Despite being forced to exclude most of her manifesto policies from the Queen’s Speech, beleaguered Theresa May made sure her plans for a hard Brexit that will take the UK out of the EU’s single market and customs union remained intact.
The Queen, reading a speech prepared by the government, today set out eight Tory bills designed to facilitate Britain’s exit from the EU.
The bills confirm that the troubled PM, who has a minority government that has not yet struck a deal with the DUP for parliamentary control, is still dead-set on a hard Brexit, despite the serious concerns of industry, opposition parties and senior Conservatives.
In the introduction to the Speech, May said: “While this will be a government that consults and listens, we are clear that we are going to see Brexit through, working with Parliament, business, the devolved administrations and others to endure a smooth and orderly withdrawal.”
The Speech contained eight pieces of legislation – covering laws, customs, trade, immigration, fisheries, nuclear, agriculture and international sanctions – that May plans to use remove Britain from the EU.
They include the Repeal Bill, which downloads EU rules into British law. Although in purpose designed to maintain valuable EU-derived rights, such as paid holidays, for UK citizens after Brexit, the bill also awards the government sweeping temporary powers that would allow it to alter EU laws without parliamentary oversight.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said, “We now face a two year battle to prevent the Tory party from using the Brexit process to take apart the employment and safety protections we all value, but are regarded as obstructive ‘red tape’ by government ministers and Tory backbenchers.”
May also put forward a Custom Bill and a Trades Bill, which would let the UK set up a customs regime and trading legislation outside of current EU arrangements. This indicates the PM is still intent on leaving the customs union – a move likely to be deeply unpopular with many of her MPs – as well as the single market. Ruling out membership of the single market also means that the UK could not remain a member of the European Economic Area.
Another piece of legislation that is likely to spark fierce parliamentary fighting is the Immigration Bill, which despite being light on detail confirms the free movement of people will end.
While the Queen’s Speech did not mention May’s pledge of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands – an aim that sparked economic warnings from a range of industry groups – the bill allows “the government to make the migration of EU nationals and their family members subject to relevant UK law once the UK has left the EU”.
Speaking after the Queen’s Speech, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister does not have mandate to do as she likes over Brexit.
He accused May of presiding over a “government without a majority, without a mandate, without a serious legislative programme, led by a Prime Minister who has lost her political authority, and is struggling to stitch together a deal to stay in office.”
Corbyn said Labour is “ready to offer real strong and stable leadership in the interests of the many not the few. And we will test this government’s Brexit strategy, and what legislation comes forward, against that standard.”
“I hope the now minority government will indeed listen to the wisdom of this House a bit more and work in partnership with our European neighbours. It is in all our interests that we get a Brexit deal that puts jobs and the economy first. No deal is not better than a bad deal, it is a bad deal and not viable for Britain,” Corbyn said.
“We need full access to the Single Market and customs arrangements that provide Britain, as the Brexit Secretary has pledged, and I quote, with the “exact same benefits” as now. Neither must arbitrary targets for immigration be prioritised over the jobs and living standards of the people of this country.”
MPs will vote on the Queen’s Speech next Monday. May is hoping she can secure a tiny parliamentary majority by entering into a “confidence and supply” agreement with the 10 MPs of the hard right Democratic Unionist Party.