May softens tone on Brexit
Publish | 22 Jun 2017, 13:13
Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday promised to listen more closely to businesses' concerns about Britain leaving the European Union as she set out a Brexit-focused government programme, pared-back to reflect her weakened authority.
Chastened by an election which left her Conservative Party short of a majority in parliament and reopened debate on the nature of Britain's EU exit, May also sidelined reform on social care, education and corporate governance.
The two-year programme for government, known as the Queen's Speech, was prepared by ministers and read out by Queen Elizabeth in parliament at its formal opening ceremony.
The queen told lawmakers from both the upper and lower houses of parliament that the government is committed to building "the widest possible consensus" on Brexit, working with parliament, devolved administrations, business and others. "My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union," the queen said.
The traditionally ceremonial address, dominated by pageantry, was a crucial testing ground for May's ability to run the country during its most challenging period for generations.
Her authority has been badly damaged just as Britain begins Brexit negotiations. Four militant attacks have raised questions about her grip on national security, and the death of at least 79 people in a tower block fire has become a flashpoint for public anger at her party's record in government.
Lawmakers will have to approve the speech in a vote, expected next Thursday, that will be a de facto vote of confidence. Minority governments are a rare occurrence in British parliamentary politics where the electoral system usually produces a governing majority.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump's planned state visit to Britain later this year got no mention in Queen Elizabeth II's speech to parliament yesterday, raising doubts about whether it will go ahead.
The omission follows media reports that Trump no longer wants to come because of British public opposition to the visit, after a petition to cancel it received more than 1.8 million signatures.
It is customary for the monarch to list state visits in the annual speech, and Elizabeth did mention one such visit coming up next month by Spain's King Felipe and Queen Letizia.