UK’s Sunak makes pre-election pitch in first King’s Speech since 1951

UK’s Sunak makes pre-election pitch in first King’s Speech since 1951
UK’s Sunak makes pre-election pitch in first King’s Speech since 1951

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Britain's King Charles III, wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Robe of State, sits on The Sovereign's Throne in the House of Lords chamber, during the State Opening of Parliament, at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on November 7, 2023. — AFP pic

LONDON, Nov 8 — Charles III delivered the first King’s Speech in 72 years Tuesday, formally opening the UK parliament with a run-down of his government’s legislative plans as an election looms.

From a golden throne in the House of Lords, the 74-year-old monarch outlined Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s wish list of new laws that reinforced dividing lines with the main opposition Labour party.

Several dozen protestors outside parliament chanted “Not my king” and “What a waste of money,” as Charles addressed lawmakers in the diamond-studded Imperial State Crown, a long crimson robe and Royal Navy uniform.

The 10-minute speech came as the Tories, in power since 2010, trail Labour by double-digits in most opinion polls before a general election widely expected next year.

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The ceremonial address was Charles’s first as head of state, although he had a dry run deputising for his mother Queen Elizabeth II in May last year.

It was also Sunak’s first since succeeding Liz Truss, who took over from Boris Johnson as prime minister just two days before the queen’s death and lasted only 49 days in office.

“It is mindful of the legacy of service and devotion to this country set by my beloved mother, the late Queen, that I deliver this, the first King’s Speech in over 70 years,” said Charles, beginning the address.

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In it, Sunak made law and order a key election battleground by proposing tougher sentencing guidelines around life terms and an end to early release for some violent sexual offenders.

He also underlined differences that he is drawing with Keir Starmer’s centre-left Labour over the environment and energy.

The speech proposed a law granting new licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea annually that Sunak says will reduce Britain’s reliance on foreign energy and create jobs.

Charles, who has devoted his life to environmental causes, delivered the announcement expressionless in keeping with the convention that the monarch is above politics.

Sunak had already announced a rollback of green energy policies in September, positioning himself as a champion of motorists in a bid to turn around his party’s fortunes.

Labour has said it will not award any new oil and gas exploration licences and has pledged instead to boost investment in green energy.

Rituals

Sunak also included a phased smoking ban, which he announced at last month’s Tory conference, and reforms to home ownership laws.

The King’s Speech signifies the start of a new parliamentary year and was last delivered by a male monarch in 1951 — although not in person as Charles’ grandfather, King George VI, was unwell.

It indicates the types of laws the government hopes to get through parliament in the next 12 months.

Although a Tory defeat at the next election is far from a foregone conclusion, owing to their sizeable parliamentary majority, a loss would mean much of the legislation never seeing the light of day.

“What we have before us is a plan for more of the same, more sticking plasters, more division, more party first, country second gimmicks,” said Starmer as days of debate on the speech began.

Tuesday’s state opening saw the sovereign travelling to the Houses of Parliament by carriage from Buckingham Palace.

Some 1,400 members of the armed forces, 124 horses and marching bands took part in the proceedings, which included a 41-gun salute.

Princess Anne, Charles’ sister, rode in the procession, performing the ceremonial role of the King’s “protector”, formally known as Gold Stick in Waiting.

As is tradition, an MP was ceremonially held “hostage” to ensure the king’s safe return.

Royal bodyguards ritually searched the basement of the Palace of Westminster for explosives — a legacy of the failed attempt by Catholics to blow up parliament in 1605.

A parliamentary official known as Black Rod had the door of the lower chamber House of Commons slammed in her face, a tradition that symbolises parliament’s independence from the monarchy.

The monarch led a procession through the House of Lords, parliament’s unelected upper chamber, before giving the speech there to assembled lords and ladies in red robes, plus invited members of the elected Commons. — AFP

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