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Queen's Speech: Britain's PM May Promises to Listen Harder on Brexit

Image: Queen's Speech: Britain's PM May Promises to Listen Harder on Brexit
Britain's Queen Elizabeth delivers the Queen's Speech during the State Opening of Parliament on June 21, 2017. (Stefan Rousseau/Pool via Reuters)

Wednesday, 21 Jun 2017 09:09 AM

Prime Minister Theresa May promised Wednesday to listen more closely to businesses' concerns about Britain leaving the European Union as she set out a Brexit-focused government program, pared-back to reflect her weakened authority, in a speech read by Queen Elizabeth.

Chastened by an election that left her Conservative Party short of a majority in parliament and reopened debate on the nature of Britain's EU exit, May also dropped firm pledges on social care, education and corporate governance.

The two-year program for government, known as the Queen's Speech, was prepared by ministers and read out by the queen in parliament at its formal opening ceremony.

At a time of unprecedented political uncertainty, May is under increasing pressure to secure a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to prop up her government after nearly two weeks of talks.

The queen told lawmakers from both the upper and lower houses of parliament that the government is committed to building "the widest possible consensus" on Brexit, working with parliament, devolved administrations, business and others. "My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union," the queen said.

The traditionally ceremonial address, dominated by pageantry, was a crucial testing ground for May's ability to run the country during its most challenging period for generations.

Her authority has been badly damaged just as Britain begins Brexit negotiations. Four militant attacks have raised questions about her grip on national security, and the death of at least 79 people in a tower block fire has become a flashpoint for public anger at her party's record in government.

"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," May said in remarks introducing the policy plan.

"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."

Lawmakers will have to approve the speech in a vote, expected next Thursday, that will be a de facto vote of confidence. Minority governments are a rare occurrence in British parliamentary politics where the electoral system usually produces a governing majority.

The Queen delivered the speech in a toned-down ceremony which dispensed with a horse-drawn procession to parliament and swapped her crown for a blue hat. The changes to the ceremony were pre-planned due to a lack of rehearsal time.

She was accompanied by Prince Charles after her 96-year-old husband, Philip, was taken to hospital with an infection.

BREXIT FOCUS

The legislative programme spelt out a Brexit-dominated set of policies, that indicated May was keen to secure broad support for leaving the EU - a change in tone from the strident approach she set out before the June 8 election.

"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 ensure a smooth and orderly withdrawal," May said.

A briefing document issued alongside the speech said the government would intensify its consultations with businesses and other interested parties to "test and validate positions and to continue to build support from the business community as we move forward".

May's programme for government was largely restricted to the technical work of making sure Brexit can happen: a bill that sets out how the government will transpose huge swathes of EU law into British law and separate bills on related topics such as immigration, customs and fisheries.

Beyond Brexit, the plan included a promise to pay more attention to public concerns about austerity, but did not alter the government's commitment to bring down the budget deficit.

It also outlined plans to allow sectors such as electric vehicles and satellite technology to maintain a competitive edge, as well as promising to deliver an industrial strategy that spread prosperity across the country.

May's plans will need the support of Northern Ireland's DUP, which is expected to use its 10 votes to back her in exchange for more funding to the province, policies geared towards boosting its economy and assurances that Brexit will not cut it off from the neighbouring Irish Republic.

But that deal has yet to be announced, and on Tuesday the DUP said the talks were not going as was expected. The party should not be taken for granted, it said.

© 2017 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

   
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Prime Minister Theresa May promised Wednesday to listen more closely to businesses' concerns about Britain leaving the European Union as she set out a Brexit-focused government program, pared-back to reflect her weakened authority, in a speech read by Queen...
queen, speech, brexit
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2017-09-21
Wednesday, 21 Jun 2017 09:09 AM
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