Next Monday at 11.30am, Her Majesty the Queen will make the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords. Normally a Queen’s Speech follows an election, and allows a new government to set out its policy priorities.
This time however, the Queen’s Speech is taking place before an election has taken place. From memory, we have not had an election in Oxford during the winter for 14 years, not since the Jericho and Osney ward by-election – but we now appear set for a general election during November or early December.
It is difficult to predict what the Government will announce, through Her Majesty, next Monday. The Conservative Party conference suggested additional spending on hospitals, education and policing. However, a number of these announcements quickly ‘unravelled’, and appear to be focused on the short-term. Above all, it is likely that the Queen’s Speech will be similar to a party manifesto, setting out the Conservatives’ stall for the next general election, rather than a detailed policy programme.
All of this occurs at the same time as court cases have been taken against the Government’s determination to keep a ‘no deal’ Brexit on the table. It remains unclear whether the Government will try, despite legal judgements, to push ahead with ‘no deal’, or extend the deadline for leaving the EU further.
It is no surprise that in the midst of these machinations, my constituents have been contacting me in droves to express their frustration. Many are concerned about the prospect of a No Deal Brexit, whether this be due to concern over the availability of medicines, the impact on local universities or firms like BMW Cowley, or the impact on our EU residents.
Others feel that the prolonged arguments over Brexit are stopping consideration of other pressing issues, from social care to the environment. Indeed, a number of my constituents have been involved in the Extinction Rebellion protests in London this week – to ask why urgent action is not being taken to deal with the climate crisis.
Sadly, a ‘no deal’ Brexit will not clear the way for action to finally be taken on other policy areas. Instead it will cause years of wrangling, as our Government would have to agree on a new trade deal with the EU, and seek to conclude deals with other countries. Such trade deals could be highly contentious, not least given that the US has made clear its intention to seek market access to the NHS and to reduce environmental and food quality standards.
A ‘no deal’ would also prove highly disruptive for our city, given local businesses’, Universities and hospitals’ international connections. I have been impressed to see how local authorities, police, fire and NHS services are working together to ensure that any severe disruption from a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be minimised, and vulnerable people protected. But ultimately, this work should never have been necessary in the first place – and ‘no deal’ really must be taken off the negotiating table, once and for all.