Legislation to bring freedom of movement to an end after Brexit is among the measures in a 28-bill Queen’s Speech set out by government yesterday.
Ministers vowed to axe the key EU principle in favour of a “fair, modern and global immigration system” as the Queen unveiled a new immigration and social security coordination (EU withdrawal) bill.
The pledge came as part of the State Opening of parliament, which saw the government spell out plans for 28 bills, including a heavy focus on law and order.
The new immigration bill will make EU citizens who arrive in the UK after January 2021 subject to the same controls as those from the rest of the world, with ministers saying it would allow for a “single global immigration system based on people’s skills” to come into force.
The bill will also confirm that Irish citizens “will generally not require leave to enter or remain in the UK” once freedom of movement comes to an end.
And it will hand the UK government powers to set post-Brexit rules on migrants’ access to benefits and public services “in the national interest”.
The Queen’s Speech – which came ahead of a widely-expected general election later this year – also featured a raft of justice policies, with a major sentencing shake-up and plans to boost protections for police officers featuring prominently.
A new sentencing bill will, government said, ensure “serious violent and sexual offenders who receive custodial sentences will spend more of their sentence in prison and are properly rehabilitated”.
Under the plans, those serving sentences of four years or more for serious violent or sexual offences will not be eligible for release until they have served at least two-thirds of their sentence – a sharp increase on the current rules which mean such offenders can be released after half a sentence has been served.
A separate sentencing bill will bring in a new device called a “clean sweep”, which will let judges apply the new code to all sentencing decisions – even where an offence took place in the past.
The Queen’s Speech meanwhile saw a fresh pledge to ensure the legal system “recognises the pain to victims and their families” caused by offenders who fail to provide information about their crimes. A new prisoners (disclosure of information about victims) bill will force the Parole Board to take into account whether offenders convicted of murder, manslaughter or taking indecent photos of children have caused “additional distress” to victims by withholding key information.
A new police protections bill promises to acknowledge the “bravery, commitment and sacrifices of police officers” by bringing in a new “police covenant”, mirroring a series of protections afforded to members of the armed forces.
Under the bill, the Home Office would be expected to set out a report every year detailing what it is doing to enforce the new covenant, which comes in the wake of the high profile killing of on-duty officer Andrew Harper earlier this year.
Special constables – who are generally unpaid – will also be allowed to join the Police Federation, effectively the officers’ union, for the first time, in a move ministers said would bolster the legal help available to them in disciplinary cases.
Legislation plan in full
There are 22 bills listed in the Queen’s Speech itself, with several more in the accompanying documents, divided into seven categories:
- Delivering Brexit
- Supporting the NHS
- Tackling violent crime and strengthening the justice system
- Ensuring fairness and protection for individuals and families
- Levelling up opportunity through better infrastructure, education and science
- Protecting the environment and improving animal welfare
- Other legislative and non-legislative measures
In his introduction, Boris Johnson said the legislative programme "delivers on my promise as prime minister to get this amazing country of ours moving again".
He claimed people are “tired of the statis, gridlock and waiting for change”, and that he is “going to get the gears on our national gearbox working again”.
Repeating his themes of delivering Brexit, investing in schools, improving hospital and recruiting more police officers, he added: “This is a programme that will set out our country on a new, upwards trajectory.
“At its heart is a new vision for Britain. A vision of a country happy and confident about its future. A vision of the country that we love.”
Here are the key elements of the Queen’s Speech:
The main focus is the European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill, the vehicle by which a Brexit deal with Brussels is turned into law, including arrangements for EU citizens’ rights, a protocol for Northern Ireland and a transition period.
The government will also table legislation to deal with farming, fishing, trade, immigration and financial services once we leave the EU.
The agriculture bill will put in place a seven-year transition period to “gradually reduce direct payments” to farmers, but also create new payment schemes for "public goods including environmental protection, access to the countryside, and work to reduce flooding”.
The fisheries bill will replace the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, the immigration bill will “bring an end to free movement in UK law” and allow for a new points-based system from January 2021, and the financial services bill will “simplify the process which allows overseas investment to be sold in the UK”.
The government will build on September’s Health Infrastructure Plan to build 40 new hospitals, with a £33.9bn a year increase in NHS spending by 2023-24.
They will also set up the “world’s first independent body to investigate patient safety concerns” and put forward a medicines and medical devices bill to “make it simpler for NHS hospitals to manufacture and trial the most innovative medicines and diagnostic devices”.
There is also a commitment to do more for adult social care and mental health reform, but no concrete legislation on the issue.
Law and order
With seven bills relating to criminal justice, this is the biggest focus of the speech apart from Brexit, with the main legislation on sentencing to change the “automatic release point from halfway to the two-thirds point” for the most serious offences.
There is also a bill to impose tougher sentences on foreign offenders who return to the UK in breach of a deportation order, a bill to help tackle serious violence, and better protection for victims.
There are also changes to the parole system and new legislation to “recognise the bravery, commitment and sacrifices of police officers” and establish a police covenant.
Finally, the extradition (provisional arrest) bill will allow officers to arrest the subject of an Interpol Red notice, wanted for a serious crime in another country, without having to apply to a court for a warrant first.
The police say this could be used to plug the gap if the UK is unable to use the European Arrest Warrant once it leaves the EU.
Boris Johnson has committed to carrying over the work done by his predecessor Theresa May in establishing a domestic abuse bill, which creates statutory definitions of not just physical abuse, but emotional, coercive, controlling and economic abuse.
A separate bill will allow for “no-fault” divorces, while legislation about the allocation of tips aims to stop employers from making deductions to gratuities and passing on service charges to staff.
There is a commitment to tackling online harms and introducing measures to reform employment law, as well as a pension schemes bill to simplify the operation ad oversight of savings schemes.
Not included in the speech but announced alongside it is the Windrush compensation scheme (expenditure) bill, which sets out a baseline cost of “approximately £200m” with around 15,000 eligible claimants.
Levelling up opportunity
A new telecommunications infrastructure (leasehold property) bill will lay the groundwork to “roll out gigabit capable broadband across the UK”, as well as funding to connect the hardest to reach 20% of the country.
Despite reports that the government would scrap the rail franchise system, there is no legislation in the speech on the issue, but a commitment to publish a White Paper on the Williams Rail Review later this autumn.
There are also two pieces of legislation on aviation reacting to recent issues: one to deal with unmanned aircraft in airport airspace after drones shut down Gatwick in December; and another to help get passengers home more quickly if an airline goes bust, after the collapse of Thomas Cook forced the government to help bring 150,000 holidaymakers home last month.
There will also be a white paper on English devolution, and new plans on supporting science and space technology, including a revised funding framework for research and development and the creation of a new cabinet-level National Space Council
Protecting the environment
A new environment bill will set targets for emissions and help tackle air pollution and secure water resources, as well as “implementing mandatory biodiversity protections into the planning system”. It will set out the creation of a new Office for Environmental Protection and introduce charges for some single-use plastic items, building on the plastic bag fee, and the creation of .
Elsewhere there are a raft of animal welfare measures, increasing the maximum sentences for animal cruelty, legally defining animals as sentient, introducing welfare improvements for transporting livestock, and a consultation on banning the import and export of trophies from hunting endangered species.
Other legislative measures
Voters will have to show ID to cast their ballots under new legislation, which will also aim to tackle postal and proxy ballot fraud, as well as helping improve access to disabled voters.
There is a also a Birmingham Commonwealth Games bill to assist the city in its bid for the 2022 event, and a historical institutional abuse (Northern Ireland) bill to provide victims a form of redress and access to compensation.
Other non-legislative measures
There is a pledge to review the fiscal framework ahead of next months’ budget, and a commitment to the“upholding the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom”.
The government is pledging to restore the power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, as well as the 2% of GDP spending commitment to NATO. It is also committing to the establishment of the Office for Veterans’ Affairs..
The speech also sets out the UK will “continue to play a leading role globally”, on security, international development and climate change.
The full list of bills read out by Her Majesty was as follows:
1. European Union (withdrawal agreement) bill
2. Agriculture bill
3. Fisheries bill
4. Trade bill
5. Immigration and social security co-ordination (EU wWithdrawal) bill
6. Financial services bill
7. Private international law (implementation of agreements) bill
8. Health service safety investigations bill
9. Sentencing bill
10. Foreign national offenders bill
11. Prisoners (disclosure of information about victims) bill
12. Serious violence bill
13. Police protections bill
14. Extradition (provisional arrest) bill
15. Domestic abuse bill
16. Divorce, dissolution and separation bill
17. Employment (allocation of tips) bill
18. Pension schemes bill
19. Telecommunications infrastructure (leasehold property) bill
20. Air traffic management and unmanned aircraft bill
21. Environment bill
22. Animal welfare (sentencing) bill
Here are those not in the speech but in the supporting documents:
Medicines and medical devices bill
Sentencing (pre-consolidation amendments) bill
Windrush compensation scheme (expenditure) bill
High Speed Rail 2 (West Midlands – Crewe) bill
Birmingham Commonwealth Games bill
Historical institutional abuse (Northern Ireland) bill