Top 3 Developments
- The Queen’s Speech took place yesterday, outlining the legislative programme of the new Conservative Government.
- The Government brings forward the Withdrawal Agreement today, to secure the UK’s exit from the European Union on 31st January.
- The Labour Party is undergoing internal restructuring following the election defeat, with many calling for an immediate leadership contest.
General Election Update
Twitter no longer the only thing to have 140 characters
As the 140 new MPs made their way to Westminster on Monday morning, they entered a Parliament that promised to be radically different than that of old. Upon his election victory last week, Boris Johnson gave his victory speech with ‘People’s Parliament’ emblazoned on the podium, and exclaimed how this new Parliament would work better for those who had ‘lent’ their votes to the Conservatives for this election. The Prime Minister’s core message was that the Party must prove to these voters that the Party does reflect their interests and that they did not make the wrong decision… which is another way of saying that he wants to make sure they vote for him again in 2024.
There is no doubt that the Conservatives will have to operate differently now they have experienced success amongst a new part of the electorate. Directing the UK to become a free-trading, low taxing ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ may not appeal to the Workington Man, and as such the Conservatives will now need to focus their attention on being strong on public services and infrastructure outside of London. However, it was interesting that the European Research Group, the thorn in the side of Theresa May’s premiership, posted a picture of its new members on Wednesday showing that the group’s membership has grown in this election. Perhaps an indication that the Party might not change as radically as promised.
One of the first things in Johnson’s in-tray as he entered his second term as Prime Minister was to fill the vacancies left at the Wales Office, DCMS and DEFRA after the election. Simon Hart was made Welsh Secretary, but the PM’s decisions at the other vacancies were very notable, and surely a sign of things to come. Instead of replacing Nicky Morgan and Zac Goldsmith, he instead elected to make them both peers in the House of Lords and restored them to their original positions. This gave weight to the reports circulating that Johnson is planning a major Cabinet reshuffle in February, and a total overhaul of Whitehall.
Reports include that a new super-business Department will be created that will absorb the Department for International Trade and will become the focal point for free trade negotiations. Another is that the environment will once again be given its own department and a brand-new department to focus on tech, AI and broadband. The thinking about Johnson’s decision to retain Morgan and Goldsmith is that he was reluctant to make new appointments if their Departments are going to be restructured in a couple of months anyway.
These changes promise could completely revolutionise Whitehall, but new Departments are often lack effectiveness and efficiency while they get off the ground. Johnson needs to prove himself in the short-term, so he will need to be wary of such extensive organisational change getting in the way of his broad agenda to prove to Workington Man that he was the right choice as PM.
Bills, Bills, Bills
Whilst the last Queen’s Speech was only two months ago, a second has taken place setting out the legislative programme of the new Conservative majority government. The Government’s legislative programme sets out a priority to ‘get Brexit done’ by January 31st 2020 and maximising the opportunities granted by Brexit.
As part of the Prime Minister’s desire to reflect on the priorities of the general public who ‘lent him’ their vote last Thursday, the Queen’s Speech focuses on boosting investment in public services, particularly the NHS, and infrastructure, especially in the North. There was also a strong emphasis on supporting workers, families and the environment – policies that the opposition parties have led the agenda on – as well as restoring the Conservatives as the party of law and order. This is the beginning of the Conservative Party attempting to represent voters from both the former Labour heartland seats it won at the election and their more traditional voters from the southern ‘shires’.
Labour have responded that there was nothing new in the Queen’s Speech for public services and it was a speech that lacked ‘ambition on regional investment and infrastructure’.
The Blair Which [Leader You Should Vote For] Project
The Labour Party suffered their worst defeat since 1935 during last week’s General Election, losing 57 seats and winning only 203 seats in total. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn has confirmed that he will not lead the party in another election, he has stated that he will not stand down straight away and will first lead a ‘period of reflection’ after Labour’s significant defeat to the Conservatives. However, it is unclear how productive this period of reflection will be as the Party itself is divided over where the election blame lies, with several MPs and party members blaming Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership whilst Corbyn supporters have blamed Brexit.
Corbyn has fuelled anger within the Parliamentary Labour Party by suggesting that his radical policies were not to blame, but rather the climate of Brexit. His statement that Labour “won the argument” and that “there is no doubt that [Labour’s] policies are popular” has led to many MPs believing that Corbyn shows a fundamental lack of awareness and understanding that is necessary in a leader. Many are now calling for Corbyn to step down immediately to give Labour time to recover and rebuild itself.
Former leader, and Prime Minister, Tony Blair has weighed in on the position of the Labour Party, arguing that currently the party is on ‘fantasy island’ and that they need more than a change of a leader to become a strong opposition against the current Conservative Government. There are numerous calls for Labour to consider what the public would want from their Government and recognise the mistakes that were made in this year’s election campaign and move away from the far left.
Labour MPs are already announcing their plans to run in the leadership contest. Calls appear to be for a non-London leader, as there is concern that the Party has become too London-centric, resulting in the loss of Labour heartland seats to the Conservatives. Key runners and riders include Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips, Rebecca Long-Baily, Emily Thornberry, Yvette Cooper, Angela Rayner and Kier Starmer.
The first step for the Prime Minister on his road to getting Brexit done, is to reintroduce the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to Parliament to ensure the departure of the UK from the European Union on 31st January. With every Conservative candidate having pledged to support the bill, and a large parliamentary majority – this should be passed uneventfully.
Following this, there will be an implementation period to give businesses and citizens time to prepare before it ends on 31 December 2020. This period will also provide the Prime Minister with an opportunity secure a trade agreement with the EU. However, Johnson does have the option to extend this deadline for up to two years, if the request is made by July 1st, 2020. However, he has also made it clear the government is not interested in making any extension request and has stated his determination for a Free Trade Agreement. If there is no extension, the UK will exit the EU in January 2021 with an agreed deal or on WTO terms.
It was also announced in the Queen’s Speech that the Government would introduce an Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to bring an end to free movement in UK law and introduce a points-based immigration system, which will be based on people’s skills and ‘contributions to the UK economy’. Furthermore, the Government will bring forward a bill to implement international agreements to ensure the UK continues to have effective legal rules with other countries.
In what will be a popular move with many leave voters, the Government will also push forward a Fisheries Bill, to provide a legal framework for the UK to operate as ‘an independent coastal state’ after Brexit. Additionally, Johnson will introduce an Agriculture Bill to remove the UK from what many farmers see as an overly bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy.
Down down down and out
Jo Swinson set out on the electoral campaign pitching her candidacy for Prime Minister. Now, only a few weeks later, the party has lost all but 11 seats, she lost her East Dunbartonshire constituency to the SNP (much to the joy of Nicola Sturgeon) and has formally quit as Liberal Democrat leader. Furthermore, every MP that defected to the Lib Dems from both Labour and Conservatives before the election also lost their seats. While the defeat wasn’t as severe as that of 2015, when the party was reduced to eight seats from 57, it is certainly a disappointing result for a party which was attempting to represent all remain voters.
The Lib Dem stance on Brexit was certainly clear, however, their promise to revoke article 50 without a second referendum and effectively ‘cancel Brexit’ was unpopular with great swathes of the electorate who saw it as undemocratic. However, Sir Ed Davey, who is currently leading the party with Baroness Brinton, and is tipped as the next leader of the party, has argued that history will prove them right in terms of Brexit.
Despite the overall loss of one seat in the Commons, it is also worth assessing the change in vote share. Nationwide, the Lib Dems received a 4.2% vote share increase from 2017 up to 11.5%. As pointed out by the Electoral Reform Society, this saw them receive only 11 seats under First Past the Post (FPTP) compared to 70 seats if the UK used a more proportional system such as the d’Hondt formula. Therefore, whilst the Liberal Democrats will see this as a poor electoral performance, it should be recognised that did see an increase in popularity across the country.
Only time will tell how the Lib Dems representation in the House of Commons will recover. However, as a senior Lib Dem figure said… ‘We’re the Lib Dems, we’re used to having to pick ourselves up and rebuild after disasters. It’s what we do.’
Johnson seeks a von der-ful trade deal
The new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen confirmed on Tuesday that the UK and EU have agreed to get the ball rolling on trade talks for the future relationship. Speaking to Boris Johnson on the phone, von der Leyen affirmed that the UK would almost remain a ‘friend, partner and ally’ and agreed to work towards reaching a deal by the current deadline of 31st December 2020.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson is truly intent on pursuing a no-deal if a trade agreement cannot be secured. He managed to get away with not honouring the 31st October Brexit deadline without so much of a scrape – despite his ‘do or die’ pledge – showing a political elusiveness not seen since ‘Teflon’ Tony Blair. For Johnson, the prize of an ambitious free trade agreement with the EU is surely more appealing than honouring an arbitrary deadline which only the purest Brexiteers are dead set on. Setting this deadline will certainly focus minds however, and it may lead to a deal being negotiated far quicker than other EU trade deals have in the past, which generally drag on for years. This time next year we will know how successful this tactic has been.
Upcoming Key Dates
- 31st January 2020: Brexit Deadline
- 31st December 2020: End of the transition period
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