May Faces Further Queen's Speech Tests From Labour on Brexit

Updated on
  • Labour pushes for Brexit retaining single market benefits
  • Labour calls for higher taxes on richest in Queen’s Speech

Theresa May, U.K. prime minister, leaves number 10 Downing Street in London.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Prime Minister Theresa May will face a further test of her minority administration Thursday ahead of the final vote of her Queen’s Speech as the Labour opposition seeks to introduce elements of its manifesto into her legislative program.

Theresa May

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Labour is tabling an amendment pushing for the richest to pay more tax and for Britain to keep the benefits of the European Union’s single market and the customs union, while falling short of calling to retain membership of both. The vote will take place in the afternoon, with a vote on the full legislative program scheduled for later in the day.

The amendment calls for a Brexit that "delivers the exact same benefits the U.K. has as a member of the single market and the customs union, ensures that there is no weakening of cooperation in security and policing, and maintains the existing rights of EU nationals living in the U.K. and U.K. nationals living in the EU," and "believes that those who are richest and large corporations, those with the broadest shoulders, should pay more tax."

May’s government -- which doesn’t have enough Commons seats to govern alone -- won its first test Wednesday after Parliament narrowly rejected Labour’s push to end years of public service cuts. The call to end the pay curbs for public sector workers was rejected by 323 votes to 309. That’s in line with May’s effective majority in the House of Commons of 13, relying on the backing of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.

Read more: QuickTake Q&A on Northern Ireland’s renewed political crisis

Still, the government highlighted its vulnerability by issuing a series of contradictory statements on pay. At 1 p.m. Wednesday a government spokesman said a 1 percent cap on annual public-sector pay rises, in place since 2013, might be lifted. That came after Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling hinted the situation was under review. Three hours later, the prime minister’s spokesman, James Slack, told reporters that “the policy has not changed.”

On public-sector pay, the possible shift partly reflects the new political reality. Instead of the increased majority she expected from the general election, May now has no majority at all, and many Conservative lawmakers have been spooked by the surprise result, which they blame partly on the government’s austerity policies.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has already said he accepts that voters are “weary” of spending restraint, and its effects on services. Fallon went a step further on Wednesday, when he was asked whether military personnel could expect above-inflation pay rises. Nevertheless, a Treasury official insisted on Wednesday that a review of public services pay wasn’t under consideration, whilst denying a rift with May’s office.

“The Conservative program is in tatters following the public verdict at the general election," Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in a statement. "May does not have a mandate for continued cuts to our schools, hospitals, police and other vital public services or for a race-to-the-bottom Brexit. Labour will fight these policies every step of the way.”

(Updates with Treasury comment in seventh paragraph.)
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