Speculation over this year’s Queen’s Speech focused on three things: Who would deliver it? What would be in it? And would the Prime Minister survive long enough to reach it?
With Her Majesty notably absent from public engagements in recent weeks, it was Prince Charles who took centre stage for the first time. He unveiled 38 bills in the Government’s new legislative agenda, and the event delivered something of a re-set moment for an embattled, but surviving Prime Minister.
The jewel in the crown of the Government’s new legislative programme is the set of Bills that will aim to slash EU rules and ensure that economic growth is promoted in post-Brexit Britain. The Brexit Freedoms Bill speeds up this process and allows ministers to repeal hundreds of pieces of EU legislation without a full vote in Parliament, whilst the Financial Services and Markets Bill liberalises capital markets in a bid to make the UK a more attractive place to invest.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | Regulation
The notion of freeing organisations from the shackles of regulation is not new in the Conservative Party, and Johnson’s rhetoric on this evokes memories of George Osborne’s ‘bonfire of red tape’ for small businesses back in 2011. With the Prime Minister’s government having so far presided over tax rises and unprecedented increases in regulation during the pandemic, this set of Bills will aim to show fiscal Tories and those all-important Leave voters in the Red Wall that Johnson is the man they elected to ‘Get Brexit done’, and indeed secure a ‘Brexit dividend’. Thus, this package can be viewed as part of the PM’s plan to hold off a Labour majority and revitalise his reputation amongst voters from a man who deceives to a man who delivers.
Whether it will be enough for the party to hold on in 2024 remains to be seen, but the Brexit battle lines have been drawn.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | Levelling Up
The much-awaited Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill includes plans to revitalise high streets, give locals a say on the design of housing developments, and charge second homeowners double council tax to crackdown on empty holiday houses driving up prices. The latter provision is likely to appeal to those in Blue Wall seats in the South of England, where the Conservatives recently suffered a number of losses to the Lib Dems.
The Schools Bill complements this agenda with a focus on levelling up education by introducing a National Funding formula to allocate money to schools on a fairer basis, alongside registers for children not in school. The Conservatives have thus far been criticised for making little progress on their flagship manifesto commitment, and it seems Johnson has become aware of the need for action here if he is to continue to cling onto Red Wall voters who will be crucial to the party’s future election success.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | Energy
Against the background of the Government’s decision to phase out Russian oil imports and the growing concern over the cost and security of energy supplies, the Energy Security Bill is an important announcement that will aim to put the plans of the Energy Security Strategy into action. Significantly, the Bill will enable the extension of the energy price cap beyond 2023 in a bid to protect consumers from rising prices.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | Finance
The Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill sets out plans to seize crypto assets from criminals and crackdown on money laundering. This follows the clampdown on Russian influence earlier this year and illustrates Johnson’s wish to root out the ‘dirty money’ buried in Britain’s economy.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | What was missing?
Notably, Johnson has dropped a few key provisions from this speech. Despite the whispers, there was no mention of the Planning Bill which would have given housebuilders automatic approval for developments in certain areas of the country. This Bill was very unpopular with many Tory MPs in southern seats and it seems that the Government has actually U-turned on their tactics to promote housebuilding, now giving communities more say over developments rather than less. This decision was likely solidified by the Tories poor performance in the South at the locals, and the new approach seen as a means to win them back.
The Animals Abroad Bill to ban trophy hunting and foie gras imports has also been dropped after it was criticised by those in the right-wing of the party for being un-Conservative. Thus, Johnson has been forced to tread carefully on the more divisive issues in an attempt to maintain the support of both his own MPs and voters on increasingly shaky ground.
With the ever-rising cost of living and the warning last week from the Bank of England that the UK could be entering a recession before the end of the year, there seems to be a notable absence in this speech of further measures to ease the crisis. The Government will argue that the measures they put forward today will ease the pressure on businesses and unlock the economic growth needed to ease the pain. Rees-Mogg has already stated that more sticking plaster support would only increase the deficit and worsen inflation. However, for the 7.3 million adults in the UK currently facing food insecurity as reported yesterday by the Food Foundation, the concept of ‘growing our way out of this problem’ is unlikely to be of much comfort.
Queen’s Speech 2022 | Over the short-term
Johnson’s legislative package contains some bold long-term ambitions on Levelling Up and post-Brexit Britain in an attempt to piece back together the coalition of voters who brought the party their biggest majority since Thatcher. However, for those currently feeling the squeeze it lacks a short-term solution.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for the Government will be delivering “quick wins”. This was not a Budget-type fiscal event, and many of the Bills contain regulatory reforms which might take longer to bear fruit.
From a lobbying perspective, businesses need to be equipped to argue for support they need now to grow now, as well as the system changes that will ensure that this growth can be sustained.
It’s all eyes on the Chancellor ahead of a long, hot summer for Westminster.
Clara Finn, Public Affairs