5 takeaways from Boris Johnson’s new legislative plan
The UK leader focuses on selling Brexit, 'leveling up,' going green, boosting security, and overhauling democratic institutions in his latest governing plan.
LONDON — Boris Johnson outlined 30 laws his government intends to pass in the coming year — talking up his domestic investment plans and Britain’s new post-Brexit freedoms. But he’s facing criticism for failing to include a long-awaited social care bill in the list.
POLITICO takes you through the key policy proposals grabbing attention in Westminster.
Social care plans are missing
The big element missing from the Queen’s Speech was a dedicated social care bill. The government only restated its commitment to bring forward long-promised proposals on social care reform “later this year.” A failure to detail its social care reforms in the speech is a “missed opportunity,” membership organisation Care England said. The prime minister’s official spokesman denied Johnson had misled the public when he said he had a long-term plan for social care the day after winning the last general election in December 2019.
Elsewhere on the health front, a hefty Health and Care Bill is being promised to bring the National Health Service and social care system closer together and cut bureaucratic elements “that do not add value.” The government is also forging ahead with a plan to ban “junk food” adverts online and before the 9 p.m. TV watershed by the end of 2022. Plans to ban promotion of high fat, salt and sugar in food from April 2022 are also in train. Proposals to increase calorie labeling will focus on food and not on drinks — a decision welcomed by pandemic-hit pubs, who feared they may have had to label the calories in pints of beer.
A “short” consultation on banning gay conversion therapy is planned with a view to eliminating “coercive practices which can cause mental and physical harm,” the government said.
Brexit bonus meets leveling up
Johnson placed his promise to “level up” the country with investment at the center of his new legislative program, although a detailed “Leveling up” white paper will not be published until later this year.
On that front, the government vowed loans to adults for higher education or training at any point in their lives; confirmed plans to build the next stage of the High Speed 2 railway project in the North West of England; said it would extend 5G mobile coverage and high-speed broadband; and create a new blue-skies research funder.
Big chunks of the program are aimed at offering a post-Brexit bonus, with ministers pushing projects they argue would not have been possible inside the EU. Out from under the bloc’s state aid regime, the government plans a Subsidy Control Bill for a setup tailored to the U.K. economy.
There’s more support for much-vaunted free ports — low tax, low tariff and relaxed regulation zones — through a National Insurance Contributions Bill that will give employers in these zones contributions relief, something Downing Street argues will promote job creation.
A Procurement Bill will seek to simplify and consolidate the more than 350 EU-derived regulations. This legislation will also aim to make it easier for new firms to access government contracts, and promises greater consideration of “social value” — rather than always picking the cheapest bid.
Ministers will also attempt to tackle the status of professional qualifications, one big loose end from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement signed with the EU in December 2020. After Brexit, professional qualifications are mutually recognized across the EU but not between the U.K. and the bloc. More here for POLITICO Pros on Brexit-related plans, including a planned overhaul of the U.K.’s asylum system.
Britain’s spooks will be given fresh tools to tackle hostile activity from foreign states under the Counter-State Threats Bill. The government confirmed plans to create a Foreign Influence Registration Scheme to fight espionage and prevent IP theft, amid concern about the activities of Russia and China. “We are also considering whether there is a case to be made for criminalising other harmful activity conducted by and on behalf of states, including the consideration of updating treason laws,” Downing Street added.
Parliament will revisit the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, which failed to become law in the previous session. The bill aims to secure Britain’s telecoms networks, setting out controls on software and electronic equipment provided by “high risk vendors such as Huawei.” The government wants to remove the Chinese telecoms giant from the U.K.’s 5G networks by the end of 2027, and has instructed operators to stop installing its equipment in 5G networks by the end of September.
Ofcom, the U.K.’s communications regulator, will be given further responsibility for monitoring telecoms operators’ security.
Post-Brexit Britain says it’s committed to the “highest” standards on animal welfare, conservation and environmental protection.
The Environment Bill, which did not complete its parliamentary passage in the previous season, is back on the agenda. It will place a duty on ministers to set out binding environmental targets and establish an Office for Environmental Protection. The government said it would publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022.
An Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill will recognize animal sentience in law, and a Kept Animals Bill will end the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter, ban keeping primates as pets, improve standards in zoos, and crack down on puppy smuggling.
A proposed ban on the fur trade, which infuriated the industry, is not mentioned. But the government confirmed plans to ban the import of hunting trophies from endangered animals abroad through an Animals Abroad Bill. Ministers will also consider further steps to limit the trade and sale of foie gras.
Through a Planning Bill, the government said it wants to simplify EU-derived rules on environmental assessments for developments to shorten the length of time it takes to build homes and infrastructure like hospitals.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act will be repealed, once more giving the prime minister the power to call general elections, under a Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill. This policy change comes after Johnson struggled to find a legal way to call a snap election in September 2019.
Controversial plans to require voters to show a proof of ID before casting their ballots in a polling station will meanwhile be introduced as part of the Electoral Integrity Bill, and a Judicial Review Bill will “protect the judiciary from being drawn into political questions” by giving the courts the power to suspend quashing orders in judicial review cases.
According to the government, this will prevent delays to large infrastructure projects because an impact assessment has not been properly done, but it has already been criticized by environmental activists.
The government will also pass legislation addressing a major Tory complaint: lack of freedom of speech in university campuses.
A Higher Education (Freedom of Speech Bill) will give university regulator the Office for Students the power to impose fines when institutions fail to “secure lawful freedom of speech for their members and others, including visiting speakers,” after Conservative politicians found themselves among those “de-platformed” in recent years. People will be allowed to seek compensation through the courts in case of breaches.Want more analysis from POLITICO? POLITICO Pro is our premium intelligence service for professionals. From financial services to trade, technology, cybersecurity and more, Pro delivers real time intelligence, deep insight and breaking scoops you need to keep one step ahead. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to request a complimentary trial.