the increased cost of equipment, medicines and staff pay, it could actually be worth £20.5bn by 2023-4.

Labour's health spokesman Jonathan Ashworth said: "If the Conservatives' plans to put funding increases into law is to be anything other than an empty gimmick, we would urge them to pledge the extra £6bn a year which experts say is needed to start to make up the cuts they've imposed for a decade."

There was also a commitment announced for ministers to seek cross-party consensus for long-term reform of the social care system and the government will continue work to reform the Mental Health Act.

This government wants to try to give the appearance that they are completely new, completely different, even though the Conservatives have been in power for nearly a full decade.

That is quite a political stunt to try to pull off.

But it's clear also that Boris Johnson came to the Commons today to present a vision that he hopes can straddle left and right, or what has traditionally been seen as Labour's place in politics and the Conservatives' place in politics.

That is what the results of the general election gave him as an opportunity.

And the challenge for Boris Johnson is not just to hold onto that for five years, but show to people who voted Tory for the first time that the party was worth the risk - that their vote was the right decision.

The test will be enormous - whether or not all that rhetoric actually matches up to the reality of the actions and decisions that this government will make.

Mr Johnson has had a reputation for years of being hungry with ambition to get to this place.

We're going to find out in the next months and years whether he's hungry to take the decisions that actually will cement his place in history.

Plans for longer sentences for violent criminals, were also unveiled, as well as the establishment of a Royal Commission to improve the "efficiency and effectiveness" of the criminal justice process and there are bills that will ensure the most serious violent offenders serve longer prison terms.

And those charged with knife possession will face "swift justice".

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Other announcements in the Queen's Speech included:

  • A "points-based immigration system", allowing the UK to welcome skilled workers
  • On housing, landlords will get more rights to gain possession of their property and a new "lifetime deposit" scheme has been proposed which will mean tenants do not have to find a new deposit every time they move
  • A pledge to cut business rates for thousands of retailers, pubs and restaurants across England and Wales. With the aim of helping struggling high streets, the government promised to increase the retail discount on rates by a third to 50%, costing £320m
  • A new visa to "ensure qualified doctors, nurses and health professionals have fast-track entry to the United Kingdom"
  • The removal of hospital car parking charges "for those in greatest need"
  • New laws to "accelerate the delivery of gigabit capable broadband"
  • The government will continue to take steps to meet net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
  • Work will be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act - which would enable the prime minister to call an election without the consent of MPs

Thursday's State Opening of Parliament was the 66th time the Queen has opened Parliament - and has come only weeks after the last one on 14 October.

There was less pageantry than usual, as was the case the last time a snap election was held in 2017.

The Queen travelled by car from Buckingham Palace to Parliament, rather than by horse-drawn carriage, and she did not wear ceremonial dress.

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Image caption Gentlemen at Arms prepare for the Queen's arrival in Parliament

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