Crime, climate, growth: UK’s Sunak sets out pre-election agenda in King’s Speech

Crime, climate, growth: UK’s Sunak sets out pre-election agenda in King’s Speech
Crime, climate, growth: UK’s Sunak sets out pre-election agenda in King’s Speech

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Britain’s King Charles leaves with Queen Camilla after delivering a speech at the State Opening of Parliament at the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, November 7, 2023. — Reuters pic

LONDON, Nov 7 — Britain’s government set out its plans to tackle crime, boost growth and reduce the climate burden today, an unashamedly political agenda that could be Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s first and last King’s Speech before an election.

In an agenda written by the government but delivered by King Charles to lawmakers packed into parliament’s ornate House of Lords, Sunak signalled his intent to create a dividing line with the opposition Labour Party before the vote expected next year.

With Labour running way ahead in the opinion polls, Sunak’s team is hoping that his agenda will close the gap by reducing the “burden” of Britain’s climate targets on households and by toughening sentences for violent offenders.

There was little new in the King’s Speech, more a collection of what Sunak has worked on since becoming prime minister last year on a pledge to bring stability after two fellow Conservative leaders were forced from power in a matter of weeks.

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“My government will, in all respects, seek to make long-term decisions in the interests of future generations,” Charles, wearing the Imperial State Crown and royal robes, told a hushed audience of lawmakers in the upper house of parliament.

“By taking these long-term decisions, my government will change this country and build a better future.”

It was the first time Charles had made the speech as king - though he stood in for his mother Queen Elizabeth months before her death last year - in a ceremony marked by pomp and pageantry.

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Arriving at parliament from Buckingham Palace in a grand carriage procession, he then led a ceremony, with some of its traditions traced back to the 16th century, that delivers the government’s agenda in line with Britain’s unusual constitutional division of executive powers.

Election campaign

What Charles read out suggested Britain has already entered campaign season.

The government signalled it would move ahead with the Sentencing Bill that will bring forward tougher jail sentences for the most serious offenders, and repeated its pledge to boost economic growth and reduce inflation.

But, in a possible sign that calls from some Conservative lawmakers to offer voters tax cuts will go unheeded, the King said: “My ministers will address inflation and the drivers of low growth over demands for greater spending or borrowing.”

Reading some of the government’s climate policies might have jarred with Charles, who has campaigned on environmental issues for more than 50 years. But government officials have repeatedly said ministers were not giving up on the overall targets, just being more “pragmatic” in how they get there.

Sunak confirmed in an introduction to the speech he would bring in legislation to hold North Sea oil and gas licensing rounds annually - something Labour has ruled out, would phase out tobacco sales to young people in England and press on with attempts to tackle illegal migration.

In an attempt to win over younger voters, the government also said it would press ahead with reforms to the housing market, outlawing no-fault evictions for renters and amending a system described by a minister as “feudal” which forces the owners of some properties to pay rent to a freeholder.

But Sunak faces an uphill struggle to win back voters, with Labour holding an around 20-point lead in the polls. His party is mired in allegations of sex scandals, under scrutiny over its actions during the Covid-19 pandemic and is deeply divided over its strategy before the next election.

He is hopeful his agenda can turn things around.

“We have turned the corner over the last year and put the country on a better path,” he said in his introduction.

“But these immediate priorities are not the limit of our ambition. They are just the foundations of our plan to build a better future for our children and grandchildren, and deliver the change the country needs.” — Reuters

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