The King’s Speech 2023 – the historic speech unlikely to make history
November 7, 2023
With today’s State Opening of Parliament, the Government sets out its legislative agenda for the next parliamentary term, the last one before the next election.
“With this historic King’s Speech, we are rising to that challenge,” says the Prime Minister in his introduction. If today’s speech, the first King’s Speech in over 70 years, marks a historic moment, one can’t say the same about the legislative proposals in the 21 bills (of which six carried-over bills from the previous legislation).
Unsurprisingly, the Speech steers away from any structural, and therefore divisive, reforms that can expose any fractures within the Conservative party, such as planning reform or levelling up. Instead, the government has chosen to reiterate its support for measures that have been signalled by focus groups and the party’s polling as close to Conservative voters such as getting tough on crime and growth – remember Rishi Sunak’s priorities?
What the Government wants the electorate to remember
Its commitment to home-grown energy as part of the “pragmatic and realistic approach to net zero”. The Prime Minister has decided that the best way to win back the 2019 Conservative voters cohort (23% of voters who don’t know what they will do at the general election, according to YouGov) is to backtrack on previous commitments on climate change. The Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill will require the North Sea Transition Authority to grant new licences for oil and gas extraction.
As many commentators have flagged, this is an immediate election dividing line with the Labour Party which has ruled out supporting these measures. It is also a political gamble because it can alienate another significant chunk of the Conservative voters who are supportive of climate change policies. It’s a gamble also because most of the recent planning permissions granted in relation to shale gas, oil or coal explorations, or extractions, have been challenged in court, with some positive outcomes for the environmental charities and local communities opposing them.
A noticeable omission
As expected, the Government has decided to shelve plans to overhaul the UK’s audit and corporate governance regimes. The proposals include replacing the Financial Reporting Council, the accounting watchdog, with the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, a more powerful regulator.
Important announcements only campaigners (and Big Tech) will care about
- These include the Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill, amending the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, and the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, aimed at maximising post-Brexit freedoms to boost the economy and unleash innovation.
- The Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Bill could unleash another battle with Big Tech because it could give ministers new powers to block multinational tech companies from rolling out things like end-to-end encryption on messaging apps. In July, Apple announced that it would remove services such as FaceTime and iMessage from the UK rather than weaken online security, with obvious economic impact.
- The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill has the potential of jeopardising the ‘adequacy deal’ with the EU to allow data to flow freely across borders, which again has an obvious impact on the UK economy.
Issues that have the potential to influence party politics and the General Election’s outcome
The Speech highlights that the Government, “will deliver on the Illegal Migration Act passed earlier this year and on international agreements, to stop dangerous and illegal Channel crossings and ensure it is the government, not criminal gangs, who decides who comes to this country.”
This is far from being in the hands of the Government or Parliament. The outcome will be decided by the Supreme Court when it rules on the legality of the Rwanda deportation programme. The ruling is expected in December.
As we noted before, if the government loses, Sunak will be forced to take a stand on whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which will almost certainly create concerns amongst the moderates and a new divisive line within the party.
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