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PM Johnson promises to ‘degree up’ UK

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to tackle inequality and “level up” the United Kingdom with a post-pandemic raft of laws presented by Queen Elizabeth to parliament.

In a ceremony stripped back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Queen read out the bills the government hopes to pass during the next year on everything from job creation and healthcare to stripping back post-Brexit bureaucracy.

After travelling to parliament by car rather than the traditional horse and carriage, the Queen, in her first major public appearance since the death of her husband Prince Philip last month, read out the government’s agenda for the new parliamentary year.

“My government’s priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous that before,” the 95-year-old monarch said, addressing MPs from the throne in the upper chamber of parliament, the House of Lords.

“To achieve this, my government will level up opportunities across all parts of the United Kingdom, supporting jobs, businesses and economic growth and addressing the impact of the pandemic on public services.”

In the 18 months since Johnson’s Conservatives were re-elected with a big parliamentary majority, his agenda has been eclipsed by the pandemic, which caught his government off guard and has absorbed many of its resources for making policy.

With the UK’s vaccination program is now far ahead of many other countries and the spread of the virus at low levels, Johnson, 56, is keen to revive his “levelling up” agenda and re-set a premiership also clouded by accusations of cronyism.

In an introduction to the pages of government pledges, Johnson said: “The crisis has in no way diminished the government’s ambition or appetite for change… We have been given a historic opportunity to change things for the better.”

After completing the country’s exit from the European Union at the end of 2020, Johnson has wanted to showcase what he sees as the benefits of Brexit.

But he has so far been unable to match a pledge made in the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign of handing the health service 350 million pounds ($A631 million) a week.

His government will instead try to reduce what it saw as excessive EU bureaucracy by streamlining state aid and procurement rules so it can target funds to ailing businesses more quickly and directly.

Also part of the government’s strategy to “build back better” from the coronavirus pandemic are education reforms to help adults access life-long learning – seen by ministers as key to reshaping the UK workforce.

On climate change, the government reaffirmed its commitment to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, a pledge it hopes will spur other countries to cut their emission targets before a United Nations climate summit in November in Scotland.

Much of Tuesday’s “Queen’s Speech” comprised policies and proposals already flagged, prompting the opposition Labour Party to challenge the government to turn its “rhetoric into reality”.

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