Laying out his agenda for the next 12 months in the King’s Speech, the Prime Minister said the country had ‘turned the corner’ after a volatile period – and pledged to build a ‘brighter future’.
He put law and order at the heart of the Government’s legislative programme, with tougher sentences for violent criminals and powers to force killers to face their victims in court.
But, with Labour riding high in the opinion polls, he focused much of his fire on Keir Starmer.
In an unusually combative speech, the PM branded the Labour leader an ‘eco-zealot’ whose plans for a massive borrowing binge would drive up inflation and interest rates, leaving the British people to ‘pay the price’.
In an unusually combative speech, the PM branded Sir Keir Starmer an ‘eco-zealot’
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak put law and order at the centre of the King’s Speech as he sets out his priorities ahead of the next general election
A Labour government would bring ‘higher inflation, more strikes, more immigration and higher borrowing,’ the Prime Minister said.
‘The Labour Party’s plan to unnecessarily borrow £28billion more every year and give in to inflation-busting pay demands from its union paymasters is dangerous, inflationary, and the British people would pay the price in higher interest rates and higher taxes,’ he said.
He warned that Sir Keir’s ‘naive’ plan to ban new exploration for oil and gas would leave the UK ‘more dependent on Putin’s Russia’, adding: ‘What’s even more absurd is that he is not against all oil and gas – he’s just against British oil and gas.
‘They want to pursue Net Zero with ideological zeal – we are cutting the cost of Net Zero for working people.’
A Tory source defended the PM’s decision to use the state opening of Parliament to ‘compare and contrast’ his programme with Labour’s, saying: ‘They want to be seen as a government in waiting but they don’t want the scrutiny that comes with that. It’s time for that to end.’
Sir Keir described the King’s Speech package as a ‘missed opportunity’ and said that Mr Sunak’s bid to present himself as the candidate of change was ‘desperate’.
Some Tory MPs warned privately that the speech lacked a big, voter-friendly proposal – and said it would increase pressure on Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to bring in tax cuts before the election. One minister said: ‘It’s all right as far as it goes, but where are the big ideas? We are miles behind [in the polls] – we should be throwing everything at it. It sometimes feels like No 10 has given up.’
One former Cabinet minister said: ‘It was a routine speech which was passable, but in no way had anything eye-catching with a view to winning the next election.’
Labour leader Keir Starmer told MPs that the plans are ‘more of the same’ from a government ‘desperately trying to save their own skin’
The King’s Speech included measures on crime and sentencing, as well as plans to phase out smoking, new protections for consumers and proposals paving the way for the introduction of driverless cars. In other developments on one of the last big political set pieces before the election:
- The Government floated plans for a new tax on vapes, despite warnings it could discourage smokers from using the devices to quit cigarettes;
- Whitehall sources said the flagship Criminal Justice Bill could be delayed by a Cabinet row over Suella Braverman’s plan to fine charities offering tents to the homeless;
- Mr Sunak ditched contentious measures including a ban on so-called gay conversion therapy and a ban on the import of hunting trophies;
- David Davis and Jacob Rees-Mogg warned against plans to give the police powers to search properties for stolen goods without a warrant;
- Downing Street said that users of driverless cars would not be liable if their vehicles caused accidents;
- Probation officers will have enhanced powers to use lie detectors when assessing paedophiles, domestic abusers and terrorists;
- A promised ban on new leasehold properties excluded flats, which make up 70 per cent of the market.
Mr Sunak also pressed ahead with plans to mandate ministers to consider new North Sea oil licences every year.
Former business secretary Mr Rees-Mogg welcomed the moves to slow the rush to Net Zero. But, in a sign of Tory divisions over the issue, Theresa May urged Mr Sunak to ‘press the accelerator’ on the transition to the target.