Queen’s Speech: PM will vow to make UK ‘the greatest place on Earth’

Legislation to introduce tougher sentences for foreign offenders who try to return to the UK will be among more than 20 bills that will feature in the first Queen’s Speech of Boris Johnson’s premiership.

Number 10 has said restoring confidence to the justice system is a key part of the government’s domestic agenda, which will also include investing in the NHS, tackling violent crime and addressing the cost of living.

Brexit will also feature, with plans to rush through a Withdrawal Agreement Bill to ratify any deal the prime minister manages to strike with Brussels at the upcoming EU summit.

Mr Johnson has promised an “optimistic and ambitious” programme which will, in his words, make the UK “the greatest place on Earth”.

But with no Commons majority and a general election on the horizon, it is questionable how much of the legislation can get through parliament.

Labour has dismissed the Queen’s Speech as a “cynical stunt” and “a pre-election party political broadcast” for the Conservatives.

Measures on law and order will form a large part of the government’s agenda, with Home Secretary Priti Patel claiming “we have been a soft touch on foreign criminals for too long”.

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Downing Street wants to increase sentences for foreign national offenders who return to the UK in breach of their deportation orders.

Boris Johnson has hinted at a major concession to rescue a deal by refusing to rule out Northern Ireland staying in the EU’s customs union.
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According to Number 10, the government will act to “drastically” increase the maximum sentence from the current average of 10 weeks.

Ms Patel added: “The sentence for breaching a deportation order is far too low at the moment and many criminals conclude that it’s worth trying to get back in the country when all you get is a slap on the wrist.

“Deterring foreign criminals from re-entering the country and putting those that do behind bars for longer will make our country safer.”

An estimated 400 people are estimated to breach such orders every year, according to the government.

Other law and order measures set to feature include:

  • Extradition reform to allow police to arrest criminals as soon as an Interpol Red Notice is issued, rather than having to apply for a warrant
  • An extra 20,000 police officers
  • Assurances for police officers that driving skills will be taken into account in the event of any investigation into their response when pursuing offenders
  • The creation of a legal definition of domestic abuse “emphasising that abuse is not just physical, but can be economic, emotional and coercive”
  • The abolition of automatic halfway release for the most serious offenders given fixed-term sentences and a toughening of community sentences
  • A bill to enact “Helen’s Law”, which will see killers who refuse to reveal the locations of their victims’ remains denied parole

In order to make good on the PM’s grandiose ambition to make the UK “the greatest place on Earth”, a new Environment Bill will set legally binding targets to reduce the use of plastics, restore biodiversity, improve water quality and cut air pollution.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 23: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at the United Nations Climate Action Summit at UN headquarters on September 23, 2019 in New York City. While the U.S. will not be participating in the day-long event, China and about 70 other countries are expected to make announcements concerning climate change. The summit at the U.N. comes after a worldwide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, which saw millions of young people around the world demanding action to address the climate crisis. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Image: Boris Johnson’s bills will also seek to tackle environmental issues

Other specific measures include:

  • An Immigration and Social Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill to end freedom of movement and implement a points-based immigration system from 2021
  • Changes to the current system of railway franchising and the creation of a new commercial model
  • Establishing a new regulator with the power to impose criminal sanctions for breaches of building regulations
  • An NHS Health Investigations Bill to set up a new independent body with legal powers to ensure patient safety
  • Mental health reform to try and reduce the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act by making sure people get the treatment they need
The prime minister has met with Ireland's Taioseach Leo Varadkar
Image: The prime minister with Ireland’s Taioseach Leo Varadkar, as Brexit talks continued

But there has been anger after it emerged that legislation to protect military veterans who served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles from repeated investigations into alleged historical offences appears to have been shelved.

General Lord Dannatt, a former head of the army, said it was “unacceptable” that large numbers of former soldiers still had the risk of prosecution hanging over them years after they had left the service.

“It is a really major issue here which the government has got to address,” he said.

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