King Charles III will open a session of Parliament on Tuesday for the first time as monarch, outlining the British government’s legislative priorities in a tradition-laden ceremony that will test his ability to display political neutrality for which his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. , was famous.
Written by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, but delivered by King Charles, the central speech is a constitutional oddity – and one that will be closely watched this year, as the new sovereign reads aloud a list of government bills that include certain policies that may categorically oppose his personal views.
Among these is Mr Sunak’s plan to further exploit Britain’s oil and gas reserves in the North Sea. Although the Conservative government says it will still meet its net-zero emissions targets by 2050, the decision to allow more fossil fuel extraction has angered climate change campaigners – a cause that is keen to heart to the king for decades.
King Charles made his first major speech on the environment in 1970, aged just 21, and in recent years he has become an increasingly vocal advocate for climate action. In a speech in France in September, he urged the world to “work together to protect the world from our attacks.” the most existential challenge of all: that of global warming, climate change and the catastrophic destruction of nature.
Yet few expect King Charles to show anything other than the poker face expected of a British monarch when he delivers his speech on Tuesday. the “King’s Speech,” an occasion celebrated less for politics than for protocol, elaborate royal regalia and intricate choreography.
“It’s a weirdness that we’ve kept because the ceremonial is part of the monarchy, but the speech itself is just the government laying out its policies. That’s where the weirdness comes from,” he said. said Catherine Haddon, program director at the Institute for Government, an independent study. reservoir.
The monarchy’s commitment to political neutrality was consolidated during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and “everything we have seen suggests that Charles is seeking continuity,” Ms. Haddon said.
The government has already confirmed that its legislative plans include measures to offer oil and gas licensing cycles every year, unlike the current system where they take place periodically.
The Conservatives want to draw a political dividing line with the opposition Labor Party, which has said that while it will honor existing licenses for oil and gas exploitation in the North Sea, it will not grant new ones. he came to power.
Downing Street said on Monday it saw no contradiction between its proposal and the climate change goals championed by the king. Using Britain’s energy resources would achieve net zero targets in a “pragmatic way that does not burden hard-working families”, Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson said.
It will likely be the king’s final speech before the next general election, due to take place by January 2025, and analysts say the government will roll out a series of policies targeting its core voters.
These could include measures to attract the motorists Mr Sunak has recently tried to woo. It follows his party’s success in retaining a parliamentary seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip earlier this summer after campaigning against the Labor Mayor of London’s expansion of a scheme that makes people pay more to drive older, more polluting cars.
This prompted Mr Sunak to weaken several environmental measures in September when he said he would delay a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars for five years and also lower boiler replacement targets. gas.
On Tuesday, the government plans to announce new crime legislation that aims to ensure perpetrators of the most serious crimes will stay in prison longer and be forced to face their victims in court.
In comments released by his office, Mr Sunak said that “in the most despicable cases, these evil criminals must never again be on the loose on our streets. Life must mean life.
The government could also announce legislation to implement a previously promised phased tobacco ban. Under the proposal, it would be illegal to sell cigarettes to people born after January 2009.
Some Britons are still getting used to the idea of a king delivering a speech that, during his seven-decade reign, was read 67 times by Queen Elizabeth. King Charles stood in for his mother in May 2022, when she was unable to attend due to failing health, and read what was then known as the Queen’s Speech.
Queen Elizabeth has spent her life observing political neutrality, rarely letting slip her personal thoughts on controversial issues.
But even she couldn’t avoid speculation about her political views and, when she read the Queen’s speech in 2017 but wasn’t wearing her crown, there were questions about the colors of her hat – embroidered blue of a pattern of yellow flowers which for some resembled the flag of the European Union – were a statement on Brexit.
During the many decades he spent waiting to succeed him, King Charles, 74, championed a variety of causes, from architecture to the environment.
Last week, Buckingham Palace announced that King Charles would deliver a keynote speech at COP 28, which begins later this month in Dubai.
But Ms Haddon said the fact that her views were so well known would likely make the king appear more scrupulous and neutral. He might, she added, be more concerned about the speech than the content of the speech.
Created at the end of the 14th century, the opening of the State marks the beginning of the parliamentary year. The modern ceremony dates back to 1852, when a rebuilt Parliament House reopened after a fire. The route inside the building that King Charles is supposed to follow was taken by Queen Victoria.
Her relations with politicians of the time were not always harmonious, notably with William Gladstone, a prime minister who, she complained, “spoke to me as if I were at a public meeting.” (By contrast, Benjamin Disraeli, a rival who also served as Prime Minister, flattered and charmed the Queen.)
Early in her reign, Queen Victoria regularly attended the official inauguration, but this had passed by the end of her term, when she often resisted requests from prime ministers to appear in person. His successor, Edward VII, revived the State Opening as a ceremonial occasion, including a procession in the State Coach through the streets of London and with the King, in full regalia, personally reading the speech of the throne.