Queen Elizabeth II will miss Tuesday’s ceremonial opening of Britain’s parliament, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to reinvigorate his faltering government by unveiling its plans for the coming year.
The 96-year-old monarch, who usually presides over the pomp-filled event and reads out her government’s legislative programme from a gilded throne in the House of Lords, will skip the annual showpiece on her doctors’ advice.
Buckingham Palace said late Monday she had made the decision “reluctantly” as she continues to experience “episodic mobility problems”.
It is the latest in a string of cancelled public appearances caused by health problems and old age. Her son and heir to the throne Prince Charles will fulfil the head of state role instead.
The Queen has rarely been seen in public since spending an unscheduled night in hospital last October, and has complained of difficulties standing and working. She also contracted Covid-19 in February.
She has missed only two state openings during her record-breaking 70-year reign, in 1959 and 1963, when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and then Prince Edward.
Her decision heightened fears that she may not be able to attend celebrations marking her 70th year on the throne next month.
In changes to the Westminster ceremony, Prince Charles, who is 73, will not wear the Queen’s imperial state crown even though he and Prince William will bring it by car, The Times reported.
Symbolically, the throne where the Queen usually sits to deliver her speech will remain empty.
Royal expert Robert Hardman wrote in the Daily Mail that the Queen “remains very much in charge”, while calling this handover a “historic moment”.
The Times wrote that for Charles, this is “the nearest he has come to performing the duties he will one day undertake as king”.
News of the Queen’s absence immediately overshadowed the unveiling of the new parliamentary session.
Reeling from a series of scandals and dire results for his ruling Conservatives in local elections last week, the beleaguered Tory leader is promising 38 bills to get his agenda “back on track”.
They will focus on boosting economic growth and paving the way for more “high-wage, high-skill jobs”, as well as tackling the spiralling cost of living, Johnson’s Downing Street office said.
– ‘Back on track’ –
The upcoming parliamentary session — the current government’s third — is one of Johnson’s last opportunities to deliver on his key policy promises before the next general election due by May 2024.
Johnson won an 80-seat majority in December 2019, vowing to reap rewards from Brexit and tackle decades of growing regional inequality.
Despite securing Britain’s withdrawal from the EU with a comprehensive trade deal, the coronavirus pandemic upended delivery of his domestic agenda.
His government was soon consumed by the pandemic and then sidetracked in recent months by various controversies, including the so-called “Partygate” scandal.
That saw Johnson become the first UK prime minister found to have broken the law while in office, after police ruled he and staff had breached Covid-19 lockdown rules.
He is now hoping his legislative programme can help draw a line under his recent woes, not least the loss of nearly 500 councillors across England, Wales and Scotland last week.
But he faces a daunting challenge as the growing cost-of-living crisis begins to bite, with bleak economic forecasts.
“This Queen’s Speech will get our country back on track, and I will strive… night and day to deliver it,” Johnson will tell MPs.
“We are going to ensure that over the two years we have left in this parliament, we spend every second uniting and levelling up this country.”
– Wide-ranging –
Johnson has pledged another “Brexit freedoms” bill — following a similar legislative unveiling in January — aimed at removing hundreds of EU regulations.
He will cut regulations for small businesses and remove environmental restrictions that can delay or prevent infrastructure projects, reports said.
The Queen’s Speech will also detail reforms to rejuvenate shopping streets nationwide and “restore pride in local areas”, as part of the government’s flagship levelling up agenda.
A public order bill will aim to prevent disruptive protest tactics used by groups such as Extinction Rebellion “causing misery to the hard-working public” by giving police more powers and tools, Downing Street said.
There will also be legislation targeting education, housing, mental health and railways regulation.
A new bill of rights law, which could make it easier for the courts to deport foreigners convicted of criminal offences, could be among the programme’s more divisive elements.