21 Jun 2017

A Queen’s Speech without much style or substance – beyond Brexit bills

Political Editor

The dogs that didn’t bark, measures at the heart of the Tories’ failed election gambit now dropped, hover like a cloud over proceedings.

The colour has been drained from this grand ceremonial occasion.

The Queen didn’t quite travel by Uber but the carriages and mounted escort didn’t turn up. Prince Philip, under the weather and checked into hospital, didn’t make it either.

It seemed strangely fitting and low-key for a country going through great uncertainty and anxious times.

The Grenfell Tower “tragic fire” was mentioned by the Queen, saying that the “full public inquiry” would “ensure appropriate lessons are learnt”.

No fewer than eight Brexit bills will dominate a two-year session. There’s little that the government can say about what’ll be written into some of the Brexit bills as they are dependent on the Brexit negotiation and on phase two of that negotiation under the agreed sequencing. So there’s an immigration bill listed with time, at some point in the future, allocated. But the government can only tell you that the bill will happen, it’ll replace free movement of EU citizens and it’ll apply to the whole of the UK.

The dogs that didn’t bark, measures at the heart of the Tories’ failed election gambit now dropped, hover like a cloud over proceedings. Social care is now a consultation with no outline plan decreed. Grammar schools aren’t mentioned. The winter fuel allowance and the pension triple lock aren’t mentioned either.

The one measure that might have excited some popular following, capping energy prices, is relegated to the last page of the accompanying notes, “non-legislative measures”. There is a bill for the roll-out of smart meters but other measures look like they’re going to be extending existing action by regulators.

The Trump visit still seems to be in the air and wasn’t mentioned in the Queen’s Speech. Having risked anger at home inviting him over smartish, the PM now finds the White House wondering whether to put their man through the ordeal of possible street protest. That, some officials say, is partly due to warnings transmitted from London to Washington. No-one really knows whether this controversial visit is going to happen and you suspect, in the current turmoil in Downing Street, no one has head space to think too much about it.

The official line is that the only reason this visit is not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech is because the date is not set and that is protocol. But the dates for the state visit of the Spanish King and Queen (due next month and formally announced in the Queen’s Speech) have hardly been set in stone, having been cancelled two or three times already.

One Tory MP, an ardent Brexiteer, pulled me over to pour some bile in my ear about Philip Hammond and his delayed Mansion House speech yesterday. He said that demanding a two to three-year transition period that changes little for British business effectively weakens our negotiating position on the post-Brexit free trade agreement because it is effectively a demand made of the EU and they will trade it for something else. He said he thought that certain employers’ organisations were “playing” Philip Hammond and, along with other dyed-in-the-wool Remainers, hoping to string the whole Brexit process along in the hope that something turns up and it never happens.

Other Tories are rallying around their damaged leader. They do so largely out of fear of something worse. They fear a leadership contest and they are completely terrified of another general election.

In the middle, another section of Tory MPs who are not sure what to think. They will watch Theresa May in her appearance in the Commons this afternoon. They will measure the credibility of her leadership day to day until such time as she looks like their best option or looks like she needs to be dispensed with pronto.

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