A fair, modern and global immigration system was listed at the heart of a series of policies tabled by the UK’s Boris Johnson led government as part of the Queen’s Speech in Parliament on Monday.
The speech, read out by Queen Elizabeth II, sets the government’s agenda for the parliamentary year and included 26 bills to cover policies on immigration, crime, health, the environment as well as Brexit.
“An immigration bill, ending free movement, will lay the foundation for a fair, modern and global immigration system,” the Queen said during the speech.
It follows Johnson as well as UK Home Secretary Priti Patel confirming plans to implement a post-Brexit Australian-style points-based system of visas and immigration, under which migrants from within the European Union (EU) as well as from countries like India are treated at par.
An applicant’s English language skills are likely to be ranked according to levels of proficiency in such a new visa regime being finalised and according to reports, additional points are to be granted to skilled professionals who choose to be based in the UK’s lower-income regions to ensure a better spread of talent around the country.
The issue of migration was among the central factors in the lead up to the June 2016 Brexit referendum, in which the UK voted to leave the EU. Hard Brexiteers like Patel had argued that once Britain was out of the 28-member economic bloc, it would be free of the EU’s freedom of movement requirements and therefore able to implement a fairer skills-based immigration policy that did not discriminate against the country of origin of applicants.
Plans for tougher sentences for foreign criminals as well as violent offenders and legal targets for cutting plastic pollution are among some of the other major announcements made by the Queen, who also reiterated the Johnson-led government’s pledge to leave the EU by the October 31 deadline.
The Queen’s Speech, which marks the UK Parliament’s State Opening as the monarch formally reads out the government’s agenda, had been at the centre of a major showdown that ended up in the Supreme Court.
Johnson was accused of using the speech as an excuse to suspend Parliament sittings last month in order to avert Brexit scrutiny.
The UK’s highest court had ruled the suspension unlawful and the House of Commons resumed its sittings last month.
On Monday, Johnson told the Commons that the Speech offered “a new age of opportunity for the whole country”. But Opposition parties have labelled it as a Conservative Party manifesto due to the looming Brexit deadline, which could result in an eventual general election due to the deep divisions that remain over the issue in Parliament.
“The Prime Minister promised that this Queen’s Speech would dazzle us. On closer inspection, it is nothing more than fool’s gold,” Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn told MPs.
Johnson is hopeful of striking a deal with the EU at a crucial Brussels summit later this week and then introduce an EU withdrawal agreement bill to secure its passage through Parliament this Saturday – dubbed Super Saturday because it would mark the first Saturday since the Falklands War in 1982 when the Commons would convene over a weekend.
The Queen’s Speech came with its customary pageantry, with the 93-year-old monarch arriving at the Palace of Westminster in a carriage procession and delivering her speech from the throne in the House of Lords, flanked by son and heir Prince Charles.
Johnson insisted that the programme demonstrated that Brexit was not the limit of the government’s ambitions.
He told the Commons: “At the heart of this speech is an ambitious programme to unite this country with energy, optimism and with the basic common sense of one-nation Conservatism.”
In a written introduction to documents explaining his government’s legislative plans, the British prime minister said they were aimed at using Brexit as “a defining opportunity for us to set a new course and a new direction for our country”.
However, the parliamentary arithmetic means that his government has no majority in the Commons, which would make the passing any bills a struggle.