Queen’s Speech: Integrity of UK of ‘utmost importance’

As Boris Johnson's government lays out its legislative agenda, it dismisses a 2020 indyref as a 'damaging distraction'.

Queen's Speech: 'Radical' legislative plans unveiled.
Queen's Speech: 'Radical' legislative plans unveiled.

The Queen has said the “integrity and prosperity” of the UK is of the “utmost importance to my government” as she outlined the legislative agenda of Boris Johnson’s new administration.

Government papers describe a second independence vote next year as a “damaging distraction” which would “undermine the decisive result of the 2014 referendum”.

It comes after Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she has formally requested the powers from Westminster to hold a new referendum in 2020 as she set out the “clear democratic case” for Johnson to do so in a speech from her official residence of Bute House.

The Prime Minister is expected to refuse the request, while on Thursday he set out his “radical” plans for this session of the House of Commons – including pushing his Brexit deal through parliament.

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The key Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) – which implements the PM’s Brexit deal – will rule out any extension to the so-called transition period.

Also known as the implementation period, it keeps the UK in a standstill arrangement with the EU until the end of 2020, even though under the PM’s deal, Brexit will legally happen at the end of next month.

Critics have warned this once again raises the spectre of a no-deal “cliff-edge” if the UK cannot reach a trade agreement with Brussels by the close of next year.

Of the 25 Bills detailed in Johnson’s Queen’s Speech – his second in less than three months – seven are devoted to Britain’s departure from the EU, with legislation on trade, agriculture, fisheries, immigration, financial services and private international law.

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UK ministers also set out their proposals to defend the union, saying the return of powers from the EU with Brexit will result in a “significant increase in the decision-making powers” of the Scottish Parliament.

They say they will introduce a “bold new UK shared prosperity fund” for all four home nations to replace EU structural funding, and they are actively considering recommendations to “strengthen the union” from a report by Lord Dunlop.

The government plans to implement a “transformational” deal for the North Sea oil and gas sector and review alcohol duty to protect Scotch whisky, adding: “We want 2020 to be a year of opportunity, growth and unity for Scotland, not of further division.

“As such, a second independence referendum next year would be a damaging distraction.

“It would undermine the decisive result of the 2014 referendum and the promise made to the Scottish people that it was a once-in-a-generation vote.”

The UK Government also wants invest in the NHS and “toughen up” criminal justice in England, and UK-wide also plans to review defence and foreign policy and set up a new commission to look at the British constitution.

It comes after the Conservative general election manifesto pledged to look at the “relationship between the government, parliament and the courts”, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to rule as illegal Johnson’s attempted prorogation of parliament in September.

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In a written introduction to the speech, the Prime Minister said: “Last week’s seismic election not only changed the political landscape, it has broken the parliamentary deadlock of the last three years and allowed the country to go forward.

“Millions of people, many of them who have never voted Conservative before, put their faith in this government and voted overwhelmingly for us to move this country on and deliver change.

“We have no time to waste, and we begin immediately with the most radical Queen’s Speech in a generation to deliver on the priorities of the British people.”

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