Wednesday 23 August 2017

Theresa May's Queen's Speech 'will be her first and last', Tories admit, as PM proposes plan filled with U-turns

Theresa May's Queen's Speech 'will be her first and last', Tories admit, as PM proposes plan filled with U-turns

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: GETTY
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: GETTY

Joe Watts

A humbled Theresa May will propose a hollowed-out plan for government on Wednesday, as figures in her own party admitted it would be “her first and last”.

The Prime Minister’s legislative agenda set out in the Queen’s Speech will be stripped of Tory pledges after Ms May’s election campaign left her party without enough MPs to pass more contentious plans.

Instead she will focus what little clout she has on pushing through Brexit – even there she adopted a distinctly softer tone in a bid to stave off a potentially damaging cabinet split.

Ms May will also be forced to endure the embarrassment of putting her Queen’s Speech before Parliament without knowing if it can be passed, as she wrote it having failed to secure the support of Democratic Unionist Party MPs needed for her Commons majority.

Speaking ahead of the speech, the Prime Minister appeared to acknowledge the limitations of her plans.

“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this Government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent,” she said.

It means that a string of key promises from her manifesto will be ditched – including U-turns on plans to axe universal school meals and dump the triple lock on pensions.

The major roll-out of new grammar schools – which Ms May had wanted to make a signature policy of her premiership – also looked set to be put on ice.

A senior member of the Government told The independent: “It’s fair to say what we end up with is going to be a long way from the manifesto.

“Because of the election result, knowing it is all the more difficult to get legislation through, it’s going to be a Queen’s Speech that reflects the implications.

“The main thing will be Brexit, and we now have a two-year session to achieve that. But the wish list for the world in which we were going to have a majority – that’s just not reality anymore.”

Another minister agreed, saying Ms May’s plans had simply needed to be “cut back”.

He added: “That means it’s going to be a realistic Queen’s Speech that recognises how some of the more controversial proposals that we had will now be difficult to achieve.”

Ms May said the first priority was getting Brexit right, with the related legislation likely to form the lion’s share of her agenda for a parliamentary session extended to two years in order to handle Britain’s withdrawal.

But just hours after her own Chancellor Philip Hammond gave a speech challenging the hardline Brexit rhetoric she used before the election, Ms May herself signalled a softer approach.

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.”

It follows on from a meeting with the influential Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, at which Ms May was forced to say she would listen to “all the voices” in the party, having initially called an election attacking those refusing to fall in behind her.

Her approach also took a knock earlier this week, when Brexit Secretary David Davis undertook an embarrassing U-turn on the first day of negotiations with the EU – being forced to accept that withdrawal talks would be prioritised over discussions about future trade.

But indications that Ms May is looking to adjust her position on negotiations, to keep Tories desiring a softer Brexit happy, have riled Leave-backing cabinet ministers who have reportedly threatened to quit if the Prime Minister abandons her tough stance.

One backbencher told The UK Independent: “The Queen’s Speech is basically all about Brexit.

“It will be Brexit-heavy because that’s pretty much the only big thing that everyone can agree needs to happen – putting disagreements about how it will happen aside.” 

As well as the planned Great Repeal Bill, to absorb all EU laws into British statute on day one of Brexit, there will also be a raft of other pieces of legislation relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and trade.

Then, instead of the bolder vision beyond Brexit she had set out in her manifesto, Conservative sources confirmed Ms May’s proposals would be limited to bills to reduce motor insurance premiums and restructure financial authorities, alongside draft bills to strengthen domestic violence laws and scrap tenants’ fees.

There are also likely to be measures relating to improving mental health care and technical education and to try and form a coherent policy on paying for social care – the issue that derailed her election campaign.

Plans to increase the national living wage and to bear down on the deficit as previously planned will also be confirmed.

A senior backbencher said: “This is going to be her first and last Queen’s Speech.

“She has very little leeway to get things through – if you look at grammar schools for example, how can that possibly be a part of it?

“The whips are going to be telling her, ‘you have very little political capital. Don’t waste it on things like that’.”

Another Tory insider cited a hated new school funding formula as an area where Ms May could have to make concessions to keep her newly empowered backbenchers from toppling her, while a second Tory MP said: “It’s unlikely there are going to be too many Theresa May Queen’s Speeches.”

But even as she tries to manage the pressures from her own benches, the Prime Minister must still secure the support of another party – the Northern Irish DUP – whose 10 MPs she needs to have a Commons majority.

The Conservatives had hoped to lock-in a confidence and supply deal before taking her planned laws to Parliament, but on Tuesday DUP sources reported that talks were not going “as expected”.

The party found itself urging the Government to give “greater focus” to the negotiations and warned that, despite only having a handful of MPs, it “can't be taken for granted”.

A vote to approve the Queen’s Speech delivered on Wednesday will not take place until the following week, giving Ms May a few more precious days to cement their support.

Another frontbencher said: “We are hoping and praying that it will get through.”

It is all the more embarrassing because Downing Street made it known that they had secured a deal with the DUP 10 days ago, only for the Northern Irish party to deny the claim.

Conservative sources have nonetheless said they are confident the Queen’s Speech vote will pass, citing Brexit, preserving the United Kingdom and fighting terror as common ground.

(© Independent News Service)

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