Repositioning Britain in the race for a digital economy, and reviewing crime and mental health have been the eye-catching announcements in the Queen’s Speech today. However, it is the absence of a sovereignty bill which has caused the biggest splash in Westminster today.
The measures were anticipated to tackle the issue of the European Court of Justice’s powers and would “put beyond doubt” the UK parliament’s sovereignty by returning primacy to the UK.
Out campaigners have condemned the move to omit a sovereignty bill as an about-face on the commitment made by Cameron when he returned from negotiations in February.
The move is being portrayed as an attempt by the Government to kick what would be a controversial bill into the long grass in the run up to next month’s referendum, to avoid alienating supporters of the remain campaign. Given the small majority the Government holds in the House the introduction of such a bill could split support and deliver another humiliating defeat at a time when Cameron desperately needs to look secure to deliver his legacy.
Cameron had previously commented that the UK has already clearly set out its sovereignty. The European Union Act 2011, which requires a referendum to make decisions about changes on amendments of the Treaty on European Union or the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, offers the UK sufficient protection.
Former Work and Pensions Secretary of State and leading Leave spokesperson, Iain Duncan Smith, however, came out fighting accusing the Government of “jettisoning” and “diluting” the legislative agenda. Speaking on Radio Four he said: “Many Conservatives have become increasingly concerned that in the Government’s helter-skelter pursuit of the referendum, they have been jettisoning or watering down key elements of their legislative programme.”
In the event of Brexit, legislative space would obviously become moot, but if the UK remains, this bill would almost certainly be expected in the next Queen’s Speech.
Kate Turner, Account Manager