Brexit plans centre stage in Queen’s Speech


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The Queen will outline the government’s plans at the State Opening of Parliament

Measures to help the UK prosper after Brexit are to be set out in the Queen’s Speech, the government has said.

Plans to end the free movement of EU citizens into the UK and provide faster access to medicines will be unveiled.

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 UK is due to leave the EU at 23:00 GMT on 31 October and the European leaders’ summit next Thursday and Friday is being seen as the last chance to agree any deal before that deadline.

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg appealed to Eurosceptic MPs to back Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit deal by writing in the Sunday Telegraph that “compromise will inevitably be needed”.

Downing Street says the prime minister will update his cabinet on the progress of the talks in Brussels later on Sunday, starting the “preparations for a final, critical EU council where it is hoped a deal can be reached”.

‘Optimistic and ambitious’

The first Queen’s Speech of Mr Johnson’s premiership, delivered during the State Opening of Parliament on Monday, will see the government highlight its priorities.

Mr Johnson said: “Getting Brexit done by 31 October is absolutely crucial, and we are continuing to work on an exit deal so we can move on to negotiating a future relationship based on free trade and friendly co-operation with our European friends.

“But the people of this country don’t just want us to sort out Brexit… this optimistic and ambitious Queen’s Speech sets us on a course to make all that happen, and more besides.”

The government says the Queen’s Speech will outline 22 bills including some that will introduce measures to allow the UK to “seize the opportunities that Brexit presents”. Other proposals include:

  • An Immigration and Social Co-ordination Bill to end freedom of movement and bring in a points-based immigration system from 2021
  • Scrapping the rail franchise system – the contracting out of services introduced when the rail system was privatised in the 1990s
  • Plans for an NHS investigations body intended to improve patient safety and a pledge to update the Mental Health Act
  • An environment bill that will set legally binding targets to reduce plastics and cut air pollution

There are also proposals to tackle serious and violent crime, improve building standards, and increase investment in infrastructure and science.

But Labour has criticised the decision to hold a Queen’s Speech before any general election as a “stunt”.

Party leader Jeremy Corbyn told Sky News: “Having a Queen’s Speech and a State Opening of Parliament tomorrow is ludicrous. What we have got in effect is a party political broadcast from the steps of the throne.”

The government does not have a Commons majority but Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly is urging opposition MPs not to reject the Queen’s Speech – saying they should “put differences over Brexit aside and give Parliament the power to get our country moving forward”.

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Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar talked about a “pathway to a possible deal” after talks last week

Meanwhile, about a dozen British officials, including the UK’s EU adviser David Frost, are taking part in what has been described as “intense technical discussions” at the EU Commission in Brussels this weekend in an attempt to secure a new Brexit deal.

A Downing Street source said: “We’ve always wanted a deal. 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 October 31. We remain prepared to leave without a deal on October 31.”

BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley said although the government had been enthused by progress in recent days, the message from the Number 10 source was to not get “carried away”.

On Saturday, Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer also reiterated that Labour would take action through the courts if Mr Johnson does try to push through a no-deal Brexit. He said the PM must comply with the so-called Benn Act passed by MPs in September, which requires him to seek a further delay.

Timeline: What’s happening ahead of Brexit deadline?

Monday 14 October – The Commons is due to return, and the government will use the Queen’s Speech to set out its legislative agenda. The speech will then be debated by MPs throughout the week.

Thursday 17 October – Crucial two-day summit of EU leaders begins in Brussels. This is the last such meeting currently scheduled before the Brexit deadline.

Saturday 19 October – Special sitting of Parliament and the date by which the PM must ask the EU for another delay to Brexit under the Benn Act, if no Brexit deal has been approved by Parliament and they have not agreed to the UK leaving with no-deal.

Thursday 31 October – Date by which the UK is due to leave the EU, with or without a withdrawal agreement.

Mr Johnson this month came out with revised proposals on a Brexit deal to avoid concerns about hard border on the island of Ireland that were initially criticised by EU leaders.

But following talks between Mr Johnson and the Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday, Downing Street said the pair could “see a pathway to a possible deal”..

Neither the UK or EU are offering any detail on the apparent common ground that has been found on a solution to the Irish border.

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UK Europe adviser David Frost is involved in the talks this weekend

However, support from the Democratic Unionist Party MPs could be crucial in getting a deal through Parliament and its deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said Northern Ireland must stay in a “full UK customs union” after Brexit.

“One thing is sure – Northern Ireland must remain fully part of the UK customs union and Boris Johnson knows it very well,” he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

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