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Does the Queen’s Speech really matter?

Rather than debate what happens if the Queen's Speech doesn't pass, it's easier to think about whether it will pass or not.

tl;dr – Probably not.

There has been much discussion about the Queen’s Speech, whether or not it will pass, and what will happen if it doesn’t. The issue has gained prominence in the UK since the June 9 general election resulted in no party winning an overall majority and the incumbent Conservatives trying to negotiate a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party to deliver a working majority.

The Queen’s Speech – or more formally the speech from the throne – is part of the formal opening of the UK parliament, a complex piece of British parliamentary theatre.

The speech itself is written by the government and delivered by the monarch. It sets out the priorities for the government for the coming parliamentary year. It’s fairly general in content, more of a statement of intent rather than a list of specifics, and as with all things in politics, events and circumstances can change what the government actually tries to do.

Her Majesty the Queen delivers the speech from the throne in the House of Lords, May 9, 2012. Image: UK Parliament/flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

Discussions between the DUP and the Conservatives for a “confidence and supply” agreement to give the Tories assurances that the DUP will not vote against them in confidence motions and in government-sponsored legislation is ongoing.

Rather than debate what happens if it doesn’t pass, it’s easier to think about whether it will pass or not.

The Conservatives won 318 seats in parliament; the DUP won 10; Sinn Féin won 7; and Labour plus everyone else won 315.

Sinn Féin will not take their seats so they can be discounted. The Speaker is a Conservative and doesn’t vote except to break a tie, so, ignoring the DUP for now, the Conservatives have a majority of 2.

So, whether the Queen’s Speech passes or not is down to the DUP. The only way the government can be defeated is if the DUP vote against it.

But will they?

Conservative and DUP policies may differ in detail but they are broadly similar. Both are economically and socially conservative, both favour Brexit, both are unionist parties.

One thing they both absolutely agree on is Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The Guardian reported a DUP source as saying: “We want there to be a government. We have worked well with May. The alternative is intolerable. For as long as Corbyn leads Labour, we will ensure there’s a Tory PM.”

Another DUP source told Robert Peston that they will support the Conservatives “for as long as Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Labour Party.”

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson told the Belfast Telegraph that the party will “under no circumstances” support a government led by Jeremy Corbyn.

Before the election, DUP leader Arlene Foster said: “While Theresa May is well within the political mainstream and has proven herself to be a solid and reliable unionist, Jeremy Corbyn is beyond the political pale.”

DUP opposition to Jeremy Corbyn personally, rather than just the Labour party is clear. They will not countenance Corbyn as Prime Minister. If the Conservatives lose the vote on the Queen’s Speech, the government will face a motion of confidence, which – however unlikely – could lead to a Corbyn-led government.

It looks incredibly unlikely that the DUP will vote against.

There is a wider discussion on what might happen if the Queen’s Speech isn’t passed. It’s fairly complicated because the legislation is relatively new and has not been tested, and it’s discussed by the Institute for Government here and here. An alternative (older) take can be found here.

UPDATE June 16 Jennifer Cobbe, a PhD student in the School of Law at Queen’s University Belfast who has taught constitutional law, responds to this article, arguing that the vote on the Queen’s Speech could be crucial for Theresa May.

Analysis: Theresa May’s premiership could swiftly end if she fails to pass the Queen’s Speech

Dealing with Troubles legacy overshadows Theresa May’s deal with the DUP


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