The Queen’s Speech – in which HM Government sets out its parliamentary agenda for the year – today singled out the importance of international trade, free trade agreements and taking advantage of Brexit as legislative priorities in the coming months.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, stepped into the Queen’s shoes to read today’s speech to parliament, outlining the Conservative government’s plans for the period before the next general election.
A total of 38 bills were promised in the speech, with economic growth a key theme, aligned to making the most of Brexit freedoms.
Brexit and free trade deals
The Queen's Speech said the government would "continue to champion international trade, delivering jobs across the country and growing the economy".
Six proposed bills will aim to make the UK more competitive in a liberalised trade environment after Brexit and to usher in free trade deals requiring primary legislation, such as those with Australia and New Zealand.
The Guardian reports that the flagship among these is the Brexit freedoms bill, which allows EU rules retained after Brexit to be removed.
Other Brexit-related bills will cover procurement in making it easier for small firms to bid for public sector contracts and a data reform bill to revise the EU’s GDPR data protection regime.
Not mentioned in the Queen’s Speech but in the accompanying 139-page briefing pack explaining the legislative programme, a planned electronic trade documents bill will put electronic documents on the same legal basis as their paper equivalents – removing a major hurdle to trade digitalisation.
As previously covered in the IOE&IT Daily Update, the bill will digitise trade documentation and ease international trade flows by replacing cumbersome paper documentation, in a move that could save businesses £1.7bn a year.
NI Protocol ‘needs to change’
Though a bill was not referred to directly in the Queen’s Speech or in the government’s note, there was an implicit reference to the government’s determination to renegotiate or tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol:
“The continued success and integrity of the whole of the United Kingdom is of paramount importance to Her Majesty’s government, including the internal economic bonds between all of its parts.
“Her Majesty’s government will ensure the constitution is defended.”
In the briefing pack, the government says:
“As we have seen following the elections in Northern Ireland, the problems caused by the protocol continue to stand in the way of an Executive being formed. In the interests of all communities of Northern Ireland, the protocol needs to change. We urge our partners in the EU to work with us, with new imagination and flexibility, to deliver that.”
The IOE&IT has welcomed the Queen Speech’s pledges and priorities, with director general Marco Forgione saying:
“We welcome the government’s continued commitment to championing international trade, and the implementation of the first free trade agreements since leaving the European Union is a great first step.
“At a time when traditional supply chains and globalisation face growing pressures, the shift to bilateral free trade agreements and negotiated partnerships such as CPTPP are even more important.
“Creating opportunities for businesses large and small to benefit from new markets is a key factor in securing long term growth. The government’s promise to focus on strengthening core sectors, including the financial services industry, education and infrastructure across the UK, are welcomed too.
“From our own Exporter Monitor, we have seen a decline in SMEs exporting over the past few years. We need to empower businesses to trade confidently and compliantly with the rest of the world and education is at the heart of that.
“The move to paperless trade and digital trade corridors are key pillars in revolutionising the way we do business globally. By embracing digital solutions and introducing the single trade window, the cost of trade will be significantly reduced, and the speed of trade will increase. This is a key measure government can use to tackle supply chain issues and the cost-of-living crisis head on and reinvigorate consumer spending.
“The Queen’s Speech comes at a time of economic uncertainty for the country and ambitions must now be backed up with action. Trade facilitation is paramount for creating a fertile environment for businesses to flourish, on which the IOE&IT stands ready to support.
“We await the next budget to see if ambition is matched with action.”