Britain’s May forced to drop key pledges in Queen's Speech

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[Not looking good for May. See also: Theresa May faces calls to soften Brexit as political limbo drags on. *RON*]

Paul Waldie, Globe and Mail, 21 June 2017

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is pictured on June 21, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Niklas Halle'n/GETTY IMAGES)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May is pictured on June 21, 2017 in London, United Kingdom. (Niklas Halle'n/GETTY IMAGES)
British Prime Minister Theresa May has been forced to drop a host of election promises and delay a state visit by U.S. President Donald Trump as she struggles to form a government amid increasing doubts about her tenure.

Ms. May is still reeling from a botched election campaign that was supposed to deliver her Conservatives a landslide but instead left the party short of a majority in the House of Commons. She’s been trying to cobble together a majority with the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party but so far no deal has been reached, and the DUP, which won 10 seats, has described the effort as chaotic. And as the country grapples with a string of terrorist attacks and last week’s deadly fire in a social-housing complex, Ms. May is facing growing anger over her lack of leadership.

On Wednesday, Ms. May pressed on, striking a conciliatory tone as she laid out the government’s agenda in the Queen’s Speech to open Parliament. The event was without its usual pomp, reflecting the precariousness of the May government and a delay in reconvening Parliament because of the fire. The Queen arrived by car, instead of a carriage, and didn’t wear her robes or crown. She was also accompanied by her son, the Prince of Wales, instead of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. The 96-year-old Prince Philip had been sent to hospital as a precautionary measure because of an infection.

“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent,” Ms. May said in a statement introducing the Queen’s Speech. “First, we need to get Brexit right. That means getting a deal which delivers the result of last year’s referendum and does so in a way that commands maximum public support.”

The program outlined in the speech concentrated largely on Brexit, laying out a series of steps the government will take to pull Britain out of the European Union and then negotiate a trade deal. But Ms. May had to leave out many of the promises her party made during the election campaign which proved unpopular, including proposed changes to some social benefits, education reforms and plans to allow MPs to vote on whether to allow fox hunting. There was also no mention of a state visit by Mr. Trump, which had been hailed by Ms. May just a few months ago as an indication of the strong relationship between the United States and Britain.

Ms. May could have trouble on Brexit, too. Opponents to her “hard Brexit” approach have been emboldened by the election and have begun to push to keep Britain inside the EU’s single market, which allows for the free flow of goods, services and people. Business groups have also been calling for a softer line on Brexit.

On Wednesday, Ms. May also acknowledged that the Scottish legislature may have to give consent to some Brexit measures including the Repeal Bill, which will revoke the application of all EU laws in the U.K. That’s a change in tone from before the election when she made it clear the British government would act alone. It’s also a potential hurdle for Brexit since Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and the legislature is controlled by the Scottish National Party, which opposes Brexit.

In a reflection of the Prime Minister’s weakened position, the opposition parties signalled their intention to try to bring down the government soon and hundreds of demonstrators marched across London demanding Ms. May resign. The protesters started at Grenfell Tower, the social-housing complex in West London that went up in flames last week, killing at least 79 people. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the number of deaths has prompted a fierce debate about class, race and income inequality in Britain.

Ms. May has also been sharply criticized for her handling of the response to the fire and she has scrambled to put together a compensation package. On Wednesday, she told the House of Commons that the initial response was “not good enough.”

“As Prime Minister, I apologize for that failure – and as Prime Minister, I’ve taken responsibility for doing what we can to put things right,” she said.

That did little to ease the concerns of protesters such as Jay Davis.

“This incident that has happened at Grenfell has actually shown that people are feeling so strong,” said Mr. Davis, a music tutor, as he stood outside Westminster Palace with the demonstrators. He came to the protest after seeing a picture of a young girl who died in the fire. “That got me. She looked like a little angel but I know she was in the building and she was burned to death. That’s why I’m here,” he said. “At the end of the day, there are serious questions that need to be answered and they are not being answered.”

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn dismissed the government’s agenda as threadbare and said Ms. May had “run out of ideas.” He touted Labour’s success in the election, which saw it gain 30 seats, and indicated the party will move to topple the government. “We are a government in waiting with a policy program that enthused and engaged millions of people in this election,” he said.

Ms. May now has to wait and see if her government survives. The House of Commons will vote on the Queen’s Speech next week and if the Conservatives lose the vote, the Queen could ask Mr. Corbyn to try to form a government or there could be another election.

However, the DUP has indicated that despite the failure to come to an agreement with the Conservatives, the party’s MPs will vote in favour of the speech. Ms. May’s Tory colleagues have also expressed an unwillingness to push her out and seek a new leader, fearing the instability would hurt the party and damage Brexit talks with the EU which began this week. All of this means that Ms. May will likely hang on as Prime Minister, for now.


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