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Ministers working on Sovereignty Bill in event of EU 'in' vote

Published 18/05/2016

The Queen heads to Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament
The Queen heads to Westminster for the State Opening of Parliament
The speech is delivered by the Queen each year amid the traditional State Opening of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster
The Prince of Wales leaves Buckingham Palace in a carriage
Members of the Household Cavalry parade from Buckingham Palace
Justice Secretary Michael Gove, centre, passes through the Central Lobby ahead of the State Opening of Parliament
The Queen's Imperial State Crown leaves Buckingham Palace
Actors Jim Carter and Imelda Staunton were in the audience for the speech
The Guardsmen parade marches from Buckingham Palace to Westminster
David Cameron described the package as a "One Nation Queen's Speech from a progressive, One Nation, Conservative Government"
Guardsmen stand outside Buckingham Palace in London ahead of the Queen's departure

Ministers are still working on measures to assert UK sovereignty and will bring forward proposals "in due course" if voters opt to stay in the European Union in next month's referendum, Downing Street has said.

The comment came after David Cameron took flak from eurosceptic Tories over the absence of a Sovereignty Bill in the Queen's Speech setting out the Government's agenda for the coming year.

Instead, the package focused on reforms to prisons, universities and the care system, while offering eye-catching measures to pave the way to a future Britain of spaceports, driverless cars, commercial drones and a legal right to high-speed broadband for all.

Ex-Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said the Sovereignty Bill - which would ensure that British judges can override the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg - was one of a number of Tory priorities "tossed aside" by the Prime Minister in the hope of smoothing the way to a Remain vote on June 23.

The former work and pensions secretary - who quit the Cabinet in March shortly after declaring he would campaign for EU withdrawal - said: "I t seems nothing must stand in the way of winning the referendum.

"The fear in Government must be that, as no-one in Britain buys the idea that the EU has been reformed, the Sovereignty Bill would draw the public's attention back to that failure. After all, if the EU Court of Justice is supreme and can strike down our laws, the British people would have just laughed at the idea Britain can be sovereign unless we leave the EU."

But a Number 10 source said that ministers were still "working towards" a bill and aimed to come forward with proposals on the issue "in due course". There would be no need for a bill if Britain chooses to leave the EU, the source added.

The possibility of a Sovereignty Bill was floated by the PM in February as he struggled in vain to keep high-profile eurosceptics like Boris Johnson and Justice Secretary Michael Gove from joining the Leave camp in the referendum battle.

Delivering the Government's agenda for the year ahead amid the traditional ceremony of the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen made no mention of legislation on the issue, but said: "My ministers will uphold the sovereignty of Parliament and the primacy of the House of Commons."

Downing Street also insisted the PM wants to "move forward as quickly as we can" on a British Bill of Rights to replace the Human Rights Act, after the Speech offered only "proposals" on the issue, sparking speculation that it was being kicked into the long grass.

Mr Cameron described the package set out in the House of Lords as a programme of progressive reform by a One Nation government which would "extend life chances for all" by reforming the care system, extending academy schools, allowing the establishment of new universities and overhauling prisons.

Downing Street rejected suggestions that Mr Cameron had confined himself to a lightweight agenda designed to avoid upsetting voters ahead of the crucial referendum. A source described the package of 21 bills - including the proposals for a Bill of Rights - as "bold and radical".

As debate on the package began in the House of Commons, Mr Cameron told MPs it was "a Queen's Speech that combines economic security with extending life chances for all. It's the Queen's Speech of a progressive One Nation Government".

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn told MPs that the Government had been forced to back down on a series of proposals in recent months - most recently on forced academisation of all England's schools - and predicted that many of the bills announced would never reach the statute book.

"If anyone wants to deliver a more equal society, an economy that works for everyone and a society where there is opportunity for all, it takes an active government to do it, not the driverless car heading in the wrong direction that we have with this Government at the present time," he said.

Labour made clear it will fight alongside students to oppose increases in university tuition fees.

Other legislation set out in the Speech included the introduction of a sugar tax on fizzy drinks, measures to recoup money from overseas visitors using the NHS, a minimum age requirement for viewing pornography on the internet and new powers to crack down on extremism and intervene in unregulated schools which are "teaching hate".

A Prison and Courts Reform Bill will give governors new powers to control their own jails and overhaul education and rehabilitation programmes in what ministers described as the "biggest reform of our prisons since Victorian times".

A Higher Education and Research Bill will make it easier to open new universities, and the academy schools programme will be expanded by an Education for All Bill - though not extended to every school in England as Mr Cameron initially planned.

Court guidelines will be altered by a Children and Social Work Bill in favour of permanent adoptions, and children in care will be given a new "covenant" setting out local authorities' duties to help them with housing, jobs and healthcare after they leave care.

Measures to boost the economy included an Infrastructure Bill to speed the planning process and a Local Growth and Jobs Bill to allow councils to keep and invest all the business rates they raise.

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