Queen’s most crucial six days of her reign
Will Britain agree a Brexit deal this week? At 11.30am, from the throne in the House of Lords, the Queen will launch the final act in Britain’s most important post-war drama. How will it end?
The stage is set. The play — part-farce, part-comedy, part-tragedy — has maddened, gripped and bored the country for over three years. Today, begins the final act.
The name of the play? Brexit. Producers? The Really Useless Group (some might say). Backers? Taxpayers United. Starring? The Egos Have Landed.
And who better to raise the curtain on the last twist of the plot than Britain’s revered 93-year-old head of state, Queen Elizabeth II.
She has seen 14 British Prime Ministers come up the Buckingham Palace stairs. And next week, there might — just might — be a 15th.
Today, she launches the fledgling, unelected Government’s legislative programme. She will read out a speech outlining 22 bills.
There will be a law and order crackdown on foreign criminals.
There will be a bill to end freedom of movement and bring in a points-based immigration system from 2021.
There will be a bill to get the trains to run on time and simplify the fares system, plus another one to launch an independent NHS investigations body with legal powers.
There will be a bill that will set legally binding targets to reduce plastics, cut air pollution, restore biodiversity and improve water quality. Others will tackle building standards, and increase investment in infrastructure and science.
Even by British standards, the pomp and pageantry will be off the scale.
It begins with the Queen’s procession from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, escorted by the Household Cavalry.
The Queen arrives at the Sovereign’s Entrance and proceeds to the Robing Room. Wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State, she leads the Royal Procession through the Royal Gallery, packed with 600 guests, to the chamber of the House of Lords.
The House of Lords official known as Black Rod (currently, a woman) is sent to summon the Commons. The doors to the Commons chamber are shut in her face: a practice symbolising the Commons’s independence from the monarchy.
Black Rod strikes the door three times before it is opened.
The speech will then be debated by MPs throughout the week. If it is rejected by the end of the week, convention says that Boris Johnson must step aside and give someone else a chance to form a government.
But is there anyone else with the support of a majority of MPs? Not at present. Would Johnson follow convention anyway? Probably not. If he refused to go, could the Queen sack him? Technically, yes. Would she? Probably not.
And then the bigger question. Will the EU agree a Brexit deal? We’ll know on Friday, at the end of the last summit of EU leaders before Brexit day on Halloween.
If they do, will MPs ratify it? We’ll know on Saturday when there is a rare special sitting of Parliament. If they don’t, it is the date when Johnson must ask the EU for another delay to Brexit under the Benn Act.
Would he do that? He says he won’t. But he also says he will not break the law. (And it is the law.)
So, the big question: will Britain agree a Brexit deal this week?
It’ll never happen, say many. Johnson won’t even be in charge by the end of the week. MPs will have voted down his programme. Then the Queen would be within her rights to dismiss him. And the EU will be delighted to welcome another Brexit extension or a second referendum.
Not so fast, say others. Leaks from those close to Germany’s powerful leader Angela Merkel expect a deal to be made on Friday. It will apparently be more or less Theresa May’s deal with some small amendments: crucially, that Northern Ireland will control the backstop. The last thing the EU wants is for Johnson to win an election and come back with more wind in his sails.
- Is the Queen the most respected person in Britain?
- Is it right that this Government is presenting its legislative programme when it doesn’t have a majority in the Commons?
- Draw a picture of the Imperial State Crown. Write down a list of all the jewels that are in it.
- Write a brief history of the ceremonial traditions that take place in the State Opening of Parliament, and explain what they mean.
Some People Say...
“Power doesn’t always roar [...].The art of exerting power is an art used in doses — the more hidden it is, the more effective.”Ziad K. Abdelnour, Lebanon-born US author and philanthropist
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- After the Queen has spoken, the Prime Minister will commend his proposals to MPs. Jeremy Corbyn, as leader of the opposition, then gets his chance to respond, before other MPs are allowed to contribute. The debate normally lasts about five days. At the end of the debate, there is a vote. It is normally seen as symbolic, as it is extremely rare for a government to lose it.
- What do we not know?
- We don’t know what will happen next. If the Queen’s Speech is rejected, we will be in unchartered territory. There might be a vote of no confidence, which could lead to a general election or the current Government may well choose to ignore its outcome. In short, nothing is certain.
- Queen Elizabeth II
- She is Britain’s longest-living and longest-reigning monarch, and the world’s longest-serving female head of state, oldest living monarch, longest-reigning current monarch, and the oldest and longest-serving current head of state.
- A proposal for a new law, or a proposal to change an existing law that is presented for debate before Parliament.
- An immigration system where a noncitizen’s eligibility to immigrate is (partly or wholly) determined by whether that noncitizen is able to score above a threshold number of points in a scoring system that might include such factors as education level or wealth.
- Household Cavalry
- Made up of the two most senior regiments in the British Army: the Life Guards and the Blues & Royals.
- Sovereign’s Entrance
- The Victoria Tower is a square tower at the south-west end of the Palace of Westminster. The main entrance at the base of the tower is the Sovereign’s Entrance, through which the Monarch passes at the State Opening of Parliament.
- Robing Room
- It is in this room where the Queen puts on the Imperial State Crown and her ceremonial robes before making her way to the House of Lords.
- Imperial State Crown
- One of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, and symbolises the sovereignty of the monarch. It has existed in various forms since the 15th century.
- Black Rod
- A senior officer in the House of Lords, responsible for controlling access to and maintaining order within the House and its precincts.
- Second referendum
- A referendum on the Brexit withdrawal agreement, also referred to as a “second referendum” or a “people's vote”, has been proposed by a number of politicians and pressure groups.
- The backstop
- Commonly used in the game of baseball (although its origins go back to 19th century cricket), it means a wall or fence to keep a ball in the playing field to stop it hitting someone in the face. In relation to Brexit, it was first used to mean a safety net in terms of the Irish border issue after Brexit, when the line between the UK and the Republic of Ireland would represent the only border between the UK and the EU. This matters for trade as there would have to be checks on the border to see what was moving in and out of the UK. But any new Irish border will bring back memories of the Irish troubles of 30 years ago. Backstop is a legal guarantee to avoid a hard border.
- Wind in his sails
- To get another burst of energy or power; another lease of life.