Boris Johnson’s promise to make the UK the ‘greatest place on Earth’ after Brexit will be set out in the Queen’s Speech tomorrow – with just days until the deadline to secure an EU deal.
Plans to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK and provide faster access to medicines will be unveiled, government sources have said.
Ministers say a Brexit deal is a ‘priority’ and they hope one can be passed through Parliament ‘at pace’.
But the UK and EU are still involved in talks ahead of a key summit – with a Downing Street source saying they were ‘a long way from a final deal’.
The prime minister is hoping to rush through Parliament a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to ratify any deal he manages to strike at this week’s EU summit, in time for Britain to leave on 31 October, as he has long promised.
Today, the PM will hold a conference call with his Cabinet to fill them in on the latest progress in Brexit talks.
The on Monday, an ‘optimistic and ambitious’ programme of domestic legislation which would again make the UK ‘the greatest place on earth’ with 22 Bills, including measures to support the NHS, tackle serious and violent crime and to invest in science and infrastructure, will be unveiled, government sources said.
But Mr Johnson has no majority in the Commons and it is questionable how much, if any, of the proposed legislation ministers can get through Parliament before a general election.
Labour has dismissed the decision to hold a Queen’s Speech before the country goes to the polls as a ‘cynical stunt’ and ‘a pre-election party political broadcast’ for the Tories.
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that if Mr Johnson does manage to get a deal at the two-day EU summit starting on Thursday Labour will try to force him to put it to the voters in a new referendum.
Such a move could pose a serious headache for the Government.
The last Commons attempt to hold a second referendum was defeated by just 12 votes and since then Mr Johnson has seen his majority wiped out with the withdrawal of the whip from 21 Brexit rebels.
After the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier gave the green light for intensive negotiations to start on Friday, Number 10 sources stressed they were still ‘a long way’ from a final agreement.
The UK and the EU’s intensive negotiations on a new ‘best of both worlds’ blueprint are thought to involve Northern Ireland technically staying in the UK’s customs union – but Britain collecting tariffs on the EU’s behalf.
A source said: ‘It is good to see progress, but we will wait to see if this is a genuine breakthrough.
‘We are a long way from a final deal and the weekend and next week remain critical to leaving with a deal on 31 October. We remain prepared to leave without a deal on 31 October.’
Mr Johnson is expected to urge key EU players including Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Claude Juncker, to strike a bargain that he can sell to MPs in Westminster.
The prime minister hopes that tomorrow the Queen’s Speech will ‘get this country moving again’.
He said: ‘The people of this country don’t just want us to sort out Brexit.
‘They want their NHS to be stronger, their streets safer, their Wifi faster, the air they breathe cleaner, their kids’ schools better-funded – and this optimistic and ambitious Queen’s Speech sets us on a course to make all that happen, and more besides.
‘After one of the least-active parliaments in living memory, the proposals we are bringing forward will get this country moving again.
‘This is a Queen’s Speech that will deliver for every corner of the UK and make this, once again, the greatest place on earth.’
What new laws will be revealed in Boris Johnson’s first Queen’s Speech?
The measures include a new Environment Bill setting legally binding targets to reduce plastics, restore biodiversity, improve water quality and cut air pollution.
There will also be Brexit-related legislation intended to establish a ‘fair’ immigration system, ensure faster access to new medicines and to open up markets.
Specific measures include:
- Immigration and Social Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end freedom of movement and introduce a points-based immigration system from 2021.
- Railway reform with a white paper setting out proposals to overhaul the current system of franchising and creating a new commercial model.
- Building safety standards with the establishment of a new regulator with powers to impose criminal sanctions for breaches of building regulations.
- NHS Health Investigations Bill will create a new independent body with legal powers to ensure patient safety.
- Mental health reform to reduce the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act by ensuring more people get the treatment they need.
There was anger after it emerged that an expected Bill to protect military veterans of the Northern Ireland Troubles from repeated investigations into alleged historical offences appeared to have been dropped.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned Brexiteers the Government will have to make compromises to get a deal but insists they can trust Mr Johnson not to concede too much to Brussels.
The Leader of the Commons said the PM had dedicated his political career to the cause of EU withdrawal.
It is feared hardline Tory Brexiteers could scupper any agreement Mr Johnson is able to reach, just as they thwarted Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement three times.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘In the final stages of the Brexit negotiation, compromise will inevitably be needed, something even the staunchest Leavers recognise albeit unwillingly – but as a Leaver Boris can be trusted.
‘He wants to take back control and has dedicated his political career to this noble cause.
‘If he thinks the ship of state is worth an extra ha’porth of tar he deserves support.’
The DUP, whose votes are likely to be crucial to getting a deal through Parliament, fired a warning shot to the prime minister over a reported compromise to end the deadlock over the Northern Ireland backstop.
Deputy leader Nigel Dodds yesterday warned the mooted plan – reportedly being discussed by EU and UK officials in Brussels in the wake of Mr Johnson’s meeting last week with Irish premier Leo Varadkar – ‘cannot work’.
Mr Dodds told the Italian La Repubblica newspaper that Northern Ireland ‘must stay in a full UK customs union, full stop’.
He added: ‘There is a lot of stuff coming from Brussels, pushed by the Europeans in the last hours, but one thing is sure: Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union. And Boris Johnson knows it very well.’
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is due to brief EU ambassadors and MEPs on Monday on progress in the talks.
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