Queen’s Speech: No to austerity, no to deregulation – yes to maximum accountability

21 June 2017 - 11:00am
News

By Mark Dearn, Senior Campaigner at War on Want

In ‘normal’ times the Queen’s Speech represents a test for an incumbent government: state your case for your political program, gain approval from parliament, and start your year’s work in service to the British people.

But in these testing times for an already embattled government, it will go further by laying out the government’s plan for the next two years. And what a body of work it will be, beset by the mammoth task of transferring EU laws into UK law under the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.

Under a shaky government propped up by only the slimmest of majorities, it becomes clear why one official preparing the legislation says: “There’s going to be bloody trouble.”

Brexit and the Great Repeal Bill must remain high on the government’s agenda. But it must not ignore the seismic political shifts and horrific events which have brought renewed public engagement in politics and staunch opposition to an ideologically-driven, political agenda of austerity and deregulation. 

A key issue tied up with the Great Repeal Bill is granting ministers sweeping ‘Henry VIII clauses’, enabling them to scrap laws without the approval of MPs.

This must not be allowed to happen. We need the maximum possible transparency and accountability to ensure any change to our laws is carried out in the full glare of public scrutiny. As commentators note: “one person’s technical amendment is another person’s policy shift”.

Take International Trade Secretary Liam Fox MP and controversial EU-Canada business deal CETA: after five years of secret negotiations on CETA, Fox signed the UK up to the deal by intentionally side-stepping parliamentary scrutiny. He subsequently apologised, but the damage was already done.

And with climate change laws, human rights and workers’ rights yet again on the table, what faith would anyone place in ministers maintaining these fundamental protections under deals done in the dark?

While it now seems in another age, we must not forget now trainee journalist George Osborne’s threat to wage further austerity on the poorest if the UK chose to leave the EU – nor our previous governments’ ideological adherence to slashing any and all public services, whether the NHS, the fire service or community policing. Theresa May has rapidly sought to appropriate the language of the left, but policies including ending free school meals for children simply reinforce the austerity status-quo and the rampant inequality it produces.

As we witness protest after protest on the UK streets, it is clear that more people are mobilising as they see first-hand what War on Want has long said: poverty is political.

We have witnessed a wholesale deregulation of social, health and environmental rules, under the banner of removing ‘red tape’ - anything and everything that gets in the way of big business profits.

But it is ‘red tape’ that can keeps people safe. As the Grenfell Tower tragedy has brought into stark relief, health and safety rules can save lives – they are not, as Boris Johnson ranted, about ‘making Britain a safe place for extremely stupid people

The Queen’s Speech, and any proposed amendments to it, represents a crucial opportunity to carve out a progressive vision for a politically re-engaged country.

And that means a no to austerity and a no to deregulation – but a yes to maximum accountability to the British people over the next two years.

 

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