Dear John

The Queen’s Speech this week set the tone for the Government's plans for new laws this year and - spoiler alert - we’re not very happy.

And it’s not just us the Government has upset this week. After falling foul of the law at home, they’re now edging closer to breaking international law by threatening to abandon the Northern Ireland Protocol - and our allies in Europe and the United States. 

So, without further ado, here’s your weekly dose of all things political. You’ll be thoroughly ready for the weekend by the end of it!

Royally stitched up

Tuesday saw the State Opening of Parliament with the Queen’s Speech this year delivered by Prince Charles. 

The Government packed in a startling amount of ominous proposals (38 bills in total), but not much sign of measures to tackle the biggest problems facing the British people. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the key legislation that the Bill promised and what was missed out:

Bonfire of rights 

As anticipated, the Queen’s Speech included a replacement for the Human Rights Act - a new British Bill of Rights, which might more accurately be termed the British Bonfire of Rights. 

Despite its name, this new law looks set to weaken the protections UK citizens currently enjoy with many fundamental rights set to be reclassified as privileges. The legislation promises to reduce the powers of the courts and protections offered to those suspected of criminal activity. Also expect to see attacks on individuals’ rights to challenge Government decisions in a court of law, and to see protections weakened for those who do mount a successful challenge. 

Déjà vu

Also making an appearance in the speech were a set of public order proposals that sounded surprisingly familiar. 

Protesters who use tactics such as locking themselves onto railings and who obstruct transport works or national infrastructure are set to face
harsh penalties including prison terms of up to twelve months. The Government will also seek to expand stop and search powers, despite the fact that it is not a particularly effective tactic and disproportionately targets ethnic minority individuals. 

These proposals have appeared before, and were introduced into the Lords while the despotic Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act was being debated. Because the proposals were introduced directly into the Lords, bypassing Commons approval, the Lords were able to reject them and prevent the Government from reintroducing them into the Bill.

So now they’re back. In a brand new bill of their own. Yay. 

Brexit bluster

Another Bill the Government is proudly touting is its
Brexit Freedoms Bill, which is likely just an excuse to bang on about Brexit.

The Bill aims to make it easier for the Government to repeal retained EU legislation - a nod to the supposed ‘freedoms’ that Brexit has granted us. But read between the lines and what this actually might mean is that the Government is planning to give itself new powers to make sweeping changes to existing legislation without consulting Parliament. 

As before, with the suite of anti-democratic legislation we witnessed in the last Parliamentary session, expect the Government to continue its authoritarian quest to consolidate power. 

Levelling up fantasy

Even though we’re still not sure what the phrase means, there’s more ‘levelling-up’ legislation coming. The new
Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill promises to give more power to local communities to have a say in what happens in their area, and pledges to monitor ‘levelling up’ progress by looking at a series of key benchmarks across employment, education and development, amongst other things. But with Bloomberg already monitoring this, why wait? 

Bloomberg’s analysts found that the government is failing on almost every possible ‘levelling-up’ metric with some previously improving parts of the country actually moving backwards. Regional inequalities have actually increased since Johnson became PM, and gulfs in terms of home affordability, salaries, overall wellbeing and total Government spending are simply getting worse. 

Workers wronged

Missing from the speech was the promise of an employment bill. This
hotly anticipated bill would have clamped down on workplace sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination, reducing longstanding workplace injustices. 

The Bill would also have made flexible working the default, assisted those on zero hours contracts by ensuring they are given proper notice of shift patterns and cancellations and would have empowered workers to seek redress for wrongs. 

Another broken promise, and another betrayal of ordinary people from this Government. 

Where’s the windfall?

The Government announced a new
Energy Bill, including some proposals aimed at improving long-term energy security. Unfortunately, they are proposing precisely nothing else to help people with their energy bills this year. 

At the end of last month, Rishi Sunak hinted at the possibility of a
windfall tax on energy companies, who have raked in massive profits as energy prices have risen dramatically. It’s something Boris Johnson is also hinting at too - but hints don’t keep the lights on. 

Some Government figures have
claimed that a windfall tax on energy companies would prevent them from investing in long-term sustainable energy, but this argument has been ripped apart by key figures in the corporate world including from energy companies themselves.

To get in touch with your MP to urge them to challenge the Government, you can use our quick and easy Hey MP tool

No Deal Brexit 2: Electric Boogaloo

With the deadly war in Ukraine showing no sign of abating, the last thing we need is fractures between major western powers who up to now have held a broadly united front. 

Enter Liz Truss. This week, it became increasingly apparent that wheels are in motion to
unilaterally rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol, dismantling the post-Brexit trading rules that have governed our relationship with the EU so far. 

There’s no point mincing our words here: reneging on our first post-Brexit trading agreement spells disaster for our international reputation and the collapse of the “oven-ready deal” could make the cost of living even worse if new tariffs are put on British businesses.

In its
annual report, the UK Trade and Business Commission proposed veterinary and standards solutions that could ease existing issues with the Protocol. We wish the Government would read this instead of going rogue. 

Pushed to the edge

On Monday came some more grim news about the cost of living crisis. 

A man in South West London started burning timber in his home as he wanted to avoid using his central heating, and accidentally set fire to his house in the process. The London Fire Brigade issued a subsequent warning to people who might be trying out risky methods of generating heat as an alternative to using their electricity or gas. 

People are being pushed to the edge, and the Government has no solution to offer. 

Austerity 2.0 

Reports that the Government is planning to cut one fifth of the civil service workforce - equal to around 90,000 full-time jobs - hit headlines this week. 

The Government’s new line is that they have to ‘cut the cost of Government to reduce the cost of living’. 

This has understandably sparked fury and consternation from the civil service. Unions have reacted angrily to the news, declaring the figure of 90,000 to have been
plucked ‘out of thin air’. The FDA Union has pointed out that cuts are likely to exacerbate the ongoing crisis in passport processing, and worsen the administrative capacity around healthcare and border control. 

Inevitably, Victorian workhouse overseer Jacob Rees-Mogg was
wheeled out to defend the plans, claiming that they do not amount to a return to austerity but are needed for “efficiency”. 

There’s efficiency, and there’s cutting to the bone - and this move looks far more like the latter. 

As you can see, it’s been a packed week. So, rest up, enjoy the weekend, and we’ll be in touch again next week with more (probably tumultuous) updates.

Best wishes,

Maheen Behrana

Senior Campaigns and Policy Officer, Best for Britain

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