Queen Elizabeth II outlined her government’s post-pandemic legislative agenda as she opened a new session of the UK parliament yesterday, in her first public appearance since the funeral of her late husband Prince Philip.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, buoyant after his Conservative party’s triumph in local and regional elections in England last week, is vowing to deliver on his mantra to “build back better” with a wide-ranging raft of policies.
But he faces renewed questions over the UK’s cohesion after pro-independence forces won a majority in elections to the Scottish parliament, with pledges to hold another referendum on breaking away from the centuries-old union.
Johnson’s government, after rolling out a successful coronavirus vaccination drive, is intent on reopening the economy and “levelling up” prosperity across Britain following its Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
“My government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before,” the 95-year-old monarch said in a speech from a gilded throne in the upper House of Lords.
The monarch’s state opening of parliament last occurred in late 2019 amid political acrimony over Brexit. Normally an annual event replete with five centuries of tradition and pageantry, it was scaled back this year due to the pandemic.
This meant far fewer attendees and the Queen travelled to Westminster by car instead of in a horse-drawn carriage. She wore a powder-blue day dress and feathered hat, instead of robes and a crown.
Only a select few from parliament’s two chambers were allowed to attend to maintain social distancing, and those present needed to have tested negative for Covid.
The Queen — Britain’s longest-serving monarch — was accompanied by her 72-year-old son and heir, Prince Charles, as she returned to public duties three weeks after the Duke of Edinburgh was laid to rest. He died last month, aged 99.
In her speech, written by the government, the Queen also detailed plans to “strengthen the economic ties across the union”, in part by improving national infrastructure.
The monarch’s role is to stay above the political fray but the future of her kingdom could be at stake after the election results north of the border gave new impetus to the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).
When Scots last voted on the question of quitting the UK in 2014, Queen Elizabeth issued a guarded remark for voters to “think very carefully about the future”.
They opted against independence then, and Johnson’s flat rejection of SNP demands for a fresh referendum threatens to open a new constitutional crisis in the Queen’s post-Brexit realm.
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