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'Zombie government' braces for UK parliament test

Wednesday, June 21, 2017 - 18:18

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Prime Minister Theresa May presents her programme to parliament on Wednesday with a focus on Brexit and terrorism, despite suffering an election fiasco that British media said has turned her government into a "zombie".

[LONDON] Prime Minister Theresa May presents her programme to parliament on Wednesday with a focus on Brexit and terrorism, despite suffering an election fiasco that British media said has turned her government into a "zombie".

The formal State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II comes after a string of tragedies which have shaken the nation, and an election on June 8 in which Ms May lost her parliamentary authority.

The queen will read out the watered-down list of proposed legislation and lawmakers will then spend the next few days debating before bringing it to a vote.

Ms May could be forced to resign if she loses the vote, just as the country embarks on highly sensitive negotiations for Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

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After four terror attacks and a devastating fire that have darkened the national mood, protesters are also planning a "Day of Rage" in the streets against Ms May's Conservatives that will converge outside parliament.

The Times branded her administration the "stumbling husk of a zombie government" and said Ms May was now "so weak that she cannot arbitrate between squabbling cabinet ministers", who are increasingly publicly divided over Brexit.

"Downing Street is a vacuum," the newspaper said.

John McDonnell, chief finance spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party, said Ms May's minority government had "no right to govern".

"They haven't got an overall majority. So, yes, they have got the right to bring forward their own programme, but I don't believe, actually, that they are legitimate," Mr McDonnell told BBC radio.

Ms May called the June 8 snap general election in a bid to strengthen her mandate heading into the Brexit talks.

But the plan spectacularly backfired, leaving her with a minority government that is now trying to form a majority with Northern Ireland's ultra-conservative Democratic Unionist Party.

Ms May has resisted calls to resign and is hoping for the support of the DUP's 10 MPs to boost her tally of 317 seats in the 650-seat parliament, but a deal has proved elusive so far.

A DUP source said a deal was "certainly not imminent" as the talks "haven't proceeded in a way that the DUP would have expected" and cautioned that the party "can't be taken for granted".

But even with DUP backing, the government would command only a tiny majority, and just a few rebel MPs could be enough to undermine it fatally.

The Queen's Speech, normally a chance for a new government to show off an ambitious programme, will reportedly be very pared down this time in order to avoid any potential splits in Conservative ranks.

The event is usually a high point of British pomp and pageantry, but this year there will be no horse-drawn carriage procession, crown or ceremonial robes.

The snap election plus the closeness to the monarch's official birthday parade last weekend meant it was deemed infeasible to prepare a second major event at short notice.

The Queen's Speech was initially planned for Monday but was postponed because of the turmoil following the election.

"This Queen's Speech is about recognising and grasping the opportunities that lie ahead for the UK as we leave the EU," Ms May said late Tuesday.

"It is about delivering a Brexit deal that works for all parts of the UK while building a stronger, fairer country.

"The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this government will respond with humility." The speech will be followed by several days of debate by MPs, culminating in a vote expected on June 29 which one parliamentary official confirmed is essentially a "de facto vote of confidence" in Ms May's minority government.

But the results of the election mean that a coalition of opposition parties would struggle for enough support to form a viable alternative government, and there is little appetite in Britain for yet another election.

The government has said this session of parliament will last two years - meaning there would be no Queen's Speech next year - in order to be able to pass a vast amount of Brexit-related legislation.

But opposition parties have said it is a way for the government to avoid being voted down in a Queen's Speech next year, when talks in Brussels are expected to get tougher ahead of Britain's expected EU exit in March 2019.

AFP

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