With Boris Johnson now leaving office in the Autumn at the latest, key elements of the Government’s legislative agenda initiated under his leadership are now in doubt.
As the summer recess looms large, there are several Bills, including some controversial ones facing a slow and rocky ride through Parliament, which will not be passed within the current timeframe for the Prime Minister’s departure.
A new leader looking to reset Government will likely initiate a wholesale reassessment of legislative priorities and policy approaches, raising the prospect of some Bills being abandoned or redrafted.
– Controversial Bills focused on Northern Ireland
The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would give ministers sweeping powers and allow the UK to abandon Brexit arrangements unilaterally, is currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons.
The legislation has been heavily criticised, including by Conservative backbenchers, as unlawful and unnecessary.
However, the Government had been determined to press ahead with plans to fast-track the bill.
In spite of this, the legislation is currently not expected to reach the House of Lords until the Autumn, where it looks likely to be the subject of a series of amendments.
On the Bill’s prospects, it is feasible a leadership victory for a candidate on the more moderate wing of the party may look to prioritise repairing the damage the Bill has done to UK’s relationship with the European Union over pressing ahead with the legislation.
But, with strong support for the measures among some potential candidates and well-organised and influential Brexit hardliners on the Tory backbenches, any suggestion by leadership candidates that they would stall on, or rethink, the Bill could be a high risk strategy.
The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill, which is currently due its second reading in the House of Lords, would provide an effective amnesty for crimes committed during the Troubles for those who co-operate with a new information body.
It is opposed by Northern Ireland MPs who claim it would not deliver justice for their communities and is expected to face intense scrutiny by peers, but the Government’s reconciliation efforts will likely continue when Mr Johnson leaves office.
– The Bill of Rights
The highly controversial Bill of Rights would replace the Human Rights Act, meaning the UK does not always have to follow case law from the European Court of Human Rights.
The Government insists it would strengthen freedom of speech and prevent “trivial” legal claims, but opponents say it would limit the ability for citizens to challenge the state and they have accused ministers of peddling a false narrative.
A date is yet to be set for the Bill’s second reading in the Commons, so it is still destined for a drawn-out journey through Parliament that will last way beyond Mr Johnson’s current leaving date.
The appetite for the legislation among Tory backbenchers is difficult to gauge beyond the support it would receive on the right of the party, so leadership contenders are likely to tread carefully when considering their position on the future of the Bill.
The measures have has been pitched as symbolic of the UK breaking free from constraints imposed in Europe, so would potentially be popular with some Leave voters and the all-important Tory grassroots who will ultimately decide the leadership election.
But the key issue for anyone pitching to become the new Prime Minister is likely to be whether the controversial legislation is necessary at a time of multiple policy challenges.
– The Public Order Bill
The Public Order Bill is another piece of legislation which has drawn heavy criticism as an attempt to limit long-established human rights.
But with high-profile and disruptive protest now becoming commonplace, there is support on the Tory backbenches for bolstering police powers to act.
The Bill is currently at the report stage in the House of Commons and is set to face challenges in the Lords, so will not be passed before Mr Johnson departs.
However, with support within the Conservative Party and public frustration at disruptive protests, a new leader – particularly one who is currently a member of the Cabinet – would likely be tempted to press ahead with the plans.
– The Online Safety Bill
The Online Safety Bill is currently at the Commons committee stage and its journey through Parliament is set to outlast Mr Johnson’s tenure in No 10.
The Government has been proposing amendments, suggesting the drafting of the legislation was less than thorough, while campaigners have called for further changes to address the perceived inadequacy of tech companies’ responses to harmful content.
There is general consensus on the need for action on this issue so a new Tory leader is likely to advocate for legislative action, but not necessarily in its current form.
– The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill
Levelling up the country by addressing regional inequalities was the self-declared defining mission of Boris Johnson’s Government, but he is not set to be in office when the first piece of major dedicated legislation is passed.
The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is currently at the committee stage in the House of Commons, with the Lords yet to have their say.
The legislation has not garnered widespread criticism, but a new leader will want to look carefully at elements of the Bill on planning reform, a key issue for many Tory voters.