LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Queen Elizabeth set out Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda on Thursday, outlining Brexit and the National Health Service (NHS) as the government’s main priorities.
FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen outside the venue for the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, Britain October 1, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Johnson won the biggest majority in parliament of any government since 2001, meaning he is in a strong position to pass new laws. What does he intend to do?
The speech sets out a host of Brexit-related legislation. The main element is the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill which will implement the exit deal Johnson agreed with Brussels. This bill is expected to start its passage into law on Friday and will rule out extending a transition period beyond Dec. 31, 2020.
Beyond this, the government will also pass Brexit-related laws on trade, agriculture and fisheries. Accompanying documents also say there will be further legislation required to implement whatever deal it strikes on future relations with the EU.
The government will pass a law to cement its commitment to increase funding to the health service. This will result in an annual increase of 33.9 billion pounds by 2023-24.
The government will pass an ‘Employment Bill’ which it says will “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU”.
The bill would set up a new enforcement body to protect rights, create new rights for workers to request predictable contracts, and provide for new childcare funding.
It also promises to look at stronger regulation for company auditing and corporate reporting.
New immigration legislation will set out a points-based system. The government says this will be “based on people’s skills and contributions to the UK so we can attract the brightest and best people from the whole world.”
The details set out in accompanying documents are in line with Johnson’s election pledge of a three-tier system, designed to reduce lower-skilled migration.
The government rejected demands by Scotland’s First Minister for a new independence referendum after Brexit, saying it would be “a damaging distraction” and would undermine the result of the last vote five years ago.
COUNTER TERRORISM SENTENCING AND RELEASE BILL
The government will introduce tougher sentences, including a 14-year minimum for the most serious terrorist offenders. It will also remove the possibility of early release from custody for some dangerous offenders.
The government plans to make it harder for adversaries to operate in Britain to reduce the threat posed by “hostile state activity”. This will include changes to existing offences to more effectively deal with espionage and introducing new offences to criminalize other harmful activity conducted by, and on behalf of, states.
It is also considering adopting foreign agent registration and updating treason laws.
The government will publish a ‘National Infrastructure Strategy’ alongside its first budget next year to set out details of its plan to invest 100 billion pounds in infrastructure.
The government reiterated plans, first set out in October, for legislation to bolster Britain’s role as an international financial center after Brexit by “enhancing” the sector’s competitiveness, but without eroding “world-leading regulatory standards”.
Specific aims would include making it simpler for foreign investment funds to be sold in Britain, a commitment to applying bank capital rules agreed globally to date, and ensuring that financial firms in Gibraltar have long-term access to Britain’s market.
The government recommitted to plans set out in October to toughen its powers to block or intervene in the foreign purchase of any company in any sector that could affect national security.
Until now the British state has been able to intervene in the foreign takeover of any company above a certain size that played a role in national security, the provision of media plurality or the stability of the financial system.
REPEAL THE FIXED-TERM PARLIAMENTS ACT
The government will scrap the fixed-term parliament act which sets out that elections are held every five years and prevents the government from calling an early election without the support of two-thirds of parliament’s 650 lawmakers.
SECURITY, DEFENSE AND FOREIGN POLICY REVIEW
The government said it plans to undertake “the deepest review of Britain’s security, defense and foreign policy since the end of the Cold War”. It will include the Armed Forces, intelligence services and counter-terrorism.
FIRE SAFETY BILL
The government will strengthen enforcement powers to hold building managers and owners to account for fire safety standards. They will be required to consider and mitigate the risks of any external walls, including cladding, and fire doors.
Reporting by William James and Kylie MacLellan; editing by Guy Faulconbridge