December 18, 2019 / 12:29 PM / a month ago

Explainer: What is a Queen's Speech and why does it matter for Britain?

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Queen Elizabeth will make a speech in parliament on Thursday, announcing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda after his election win last week.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Queen Elizabeth visits the new headquarters of the Royal Philatelic society in London, Britain November 26, 2019. Tolga Akmen/Pool via REUTERS

WHAT IS A QUEEN’S SPEECH?

It is used by the government to lay out plans for the coming year and typically lists the main priorities and legislation the government aims to pass.

Queen Elizabeth reads the speech, written by the government. It is the highlight of a ceremony, known as the state opening of parliament, which marks the beginning of a new parliamentary session.

DIDN’T WE JUST HAVE ONE OF THESE?

Yes. The last Queen’s Speech was on Oct. 14, when the monarch set out Johnson’s priority to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 as well as domestic-focused legislation.

But, parliament forced Johnson’s minority government to delay Britain’s exit from the EU, so the prime minister called an election and on Dec. 12 won an 80-seat majority.

This means a new session of parliament and Queen’s Speech. Thursday’s speech will be a slimmed down occasion and will not have some of the ceremonial elements included in October.

WHAT’S GOING TO BE IN IT?

The speech is expected to include many of the bills announced in October and a few new objectives, possible thanks to Johnson’s stronger position in parliament.

The priority will again be legislation to implement Johnson’s Brexit deal. He needs this Withdrawal Agreement Bill passed by the end of January. His new majority means there is little obstacle to doing so.

Beyond that, it will include previously-announced bills to implement a new immigration system and to set out post-Brexit plans for fisheries, agriculture and trade.

WHAT’S NEW?

The legislative agenda will incorporate details of policies fleshed out or newly announced during the election campaign, including measures to cement funding pledges for the National Health Service and more detail on a points-based immigration system. A bill on post-Brexit workers’ rights is also expected.

DOES THIS SPEECH REALLY MATTER?

Yes, and no.

The speech will signal Johnson’s policy agenda beyond Brexit and how he plans to use his parliamentary majority to reshape the country at a critical juncture.

But, the speech itself is light on detail and many of the policy papers announced alongside it will be familiar from October, and the election campaign.

The speech does not oblige the government to pass all of the bills mentioned into law, nor does it prevent them from introducing other legislation at a later date.

Reporting by William James; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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