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Brexit at heart of Queen's Speech as May vows to heal 'divided' UK

By Andrew Woodcock

Theresa May has vowed to overcome the divisions in British society exposed in this month's general election and to build consensus on Brexit, as she ditched or watered down many of the flagship policies from the Conservative manifesto.

But the Prime Minister was accused by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of offering a "threadbare" Queen's Speech, which set out a two-year legislative programme dominated by preparations for withdrawal from the EU.

Of 27 Bills and draft Bills unveiled in Mrs May's first Queen's Speech, eight are devoted to the complex process of leaving the EU, including a Repeal Bill to overturn the 1972 Act which took Britain into the European Economic Community, and separate Bills on customs, trade, immigration, fisheries, agriculture, nuclear safeguards and the international sanctions regime.

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire and a string of terror attacks, the Prime Minister also announced plans for a civil disaster taskforce and a new commission for countering extremism, as well as a review of counter-terror strategy and the creation of an independent public advocate to act on behalf of bereaved families.

Following a bruising election that cost her Conservatives their majority in the Commons, Mrs May ditched manifesto plans to scrap universal free school lunches, expand grammars, means-test winter fuel payments, and offer a free vote on fox hunting.

And "dementia tax" proposals for social care reform were downgraded to "options" in a public consultation.

Speculation that Donald Trump's State visit to the UK may be cancelled was fuelled by its absence from the Queen's nine-minute address. But Downing Street confirmed that the invitation to the US President stands and did not feature because a date is yet to be fixed.

Also unveiled were Bills to extend the HS2 high-speed rail link to Crewe, permit the development of driverless cars, spaceports and commercial satellites, cut whiplash insurance claims, protect victims of domestic abuse and ban letting fees for private rented homes.

Acknowledging that the outcome of this month's snap election fell well short of the emphatic victory she had hoped for, Mrs May said that her minority administration would seek to govern with "humility" to regain voters' trust.

She told MPs: "The election showed that, as it faces the big challenges of our future, our country is divided - red versus blue, young versus old, Leave versus Remain. The test for all of us is whether we choose to reflect divisions or help the country overcome them. With humility and resolve, this Government will seek to do the latter."

Mrs May vowed to "see Brexit through", but - in a marked softening of her pre-election stance - said she would "seek to build a wide consensus" in doing so.

Following her failure so far to make a deal with the DUP, Mrs May is the first PM in decades to be faced by doubts over whether she can get her legislative programme through Parliament.

Mr Corbyn dismissed the programme as "thin gruel" which showed the Conservatives were running out of ideas.

"This is a Government without a majority, without a mandate, without a serious legislative programme, led by a Prime Minister who has lost her personal authority and is struggling even today to stitch up a deal to stay in office," he said.

But his claim to head a "government in waiting" was given short shrift by the PM, who mockingly praised him for having "fought a spirited campaign and come a good second".

The State Opening of Parliament, delayed by two days because of the inconclusive result of the June 8 election, took place without some of the traditional ceremony, with the Queen arriving by car rather than carriage and wearing a blue dress and hat rather than her robes and crown.

Belfast Telegraph


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