Cameron Papers Over Tory Splits With Legislative Program for All

  • Queen’s Speech promises broadband access and sugar tax
  • Brexit supporters accuse prime minister of dodging controversy

With his Conservative Party split over the U.K.’s membership of the European Union, and ministers insulting each other over the airwaves, Prime Minister David Cameron published a legislative program designed to upset no one.

A year after he won a surprise election majority, at a point in the political cycle when he would usually be expected to announce controversial measures that would need time to push through, the prime minister focused Wednesday on expanding broadband access, regulating civilian drones and prison reform. An education bill has been watered down after protests from teachers and Tory members of Parliament.

The pageantry of the Queen’s Speech, which saw Elizabeth II arrive at Parliament in a horse-drawn carriage to read out words written for her by Cameron, marked a brief truce in the increasingly hostile battle between senior Conservatives over a so-called Brexit. Cameron, who supports staying in the EU, is opposed on the issue by more than 100 lawmakers in his own party. One of them, former Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, accused him of diluting his program in an effort to avoid confrontation.

“Many Conservatives have become increasingly concerned that in the government’s helter-skelter pursuit of the referendum, they have been jettisoning or watering down key elements of their legislative program,” Duncan Smith said in an e-mailed statement. “Whether it is the Trade Union Bill or the BBC Charter proposals, it seems nothing must stand in the way of winning the referendum.”

Opposite Camps

The Conservatives have been split down the middle by the referendum debate, with Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU while Justice Secretary Michael Gove and former London Mayor Boris Johnson want to quit the bloc. Most online polls suggest the race may be too close to call, though less frequent phone polling shows the “Remain” camp ahead.

The battle has become increasingly bitter. On Monday, Osborne compared those backing Brexit to conspiracy theorists. On Tuesday morning, Johnson said Cameron’s campaign tactics made Britain “look like a banana republic.” On Tuesday evening, former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine accused Johnson of making “obscene” comments that suggested the EU’s project to unite Europe was in the tradition of Adolf Hitler.

Airport Delay

Day-to-day government has been hampered by the divisions, with a decision on where to expand airport capacity around London and plans to sell the remaining state holding in Lloyds Banking Group Plc among measures put off until after the vote on June 23.

Under measures announced by the queen, prison governors will be given  “unprecedented freedom,” enabling them to make better educational provisions for prisoners and reduce reoffending.
 
“My government will legislate to reform prisons and courts to give individuals a second chance,” the monarch said. “Old and inefficient prisons will be closed and new institutions built where prisoners can be put more effectively to work.”
 
Ministers will also introduce a Counter-Extremism Bill to help prevent radicalization and tackle all forms of extremism. Abroad, the government will continue to work toward resolution of the conflict in Ukraine and play a “leading role” in the battle against Islamic State terrorists, while pushing for a “lasting peace” in Syria, according to the speech.
 
Other measures include:

  • A Criminal Finances Bill to tackle corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion.
  • A Digital Economy Bill to give every household the right to have access to high-speed broadband connection, of at least 10 megabits per second.
  • A Modern Transport Bill to promote construction of the country’s first spaceport, spur investment in drones and driverless cars and protect customers who buy vacations online.
  • Legislation to introduce a tax on sugary soft drinks in an effort to combat childhood obesity.
  • An Infrastructure Bill designed to deliver on a government pledge to build 1 million new homes.
  • A bill to make overseas visitors pay for treatment in the state-run National Health Service they may currently receive at public expense.
  • Proposals for a British Bill of Rights.
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