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‘Moving target’: Queen’s Speech outlines new national legal framework as Brexit dominates Tory agenda

The Queen’s Speech today (21 June) has largely confirmed the prime ministers’ focus on Brexit, with new national legislation and reforms to the domestic legal framework, although the list of bills will remain a ‘moving target’.

Although a formal agreement between the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist party has yet to take place, a vote by parliament to approve the speech will be held next Thursday (29 June). The speech was two days later than expected, and allows for a six-day review of each policy area with MPs before amendments are tabled.

Alongside a Repeal Bill, May’s government seeks to introduce its own customs bill to replace the European Union (EU) customs regime. Europe’s custom’s union is the world’s largest by economic output. 

The speech also outlined the government’s plans to introduce seven national policies including customs, trade, immigration, international sanctions, nuclear safeguards, agriculture and fisheries, as it works to break the UK away from the European Union.

Commenting on the new bills, Ashurst competition lawyer Catherine Hammon said that it seemed very likely that ‘some areas of the legislative programme announced today may end up setting out transitional, holding policies, until the bigger picture becomes clearer and, in particular, whether the UK exits the Customs Union as well as the Single Market.’

Hogan Lovells London partner and public law expert Charles Brasted said the list will be a ‘moving target’ as negotiations develop.

Describing the government’s approach in the Repeal Bill as aiming to provide for ‘continuity based on existing EU law by default as far as possible, he said it would likely do so ‘en bloc rather than item by item.’

The Bill ‘will provide the domestic legal framework for Brexit and do much of the heavy lifting. However, the Queen’s Speech also promises, in accordance with the March White Paper, specific legislation’

‘The details we have of those issue-specific bills so far suggest that even these Bills are likely to be in large part enabling rather than prescriptive. This approach leaves options open to reflect to the sort of Brexit that emerges as negotiations go on,’ he said.

He added that the customs and trade bills ’emphasise the centrality to the government’s Brexit plans’ to leave the EU customs union and common commercial policy – ‘but do not preclude a EU/UK agreement in these areas.’

Herbert Smith Freehills Brexit working group co-head Dorothy Livingston told Legal Business that it was difficult to see how the UK could operate outside the EU without legislation in most of the areas covered by the laws.

‘There are things that aren’t here that I would expect they would need to legislate on. They’ll have to change the law around VAT but they may do that as part of general tax legislation,’ she said.

The new government will also push forward with legislation to reform personal injury law, specifically aimed to crack down on fraudulent whiplash claims.

Personal injury lawyers have protested the proposed changes under the new Civil Liability Bill, rubbishing claims that motorists could save £35 a year through cheaper car insurance.

Hodge Jones & Allen managing partner and head of personal injury Vidisha Joshi said: ‘The proposals are nothing short of scandalous – taking money from innocent accident victims and giving it to insurance companies and motorists, even though they actually affect all personal injury claims, not just road traffic related.’

‘The idea that motorists will save £35 is nothing but pure spin. Insurers have never passed on savings to date, I doubt very much they will start doing so now.’

The new government will also push forward with legislation which aims to ‘modernise’ the court system. New initiatives include the introduction of digital services that will allow businesses to pursue their cases quickly and the improvement of working conditions for judges by implementing changes such as offering fixed terms on leadership roles.

President of the Law Society, Robert Bourns, welcomed ‘continued progress towards the careful modernisation of our courts system’. He warned, however, against the dilution of justice in that process. He emphasised that ‘it will be a clear injustice if the government persists with denying essential legal advice to those injured through no fault of their own – if government is truly committed to targeting fraudulent claims, it should do just that.’