In Depth

Why the Queen’s Speech has been delayed

Theresa May accused of leading ‘zombie government’ as she tries to postpone key Brexit vote

The Queen’s Speech will be delayed until Brexit has been delivered, Downing Street has confirmed, despite no sign of a breakthrough at Westminster to end the stalemate.

The set-piece speech outlining the government’s legislative agenda for the next year had been expected in June, but the prime minister has said the new parliamentary session will not begin until her EU withdrawal agreement has been ratified.

“That is part of the current Queen’s Speech cycle and we need to finish that work,” her spokesperson said.

He added that “no specific date” had been set for a new session, but it is unlikely to be before autumn.

There have been just five years since 1900 without a speech by the ruling monach: 2018, 2011, 1949, 1925 and 1915. The last Queen’s Speech was in June 2017, when an extended two-year parliamentary session was introduced in order to deal with Brexit.

If the speech is delayed until autumn it would break the previous post-war record of 295 sitting days set between 2010 and 2012, at the start of the coalition government.

“There are several reasons why May might shy away from a Queen’s speech,” says The Guardian, “but the most pressing is that she may not have the votes to get it through parliament given the opposition to her Brexit deal among hardline Conservative Eurosceptics, the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) and opposition parties”.

Katy Balls in The Spectator described a vote on the speech as “the maximum point of danger for the government in the coming months”.

“May is trying to avoid an attempt by Brexiteer Tories to vote down the speech and bury the withdrawal agreement,” says Metro. “If they were to succeed, it would likely accelerate the prime minister’s departure [while] a new session may also need a new negotiation for the Democratic Unionist Party to continue holding the Tories in power.”

Delay carries risks too, however. 

“The longer the present session goes on the less the government looks like a going concern and the longer the list of delayed decisions,” says The Times. “The fate of this year’s budget and the launch of a full spending review is already in question, not to mention important legislation such as the much-vaunted environment bill.”

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and former shadow leader of the Commons, last week said a refusal to bring forward a Queen’s Speech would be a “constitutional outrage”.

“There’s no point in a parliamentary session if we’ve not got anything to do. I never knew the real meaning of the word doldrums until this parliament,” he said.

Downing Street has “drawn up a list of second-tier legislation to justify extending the session beyond the original two-year deadline”, The Independent reports.

This is said to include bills to change the tax treatment of sporting testimonials and increase the maximum sentences for cases of animal cruelty.

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