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  1. Politics
  2. Brexit
6 September 2019updated 02 Sep 2021 7:54am

How Boris Johnson’s first year of parliament could unfold just as Theresa May’s did

By Patrick Maguire

You wait two years for a Queen’s Speech and two come along in three months: Boris Johnson’s domestic agenda will get its first proper airing in parliament today. So what are we to expect from our first year of big majority government since 2010?

Quite a bit, if this morning’s papers are anything to go by. The government will bring forward 40 separate pieces of legislation – remember that? – putting most of the threadbare Tory manifesto on the statute book.

It is a prospectus that makes clear the point of Johnson’s first term is to keep hold of those new Tory seats win a second: his campaign pledge of a £20.5bn increase in NHS spending will be enshrined in law, there will be a raft of measures to help struggling high streets, more cash for schools, a reduction in hospital car parking charges, longer sentences for terrorists, an end to automatic release for sexual and violent offenders, and, of course, Johnson’s Brexit deal. The role of the courts and Human Rights Act will also come under review.

But one of those pledges matters much more than any other in terms of Johnson’s ability to make good on his promises to use the UK’s departure from the EU to rejuvenate the provinces with a raft of new spending commitments. As the government revealed earlier this week, the new Withdrawal Agreement Bill will make a further extension of the transition period beyond 31 December next year illegal.

That self-imposed hard deadline is causing concern in Brussels. Ursula von der Leyen, the EU Commission president, warned yesterday that there will be “very little time” to agree a free trade deal before the end of 2020, which has not only been clear from ominous briefings out of Brussels for some time, but from every EU trade negotiation ever. She also insisted, as one would expect, that a no-deal Brexit would harm the UK more than it did the EU27.

So for all the domestic ambitions that Johnson will outline today, the first year of his first full parliament could end up unfolding just as Theresa May’s did: hurtling towards a hard, unnecessarily imposed deadline with his hands tied behind his back. Yes, a government with a majority can legislate to undo its mistakes, but the ERG hasn’t gone away, you know. The small print of the WAB as good as guarantees big rows in Brussels and Westminster. That might not only give the lie to his promise to Get Brexit Done, but it could bring the honeymoon to a sticky end.

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