LONDON — Britain’s Conservative government is setting out a pre-election policy slate including tougher sentences for criminals and measures to tame inflation and boost economic growth at the grand State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday.
King Charles III will read out a speech, written by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government, outlining its legislative plans for the next year.
It’s almost certainly the last such speech before a national election, and Sunak’s first chance to set out major legislative plans since he became prime minister just over a year ago. The last session of Parliament opened in May 2022, when Boris Johnson was prime minister and Queen Elizabeth II sat on the throne.
Charles became monarch when his mother died in September 2022 after a 70-year reign. He will deliver the first King’s — rather than Queen’s — Speech since 1951.
The parliamentary opening ceremony is a spectacular pageant that reflects the two sides of Britain’s constitutional monarchy: royal pomp and political power.
The day begins with scarlet-clad yeomen of the guard searching Parliament’s cellars for explosives, a reference to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot in which Roman Catholic rebels led by Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the building with the Protestant King James I inside.
The king will travel from Buckingham Palace to read the speech from a golden throne in the House of Lords, Parliament’s unelected upper chamber. Monarchs have been barred from entering the House of Commons since King Charles I tried to arrest lawmakers there in 1642 – an act of royal overreach that led to civil war and the monarchy’s temporary overthrow.
The speech will give clues to how the Conservatives plan to campaign in an election that must be called by the end of 2024. The party has been in power since 2010 but opinion polls put the Conservatives as much as 20 points behind the opposition Labour Party.
There is likely to be a strong focus on law and order, an area where the Conservatives think they have an edge over left-of-center Labour. The speech will announce tougher sentences for serious offenses, including no-parole “life means life” sentences for some murderers.
There also will be legislation to enact Sunak’s plan to stop new generations from smoking by gradually raising the minimum age for buying tobacco.
Several bills will be carried over from the last session, including one to bolster protection for renters and a contentious plan to ban public bodies from imposing “politically motivated boycotts of foreign countries” – a law aimed at stopping boycotts of Israel.
The government also plans to continue the watering-down of environmental measures started by Sunak when he lifted a moratorium on North Sea oil and gas extraction in July. The speech will include plans for a law requiring new oil and gas drilling licenses in the North Sea to be awarded every year. The government argues that would cut Britain’s reliance on foreign fuel and increase energy security.
Environmentalists and opposition parties say it will just make it harder for the U.K. to make a much-needed switch to renewable energy and to meet its goal of reducing U.K. greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.
The king, a lifelong champion of green causes, is barred from expressing his view on the measures he will read out on behalf of “my government.”