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The queen attends the first major event since Philip’s death

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The Queen opened a new session in Parliament and read aloud the priorities of the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in a ceremonial ceremony which until a few years ago she had regularly attended with Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

Announcements of the Queen’s speech, written by the government, usually each spring or after an election, included the reintroduction of a controversial bill to increase police powers, legally binding environmental targets and changes to the UK health and social services sector.

Speech is one of the most important symbolic duties of the 95-year-old monarch and constitutes the central axis of Parliament’s state opening ceremony. Accompanied by her son and heir, Prince Charles, the queen took about ten minutes to read the speech from the throne in the House of Lords.

Queen Elizabeth II arrives on Tuesday at the small state opening of Parliament.  He usually traveled from Buckingham Palace by carriage.

The speech also referred to a controversial plan to require voters to prove their identity when participating in elections. The government has said the measure would reduce electoral fraud, but critics across the political spectrum have said the fraud is virtually non-existent and the measure would make it difficult for the poorest people to vote.

And the Queen confirmed that the Johnson administration plans to ban so-called conversion therapy, the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. The same intention was announced by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, three years ago and advocates have been frustrated that it has not yet been enacted.

Queen appears in a naked ceremony

The Queen’s speech is a significant event in both the royal and political calendar. The appearance of the monarch gave the British a first look at their queen in her role since she became a widow. The actual contents of his speech, by contrast, set out the government’s vision and are fiercely debated by lawmakers days later.

That’s the way it is usually a particularly extravagant one one, but was reduced in light of the pandemic; the horse-drawn carriage that the monarch used to ride from Buckingham Palace was scrapped and did not wear the royal state robe.
Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street to attend Tuesday's speech, days after his party enjoyed a landslide victory in the local election.

Still, the ceremony was full of much of its traditional pomp and spectacle. The queen walked beside her powerful imperial crown of the state, and Black Rod, who acts as the monarch’s representative in Parliament, nailed the door to the common chamber to her as a gesture representing the independence of legislators.

Prince Charles once again accompanied the queen to the ceremony, as she has done since Philip’s retirement in 2017.

Politically, the speech focused on Johnson’s commitment to “recovering the national recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic, including commitments to drive research, improve education, and accelerate housing creation.

Speech was more muted than usual, with a measure of social distancing that meant the House of Lords was far from full.

But much of the debate focused on plans to introduce a photo identification requirement at the polls. The queen said the government would work to “renew democracy and the constitution” and “ensure the integrity of the elections” through new legislation.

But Rosena Allin-Khan, the shadow minister of the Labor Party for mental health, dit the measure was “unfair” and “will only make our country even more unequal.” Conservative backbencher David Davis he said The Independent previously said it was an “illiberal solution in search of a non-existent problem”.
Johnson’s agenda was unveiled after his The Conservative party enjoyed a convincing set of results in local elections across the UK last week. The party won a parliamentary by-election, a rare feat after 11 years in power, and won council seats across England.

His big challenge, however, may be to keep the UK united and reject Scotland’s growing calls for an independence referendum. “My ministers will promote the strength and integrity of the union,” the Queen told Parliament, also promising measures to “address the legacy of the past” in Northern Ireland.

A couple of hours after the speech is delivered, lawmakers begin debating its content in what is known as the “Humble Address,” which usually lasts several days. After the debate, a vote is taken, but this process will be essentially symbolic given Johnson’s healthy parliamentary majority.

CNN’s Max Foster and James Frater contributed to this report.

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