LONDON — Brexit took a central role as Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the U.K. parliament after the general election and announced the government’s program for the year ahead.
The program — read out by the monarch in the House of Lords during a tradition known as the queen’s speech — includes seven crucial pieces of Brexit legislation that the House of Commons will need to pass in order to fulfill Boris Johnson’s plans.
“My government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on January 31,” the queen said in her statement prepared by Downing Street. “My ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom.
“Thereafter, my ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free-trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom,” the queen added. “They will also begin trade negotiations with other leading global economies.”
In an introduction to the queen’s speech, Johnson said his first task will be to “get Brexit done,” adding he had a “pre-cooked deal Brexit meal ready to pop in the microwave” to “release the country from the stranglehold of indecision restoring confidence to people and businesses.”
Here is a list of the most eye-grabbing proposed laws in Johnson’s legislative program:
Withdrawal Agreement Bill
The Brexit legislation taking the U.K. out of the EU by January 31 and implementing the Brexit deal struck by Johnson will be subject to its first vote Friday. The bill kicks off a transition period due to end on December 31 2020, during which Britain and the EU will negotiate their future relationship and seek to strike a trade deal. The bill also protects the rights of nationals from European Economic Area countries and Switzerland already living in the U.K. and rolls out the protocol designed to prevent a hard land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The Agriculture Bill will create a transition away from U.K. involvement in the Common Agricultural Policy to a system based on “public money for public goods.” It means farmers will be paid for things like sustainable food production, environmentally friendly farming and increasing public access to land, instead of the total amount of land they farm. The transition will last for seven years for England and offer funds to help farmers invest in new equipment and infrastructure. Most of the bill will apply only to England as agricultural policy is devolved.
The Fisheries Bill will end U.K. involvement in the Common Fisheries Policy, meaning the government will have control over licensing for foreign vessels to fish in its waters. Britain will have full control over how much it can fish, and the government pledges a sustainable model to safeguard marine resources based on scientific advice. The Conservatives have also promised to provide grants to fishermen to conserve the sea environment and regulate fishing. Most of the provisions would apply to the whole of the U.K., although fishing policy is devolved.
The Trade Bill will establish the tools required for the U.K. to strike its own trade deals outside of the EU after Brexit. The government has promised to drive positive global change through trade. It will also allow Britain to roll over the existing trade deals it has with third nations through its EU membership. The bill will establish a new independent body to protect U.K. businesses against unfair trade practices and unexpected surges in imports.
The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination Bill will repeal EU law relating to freedom movement of people and make EU citizens arriving in the U.K. from 2021 subject to the same U.K. immigration controls as non-EU citizens.
The bill paves the way for a new points-based immigration system, modeled on Australia’s, which will target “the brightest and the best from the whole world” after Brexit. The future system will fast-track healthcare professionals, and leading scientists and entrepreneurs above other foreign workers.
The law will allow the British government to set new rules on immigrants’ access to benefits and social security, with a view to putting EU citizens and non-EU nationals on an equal footing after January 2021.
Irish citizens will see no change in their rights to freely enter and live in the U.K.
The Financial Services Bill is intended to give regulators powers to update U.K. rules in line with the EU, ensuring legal harmony which is needed for the U.K. to achieve access to the single market for British firms. The bill is necessary to allow the U.K. to stay close to EU rules should it want to do so after Brexit.
The legislation also seeks to simplify the process which allows overseas investment funds to be sold in the U.K.
Private International Law
The bill will implement three international conventions into U.K. law: the 1996, 2005 and 2007 Hague Conventions, which up until now applied in Britain by virtue of its EU membership. These conventions improve the protection of children in cross-border disputes, provide legal certainty in disputes relating to cross-border contracts, and set the rules for the international recovery of child support and other forms of family maintenance when parents live abroad.
The bill also gives the government the power to enter further international legal agreements.
This bill will give the police powers to immediately arrest suspects for a serious crime which took place outside the U.K. without having to apply to a court for a warrant first. This power would be limited to crimes that occurred in a limited number of countries on which the U.K. has a “high level of confidence.”
The government said that in the event of the U.K. losing access to the European Arrest Warrant after Brexit, this law could be amended to apply to some or all EU member countries.
Foreign national offenders
A related piece of legislation will give the government powers to deport foreign national offenders and ban them from returning to the U.K. It will apply to all foreigners, including those from EU countries after Brexit.
In line with the Conservative Party electoral manifesto, Johnson’s legislative program includes a bill enshrining into law his commitment to increase funding for the National Health Service by £33.9 billion by 2023-24 and speeding up the reforms outlined in the NHS 10-Year Plan, published by Theresa May in January.
A separate bill will seek to accelerate the introduction of new medicines in the NHS by removing bureaucracy for the “lowest risk clinical trials” and giving the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate powers to regulate developments such as the use of artificial intelligence in treatments.
The government will also establish a new agency aimed to investigate NHS patient safety incidents through a separate law, and seek cross-party consensus on proposals to address the social care crisis, worsened by an aging population.
The government will introduce legally-binding targets to protect the environment and tackle pollution, and create a new watchdog agency called the Office for Environmental Protection. These targets will include one to reduce fine particulate matter, considered the most damaging air pollutant to human health.
Under this legislation, the government will have powers to mandate recalls of vehicles when they do not meet legal emission standards.
The government will mandate net gains for biodiversity in construction projects; ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries; introduce charges for several plastic items designed to be used just once; and ask water companies to work together to meet demand for water and improve management of water resources.
Workers’ rights after Brexit will be protected by a new enforcement agency, created under a bill that will also encourage flexible working, ensure tips left for workers go to them in full, and introduce a new right for all workers to request a more predictable contract in a bid to combat the uncertainty associated with the gig economy.
A new duty of care on companies will aim to prevent the spread of online content that could damage children or promote terrorism, under a new law designed to prevent safety online. However, businesses will not face penalties for failing to tackle unacceptable content.
The government said it would uphold freedom of expression and ensure these protections are implemented in a proportionate way. Ahead of the introduction of this bill in parliament, the government will publish interim codes of practice on tackling the use of the internet by terrorists and those involved in child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Further legislations will seek to increase protections for renters and improve animal welfare. Ministers will also seek to ensure terrorist offenders stay in prison for longer.
The government did not include a specific bill to strengthen the union of the four U.K. nations. But it said it wants to take steps to protect the union by rejecting calls for a second referendum on the independence of Scotland; returning powers from the EU to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and creating a new fund to replace the EU Structural Funds for regional economic development after Brexit.
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