Prime Minister Theresa May promised on Wednesday to listen more closely to business concerns about Britain leaving the European Union as she set out a Brexit-focused government programme, pared back to reflect her weakened authority.
Chastened by an election which left her Conservative Party short of a majority in parliament and reopened debate on the nature of Britain’s EU exit, May also sidelined reform on social care, education and corporate governance.
May’s two-year programme, known as the Queen’s Speech and prepared by ministers, was read out by Queen Elizabeth at parliament’s opening ceremony. She has yet to secure a deal with Northern Ireland’s DUP party to prop up her government.
The queen told lawmakers from both the upper and lower houses of parliament that the government is committed to building “the widest possible consensus” on Brexit, working with parliament, devolved administrations, business and others.
“My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union,” the queen said.
The traditionally ceremonial address, usually dominated by pageantry, was a crucial testing ground for May’s ability to run the country during its most challenging period for generations.
Her authority has been badly damaged just as Britain begins Brexit negotiations. Four militant attacks have raised questions about her grip on national security, and the death of at least 79 people in a tower block fire has become a flashpoint for public anger at her party’s record in government.
“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent,” May said in remarks introducing the policy plan.
“First, we need to get Brexit right. That means getting a deal which delivers the result of last year’s referendum and does so in a way that commands maximum public support.”
The shift to a more consultative tack drew a cautious welcome from business groups, which worry that May’s plan focuses more on controlling immigration than protecting the economy.
Her new approach will be tested almost immediately, when she travels to Brussels on Thursday for a summit of EU leaders.
Lawmakers will have to approve the speech in a vote, expected on June 29, that will be a de facto vote of confidence. Minority governments are a rare occurrence in British parliamentary politics where the electoral system usually produces a governing majority.