Boris Johnson has unveiled a Queen’s Speech with measures to toughen up criminal justice, limit parliamentary democracy and potentially weaken the scrutiny of government.
The government will look at whether the Official Secrets Act needs overhauling, which determines what protections and punishments whistleblowers are given. Whistleblowers are a critical check on power. It will also consider whether there is a case for updating the treason laws.
Work will be taken forward to repeal the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act – a move which would enable the prime minister to call an election without the consent of parliament.
The government will also set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to look at the broader aspects of the constitution.
What it said:
'After Brexit we need to look at broader aspects of constitution: relationship between government, parliament, courts'
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What it means:
We are going to get even with Supreme Court and judges who ruled prorogation of Parliament illegal#QueensSpeech
— Paul Johnson (@paul__johnson) December 19, 2019
The prime minister’s legislative programme also includes bills which will ensure the most serious violent offenders – including terrorists – serve longer prison terms.
A Royal Commission will be established to improve the “efficiency and effectiveness” of the criminal justice process, and the government will enshrine in law a commitment on the health service’s funding.
Of the 25 bills detailed in Johnson’s second Queen’s Speech in less than three months, seven are devoted to Britain’s departure from the EU – with legislation on trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, financial services and private international law.
The key Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – which implements the PM’s Brexit deal – would allow the UK to leave on 31 January, and deliver an implementation period until 31 December 2020.
Addressing both Houses of Parliament, the Queen said her government’s “priority” was to take the UK out of the EU on 31 January.
She said the “integrity and prosperity” of the UK is of the “utmost importance to my government” – amid fresh calls from the SNP to grant Holyrood the power to hold a second vote on Scottish independence.
The speech confirmed plans for the “deepest review” of Britain’s security defence, and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.
Led by the prime minister, it will cover the armed forces, the intelligence agencies and counter-terrorism as well as the future development of foreign policy.
Other pledges include a plan to change business rates – with a retail discount upped from one-third to 50%, and measures will be developed to provide for minimum levels of service during transport strikes, essentially removing transport workers’ ability to effectively strike.
The State Opening of Parliament, which follows last week’s general election, took place without some of the traditional ceremony, with the Queen arriving by car rather than carriage and wearing a mint green dress and hat rather than her robes and state crown.
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