Boris Johnson warned today that Britain must take short-term pain to boost the economy in the longer term as he unveiled a Queen’s Speech to “create jobs and spread opportunity” around the country.
In a speech delivered for the first time by the Prince of Wales, the government said its priority was to take a “responsible approach to the public finances” and committed itself to continue bringing down debt despite the cost of living crisis.
The speech has 38 bills including measures to implement the Conservative’s levelling-up strategy and remove swathes of EU law from the statute books as the government seeks to capitalise on new Brexit “freedoms”.
It will also for the first time introduce a British Bill of Rights that will enshrine freedom of speech in law while making it easier for judges to disregard rulings from the European Court of Human Rights.
In a foreword to the speech Johnson warned that there were no short-term fixes to the present financial crisis and played down expectations of a large government giveaway to ease the cost of living crisis.
“For every pound of taxpayer’s money we spend on reducing bills now, it is a pound we are not investing in bringing down bills and prices over the longer term,” he wrote. “And that if anything, this moment makes clear our best remedy lies in urgently delivering on our mission to turbocharge the economy, create jobs and spread opportunity across the country.”
The prime minister is facing mounting pressure from within his own cabinet and Tory backbenchers to bring forward an emergency budget to help with the cost of living. The speech and the Treasury’s opposition to such a measure mean that he is unlikely to do so.
The speech instead focused on longer-term economic reforms. Among the seven bills dealing with Brexit are proposals to alter financial services regulation to allow insurance companies to invest in big infrastructure projects such as offshore wind and nuclear power.
There will also be legislation to allow gene editing for the first time in Britain, attempting to steal a march on the EU, which has banned the technology that could make agriculture more productive.
The government will bring in legislation scrapping rail franchising and setting up a new publicly owned company to run the network called Great British Railways.
There will also be draft legislation to crack down on fake reviews on Amazon and eBay and tackle so-called subscription traps to online websites.
The government will also introduce a British Bill of Rights which will overhaul the Human Rights Act. It will make explicit the primacy of UK case law and aims to curb “judicial legislation”. People will have to demonstrate that they are the subject of a “significant disadvantage” before human rights claims can be brought forward.
A national security bill will introduce offences to cover the theft of trade secrets, assisting a foreign intelligence service and state-backed sabotage. It will also introduce a foreign influence registration scheme, giving the government the power to deport spies and lobbyists who fail to declare their presence in the UK. The Official Secrets Act will also be overhauled.
In his foreword to the speech Johnson said that he understood people’s concerns over the cost of living, after the crisis of Covid-19. But he insisted that the government’s policies were the right ones to promote long term economic growth.
“After two years of Covid-19, I know that the last thing people need are further challenges,” he wrote.
“I know people are struggling with their bills, and that they are anxious about the future. But we will get the country through it just as we got through Covid-19, with every ounce of ingenuity and compassion and hard work.”
He said that the government would “continue examining what more we can do to ease the pressures on hard-working people” but added: “We cannot completely shield people from the fallout from global events.”