Queen Elizabeth II presented her government’s post-pandemic legislative agenda by opening a new session of the British parliament on Tuesday, in her first public appearance since the funeral of her late husband, Prince Philip.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, dynamic after his Conservative Party’s triumph in local and regional elections in England last week, promises to live up to his ‘build back better’ mantra with a wide range of policies.
But he faces new questions over Britain’s cohesion after pro-independence forces won a majority in the Scottish parliamentary election, with promises to hold another referendum on breaking away from secular union.
Johnson’s government, after launching a successful coronavirus vaccination campaign, intends to reopen the economy and ‘level’ prosperity across Britain following its Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
“My government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the UK stronger, healthier and more prosperous than ever before,” the 95-year-old monarch said in a speech from a Golden Throne to the House of Lords.
Johnson separately said the fight against Covid-19 remained the “number one priority” but insisted the recovery offered a “historic opportunity to turn things around for the better.”
Borders in brief
The government plans to introduce an environmental bill to set legally binding emissions targets as Britain prepares to host the UN’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
At the same time, a âState Threats Billâ aims to provide security services with tools to counter hostile activities by foreign states and foreign actors.
New measures will also aim to strengthen UK borders and deter “criminals who facilitate dangerous and illegal travel”, after an increase in the number of asylum seekers from France on boats across the Channel.
Tightening immigration rules and securing borders were promises of Johnson’s Brexit campaign in 2016, as well as his victory in the 2019 election.
But by distinguishing between asylum seekers entering through legal channels and those entering Britain from “safe” destinations like France, the government has provoked anger among groups including the United Nations agency. United Nations for Refugees, UNHCR.
Ministers will also legislate to fund lifetime tuition loans for adults to requalify into new industries and ban so-called “conversion therapy” – a practice, often practiced in a religious setting, aimed at change. a person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Other bills will seek to strengthen animal rights and help more people own their own homes.
“There will have to be signs of materializing the rather ambitious commitments the government has made on everything from social protection to upgrading the country,” Anand Menon, director of the country, told AFP. UK in a Changing Europe think tank.
âAnd it’s going to be a pretty tough business over the next two or three years,â he said.
The monarch’s state opening of parliament last took place at the end of 2019 against a backdrop of political acrimony over Brexit. Normally an annual event filled with five centuries of tradition and pageantry, it has been scaled down this year due to the pandemic.
This meant far fewer attendees and the Queen traveled to Westminster by car rather than by horse-drawn carriage. She wore a powder blue day dress and a feathered hat, instead of dresses and a crown.
Only a few of the two houses of parliament were allowed to attend to maintain their social distancing, and those in attendance were expected to have tested negative for COVID-19.
The Queen – Britain’s longest-serving monarch – was accompanied by her 72-year-old son and heir, Prince Charles, as she returned to public duties three weeks after the Duke of Edinburgh’s burial. He died last month, aged 99.
In her speech, drafted by the government, the Queen also detailed plans to “strengthen economic ties across the Union”, in part by improving national infrastructure.
The monarch’s role is to stay above the political fray, but the future of his kingdom could be on the line after the election results north of the border gave new impetus to the Scottish National Party (SNP), pro-independence.
When Scots last voted on leaving the UK in 2014, Queen Elizabeth made a cautious remark for voters to “think very carefully about the future”.
They then opted against independence, and Johnson’s outright rejection of the SNP’s demands for a new referendum threatens to open a new constitutional crisis in the Queen’s post-Brexit kingdom. -France Media Agency