Boris Johnson has promised action to deal with a sharp rise in the cost of living but he admitted that the government could not shield everyone from its impact. But Labour leader Keir Starmer described the prime minister's response to the crisis as "pathetic", dismissing the government as bereft of ideas.
Sir Keir was speaking during a debate on the queen's speech, which set out the government's legislative programme for the next year. The speech was delivered for the first time by Prince Charles because Queen Elizabeth was unable to travel to Westminster due to what were described as episodic mobility issues.
“Her majesty’s government’s priority is to grow and strengthen the economy and help ease the cost of living for families,” Prince Charles said, sketching out the priorities behind 38 Bills the government hopes to introduce.
The proposed measures include a Bill making it easier to change laws inherited from the EU; looser regulations on genetically modified food; and more powers for local council to bring empty commercial premises back into use. Mr Johnson said the government wanted to boost productivity but acknowledged the limited options available for immediate action.
“However great our compassion and commitment, we cannot simply spend our way out of problems. We need to grow our economy out of these problems by creating hundreds of thousands of high-waged, high-skilled jobs across the country,” he said.
Sir Keir said the economic condition of Britain was a shocking legacy of 12 years of Conservative government, accusing the prime minister of complacency in brushing aside warnings about inflation last year.
“A government of the moment would use the great powers that it has to tackle this head on. Bringing forward an emergency budget, with a windfall tax on oil and gas producers, which would raise billions.
“The money raised could be used to slash the cost of energy bills and help businesses keep their costs down,” he said.
“Even the bosses at BP don’t agree when the prime minister says it would deter investment. It’s a common-sense solution. But instead, the government is bereft of leadership.”
The queen’s speech included proposals for limits on the right to public protest by groups such as Extinction Rebellion and a ban on publicly funded bodies supporting boycotts such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Students’ unions at universities could face sanctions if visiting speakers complain that they have not adequately protected their free speech.
The queen's speech did not explicitly mention the Northern Ireland protocol but a promise "to prioritise support for the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement and its institutions" was viewed at Westminster as a coded reference to a threat to unilaterally disapply the protocol. Speaking in the debate, former prime minister Theresa May warned Mr Johnson against such action.
"I do not think that that would be the right move for the government. I think the government needs to consider not just some immediate issues, but also the wider sense of what such a move would say about the United Kingdom and its willingness to abide by treaties that it has signed," she said.