The Queen will on Tuesday set out the legislation that Boris Johnson hopes will pave the way for him to win a second full term as prime minister, but a number of the proposed bills will be highly contentious.
Johnson is already under fire over a bill in the Queen’s Speech requiring voters to provide proof of identity, a move Labour labelled “cynical and ugly” and warned was likely to disenfranchise marginal groups.
The UK prime minister will also reclaim the power to set the date of the next general election, with the repeal of David Cameron’s Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which decrees the next election will be in 2024.
Senior Labour figures believe Johnson wants to clear the way for a snap general election in 2023 and push through consequential bills, capitalising on his current popularity.
The Queen’s Speech — given by the monarch but written by government ministers — will open the new session of parliament on Tuesday morning in a scaled-back, Covid-19-secure ceremony, launching a crucial year for the Johnson government.
Downing Street officials said the next year will deliver “the meat” of the 2019 Conservative party manifesto, as Johnson shifts attention from Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic to the agenda that will frame the next election.
The legislation will include a shake-up of the planning system to allow more housing on undeveloped land, a move that has angered Tory MPs but will be welcomed by younger people trying to buy a home.
The prime minister views a simplified planning system as critical to delivering on the government’s promise of 300,000 homes a year by the middle of the decade.
Johnson will also introduce a skills bill to provide “the rocket fuel we need to level up this country”, including the offer of a flexible “lifetime loan” for education and training.
There would also be a statutory role for employers in planning training programmes and more powers for the secretary of state to intervene where colleges fail to meet local needs.
Meanwhile, Johnson is expected to emphasise the need to clear a massive backlog of NHS operations and argue that more money will be required to achieve it, casting it as a priority for the rest of the parliament.
About 4.7m people are awaiting treatment, with close to 400,000 already having delayed more than a year. Ministers have concluded the best approach is honesty with the public about how long the backlog will take to clear.
The Conservatives are ascendant in England, confirmed by a series of local election victories last week in Labour’s northern heartlands, but some politicians have suggested that Johnson is trying to fix the rules for the next election in his favour.
David Davis, former Tory cabinet minister, said the plan to require voters to carry ID to tackle voting fraud was an “illiberal solution to a non-existent problem”.
David Lammy, shadow justice secretary, wrote on Twitter: “In the 2019 election there was just one conviction for voter fraud. 3.5m British citizens do not have a photo ID. This is a cynical and ugly attempt to rig the system to disempower the poorest and marginal groups.”
But Johnson dismissed such claims as “complete nonsense”, telling a Downing Street press conference on Monday that he wanted to protect the “transparency and integrity of the electoral process”.
Downing Street claimed that in a 2019 voter ID pilot programme, 99.6 per cent of voters were able to cast their votes without a problem.
Other bills in the Queen’s Speech include a measure to overhaul the asylum system, a health bill to carry out NHS reforms and an environment bill to set new binding climate change targets.
However, ministers have not yet agreed how to overhaul the social care system, a long-running problem Johnson has committed to fixing before the next election.