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Queen's Speech: Votes for life and immigration points

Ending the 15-year limit on expatriate voting has again been raised in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech.

The speech also pledged to implement Brexit on January 31, 2020 and to end the transition period on December 31, 2020 and bring in 'points based' immigration rules.

The main speech and accompanying documents, which set out the government’s plans for the parliamentary session ahead – usually lasting a year – refer to ‘Australian style’ immigration rules prioritising skills as of 2021 for all new immigrants including EU citizens, as well as plans for tougher laws against foreign offenders.

Meanwhile a spokesman for the Department for Exiting the EU – which is expected to be closed down at the end of next month – said the government considers today’s second reading of the EU Withdrawal Agreement (WA) Bill as being a ‘de facto’ vote to approve the ‘Brexit deal’.

No further ‘meaningful vote’ will now be held on this, he said.

The government will now seek to fast-track the WA Bill so the deal is fully ratified before the expected Brexit date of January 31 – however it must also be approved by the European Parliament, probably with a vote on January 29, if it is to be in force by the leaving date. 

The previous parliament voted through a resolution that it approved the Brexit deal provisionally on condition that all related UK legislation to put it into effect – ie. the WA Bill – was passed through parliament first. The MPs then refused Boris Johnson’s attempt to rush the WA Bill through before the initial October 31 date, leading to the elections that have just been held.

Yesterday's Queen's Speech was remarkable in being the second in the space of two months... whereas October's was notable for being more than two years after the previous one, the last session of Parliament having been the longest since the Civil War.

Measures in the main Queen’s speech and supporting documents yesterday include:

  • Brexit: The government will legislate to “ensure the UK’s exit on January 31” and will “rule out any extension to the implementation period beyond 2020”, by writing the date of December 31, 2020 into the WA Bill as the end date. This will give “businesses and citizens time to prepare,” it states.
    After January 31 it will seek a relationship with the EU based on a free trade agreement and will start to negotiate agreements with other leading global economies [replacing around 40 trade deals that the UK is currently part of as a member of the EU].
    “Further EU-exit legislation” will also be passed in this session as required to implement the future relations agreed by the end of the year.
  • 15-year rule: The supporting documents include at the end of a chapter on Constitution and democracy on page 127, wording that “…further measures will be brought forward in due course, such as ensuring British citizens overseas can vote in Parliamentary elections for life, by getting rid of the arbitrary 15-year limit on their voting rights”.
    The fact this was not in the main speech and no specific bill on ‘Overseas Electors’ or ‘Votes for Life’ is referred to suggests that it is not a top priority, nonetheless its inclusion means that usually the government should look to deal with it in the year ahead if time allows. The measure, promised in the last three Conservative manifestos, was not referred to in the previous Queen's Speech two months ago. 
    Changes will also be made to proxy voting so that someone may only be a proxy for up to two people, regardless of whether they are relatives or not.
    The government also plans to scrap the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, giving it more flexibility about when to call general elections.
  •  Immigration: The government will end EU free movement and “maximise the opportunities of Brexit” by “introducing an Australian-style points-based immigration system so we can attract the best and brightest from across the world”.
    This will operate from 2021, it says, making EU citizens coming to the EU subject to the same rules as non-EU citizens, with a “single global immigration system based on people’s skills”.
    The government will also legislate to allow itself to set new rules on access to benefits and social security coordination, including the ability to align entitlements of EU citizens coming after January 2021 with those of non-EU citizens.
    New fast-track visa systems will be put in place for new migrants who fill shortages in public services, such as a new NHS scheme.
    The government will increase the NHS surcharage payable by new migrants intending to stay in the UK more than six months, “to ensure it covers the full cost of use”.
    The new system will focus on skills and talents, including:

    - Migrants with world-leading awards, exceptional talent, or entrepreneurs with sponsorship to set up new businesses, or investors
    - Skilled workers with enough points and a job offer
    - Workers in specific sectors coming on schemes for low-skilled work, youth mobility or short-term visits (with no right to permanent settlement).

    There will also be a special fast-track scheme for “the best and brightest scientists and researchers” in view of stated aims such as boosting space exploration with a new National Space Council and UK Space Strategy, or delivering the “world’s first commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040”.

  • Law and order: Police to have powers to arrest people wanted for serious crimes in trusted countries abroad; increasing penalties for foreign offenders who return to the UK after being deported; new measures to make it easier to deport foreign offenders.

    “Foreign national offenders who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them”, the documents say.

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