LONDON — Theresa May will today face a major test of her fragile parliamentary authority when MPs in the House of Commons vote on whether to pass the Queen’s Speech.
Prime Minister May announced the details of her legislative programme last week and on Thursday afternoon MPs from all parties will decide to either approve it or vote it down.
On Wednesday, the Conservatives, with the help of the DUP, defeated an amendment tabled by the Labour Party calling for an end both to cuts to emergency services and the freeze on public sector pay that have been in place since 2010.
The amendment — defeated by 323 votes to 309 — sought to give a pay rise to public sector workers and recruit more emergency service workers like police officers and firefighters to fill the gaps left by Conservative government cuts.
Today Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and other opposition MPs will test May’s authority again by tabling a number of amendments to the Queen’s Speech in hope of forcing some major concessions both on domestic policy and Brexit.
Here’s everything you need to know about today’s proceedings.
What’s actually in the Queen’s Speech?
The Queen’s Speech is basically a summary of everything a UK government wants to achieve over the course of a parliament. It’s a mission statement, complete with a number of policies it wants to see implemented into law.
Last week, May announced her Queen’s Speech to MPs following her failure to win a majority in the June 8 general election. It was a watered-down version of the legislative programme she had planned to put to parliament with a number of major manifesto promises missing. For example, her plan to lift the ban on new grammar schools was axed, as were Conservative plans for scrapping free school lunches and giving MPs a vote on bringing back fox hunting.
Without a solid parliamentary majority it would have been pretty much impossible for May to get more contentious policies through parliament while trying to do so would likely do nothing for her waning popularity. She has a technical majority of only 13 seats in the 650-seat chamber.
So what are the chances of MPs voting it down?
MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party helped the Tories to defeat the amendment Labour tabled on Wednesday and it is very likely that the Northern Irish party will give May enough support for the whole Speech to get passed today.
This is because last week May and the DUP agreed a “confidence and supply” deal that will see the 10 DUP MPs in Westminster back the PM in major votes like on the budget to keep the day-to-day business of government in motion.
What would happen if it gets voted down?
Oddly, even if MPs vote the Queen’s Speech down today, it would not block the government from getting on with its legislative programme. That’s because the vote has no enforcement power and instead carries more symbolic value.
However, for the Commons to vote down the Queen’s Speech, particularly when the Tories have the help of the DUP, would represent a major, symbolic vote of no confidence in May. It would also display that May is unable to control the government she is in charge of. And that would more than likely trigger another general election.
So what are the amendments to look out for?
Labour’s amendment calling for an increase in public sector wages and budgets was defeated last night but today opposition MPs will come back with some more significant amendments for MPs to wrestle over.
Labour will seek the take advantage of the many divisions within the Conservative Party over Brexit by demanding May agree to a number of major red lines. An amendment tabled today will call on May to completely rule out Britain leaving the EU without a deal, putting an end to her “no deal is better than a bad deal” mantra, and guarantee the existing rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK. It will also call on the government to pursue a Brexit deal that “delivers the exact same benefits the UK has as a member of the single market and customs union”.
2. Living standards
Corbyn’s Labour is also set to table an amendment calling on the government to do more to reverse what the official opposition describes “falling living standards” in the UK. This includes greater action to tackle rising energy bills and stagnant wages.
3. Abortion rights
An amendment that could prove tricky for May’s minority government will be tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy and calls on women from Northern Ireland to be allowed to have abortions in the England and Wales via the NHS. This is especially awkward for the government given that the DUP has played a major part in making sure abortion remains illegal in Northern Ireland.
“We now have an amendment that’s signed by 105 MPs, one-in-five MPs in Parliament who would like to see this issue resolved,” Creasy told Sky News.
When will these votes take place?
Votes on the Queen’s Speech and amendments are set to get underway this afternoon and will likely conclude early this evening.
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