By Michael Jarvis, London UK
Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it the most radical Queen’s Speech of a generation.
Brimming with all the self-assurance and confidence of a leader buoyed by a decisive general election victory, the prime minister, defending his government’s policy proposals outlined in the Queen’s Speech on Thursday, labelled his governing programme "a blueprint for the future of Britain."
The outgoing Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, reeling after his party’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Mr Johnson’s Conservative Party, felt otherwise.
"As this Queen’s Speech shows, what the government is actually proposing is woefully inadequate for the scale of the problems our country faces," he stated during the following parliamentary debate.
"All we have today are empty words about bringing forward proposals," he declared.
Delivering Brexit, a huge funding injection into the UK’s cherished National Health Service (NHS), as well as fighting crime, are at the heart of Mr Johnson’s so-called ‘one-nation Conservative’ and ‘people’s government’.
But it’s Brexit that is the dominant feature of the government's policy programme as Mr Johnson sets about to fulfill his campaign promise to ‘get Brexit done’ by January 31st next year 2020 - just over a month away.
Of around 30 pieces of legislation outlined in the Queen’s speech, around six are Brexit-related including controversially severely limiting the time frame within which the UK and the European Union(EU) must conclude a trade deal.
Scrapping the Fixed Term Parliament law - giving the prime minister the power to call elections without first seeking the approval of parliament (although he now has clear 80-seat majority) - and introducing Voter ID cards are among the key political changes the government will pursue this parliament.
A new points-based immigration system along with a series of other domestic policies will drive what the government calls “an ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers on the people’s priorities.”
Coming towards the end of the Queen’s speech was an announcement, which, while not offering much detail (the speech from the throne is not intended for that), nevertheless would resonate with many of the UK’s Overseas Territories, especially those in the Caribbean.
“Review will be undertaken to reassess the nation’s place in the world, covering all aspects of international policy from defence to diplomacy and development.”
A critical element of that is seen as the Department for International Development (DfID), which Mr Johnson in a previous incarnation as Foreign Secretary had posited should be merged into the Foreign Office.
In the debate which followed the Queen’s Speech, that was one of the issues pounced on by the outgoing Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn.
A detailed response was not immediately forthcoming.
DfID has been a vital funding and support link for the OTs, especially those in hurricane-prone areas such as the Caribbean, with Montserrat with an added volcano risk.
The details are awaited on the role and future of DfID, a cabinet-level office, and that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also a cabinet office (the Foreign Office) both having separate Secretaries of State.
The DfID dilemma is also addressed in the 2018/2019 UK parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee(FAC) inquiry and report into the future of the relationship between the UK and the OTs: Global Britain and the Overseas Territories - Resetting the Relationship.
FAC recommendations which were accepted by the pre-Boris Johnson Conservative government under Theresa May are there to be dusted off, reviewed and incorporated into the Johnson ‘people’s government’ policy framework.
Chief among those is the issue of Public Disclosure of Beneficial Ownership of Companies registered in the OTs.
The May government had committed "to preparing an Order in Council by the end of December 2020, with the Territories expected to have fully functioning publicly accessible registers as soon as possible, and no later than the end of 2023."
Other issues ranging from access to the NHS to post-Brexit replacement of EU aid funding and the future of DfID funding for aid-dependent territories such as Montserrat covered in the FAC report are still on the table.
With a new government in place in Whitehall and Brexit a fait accompli, it’s now left to be seen where the OTs fit into the new mosaic of policy pronouncements.
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