Queen's Speech 2017

Blast off for Brexit in a pragmatic and conservative legislative programme

Following this week’s Queen’s Speech, Freshwater’s public affairs team analyses why the announcement was light on policy and the impact it could have on transport, infrastructure and construction.

The prime minister would have been hoping that this week’s Queen’s Speech was to be the crowning glory of a comprehensive electoral victory; an application of a powerful public mandate to shape the country - and form of Brexit - according to her manifesto for government.

But, as the frosty walk to the House of Lords between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn can attest, this Queen’s Speech will instead be remembered for the highly uncertain political landscape that we find ourselves in after the general election. Still trying to come to terms with the DUP on a ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement to ensure Theresa May has a majority of parliamentary support on key votes, and with Brexit negotiations already underway, this was a slimmed-down and highly pragmatic legislative programme for the next two years.

The bulk of the announcements made in the speech involved Brexit-related Bills which will aim to “ensure a smooth and orderly withdrawal from the EU”. These include a ‘Repeal Bill’, which seeks to repeal the European Communities Act 1972 and efficiently convert applicable EU law onto the UK statute book, while also providing powers for the government to make substantial primary legislative changes alongside ‘minor’, detailed amendments through delegated legislation. In effect, this could allow the government to add or remove laws from the statute book without significant parliamentary scrutiny and may raise eyebrows in certain quarters. We should expect the Repeal Bill to appear in the first half of July.

Infrastructure and transport did not garner much attention in the speech, although the inclusion of a Space Industry Bill will have surprised many, given other higher profile policies have fallen by the wayside. The government, however, seems to have identified the development of spaceport infrastructure to enable the launch of satellites and commercial space flights as an area where the UK can develop a competitive advantage.

As expected, a Bill allowing for the construction of HS2 phase 2a is to be introduced to promote the delivery and operation of one section - linking Birmingham and Crewe - of the full planned ‘Y route’ between Leeds and Manchester and Birmingham. Meanwhile, a focus on housing doesn’t appear to go far enough to tackle systemic problems around lack of availability and its affordability.

The speech committed the government to investing an extra half a billion pounds in England’s technical education system, including the introduction of 15 technical education routes (within which sit “T-levels”) based on standards designed by employers and grouping together occupations where there are shared training requirements. This seeks to plug the long-established ‘skills gap’ in many manufacturing industries.

Before rushing to Royal Ascot, the Queen finished by saying that “other measures will be laid before you”. To provide business, industry and the general public a greater measure of medium-term certainty, we can only hope this comes sooner rather than later.

CLICK HERE for a summary of the relevant areas of the Queen’s Speech in transport, infrastructure and construction.

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