Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the government’s planned legislative programme outlined in the Queen’s speech as “a farce”, as he signalled he will back a general election that could deliver a Labour government within weeks.
The Labour leader dismissed Johnson’s programme for government as hollow, after the monarch read out a list of 26 bills and other ideas mainly related to Brexit, crime and the NHS.
“The prime minister promised that this Queen’s speech would dazzle us,” Corbyn said. “On closer inspection it turns out to be nothing more than fool’s gold.”
He said: “There has never been such a farce as a government with a majority of minus 45 and a 100% record of defeat in the Commons setting out a legislative agenda they know cannot be delivered in this parliament.”
He also signalled the party was still prepared to vote for an election as soon as the threat of a no-deal Brexit is off the table, potentially meaning a national poll in early December. Corbyn is coming under pressure from many in Labour, including his own shadow cabinet, to press for a second referendum before an election.
Heckled that he had not voted for an election when Johnson tried to call one twice this autumn, he said it was essential for Johnson to “get an extension, take us away from the dangers of no deal, then we’re in a position to do that”.
He added: “We may only be just weeks away from the first Queen’s speech of a Labour government.
“In that Queen’s speech, Labour will put forward the most radical and people-focused programme in modern times. A once-in-a-generation chance to rebuild and transform our country.”
Responding for the government, Johnson said Corbyn could not make up his mind on whether to back an election and criticised the Labour leader for changing his position on Brexit, saying: “His policy on cake is neither having it, nor eating it.”
The prime minister added: “First he was opposed to no deal, now he seems to be opposed to any deal.
“First he was in favour of delivering Brexit, now he wants a second referendum.
“First he wanted an election – actually he wanted an election for quite a long time – now he’d much rather not.
“He resembles a Janus. A push-me-pull-you facing both directions at once and yet unable to decide for either.”
Johnson dismissed criticism of his Queen’s speech, saying it was a programme for “an open, global, free-trading United Kingdom”.
“A high-wage, low-tax economy with the highest environmental standards, new protections for animal welfare, the best place to invest, the best place to start a business, the best place to start a family and send your kids to school,” he said.
“Without being chauvinistic or disrespectful to anywhere else in the world, in important respects, this country is the greatest place to live in the world.”
More than a third of the new bills announced by the Queen relate to arrangements to be made after Britain’s departure from the EU.
Other key elements of a speech widely trailed in advance included plans for tougher jail sentences and proposals to oblige people to show photographic ID before they are allowed to vote.
On Brexit, Corbyn said the government had had “three and a half years to get Brexit done and they’ve failed”. Government forecasts suggested that even if Boris Johnson did get a deal, his plan would damage the economy, Corbyn said.
He noted there were no measures proposed “to address our stagnant economy. Nothing to address low pay and insecure work. Nothing to reverse rising levels of child poverty or pensioner poverty.”
He said the PM’s speech “was supposed to herald an end to austerity and a new vision. Instead it barely begins to unpick the devastating cuts to public services.”
The last Queen’s speech, in 2017, pledged action on mental healthcare and social care. The latest speech contained “the same warm words” but nothing more and action to increase spending on schools and police did not make up for resources lost since 2010, he said.
Corbyn condemned plans to increase sentences for violent offenders, saying judges already had the necessary powers. He said the proposals for compulsory voter ID were an attempt “to stifle democracy by making it harder for people to vote”.
He concluded: “This legislative programme is a propaganda exercise that cannot disguise that this government has failed on Brexit for over three years, that they are barely beginning to undo the damage of a decade of cuts to our public services. That it does nothing for people struggling to make ends meet, does nothing to make our world a safer place or tackle the climate emergency.”
Seven bills outlined in the speech were devoted to law and order, heralding what seems to be a key Conservative election message based on tougher jail sentences, a direction that has prompted alarm from prison reform charities.
On another primary election battleground, the NHS, the main measure outlined was not legislative but a proposal for a new long-term plan for the NHS. On social care there was a proposal for a consultation.
A series of other bills outlined by the Queen had either already been before parliament or had been discussed in depth, for example on domestic abuse, no-fault divorce, a measure to oblige restaurants and other businesses to pass on all tips to staff, and tougher regulations on fire safety in high-rise buildings in response to the Grenfell disaster.
Other pledges of future bills in the speech covered areas also likely to feature strongly in the Conservative election manifesto, such as increased schools funding and more free schools, as well as legislation intended to help the rollout of faster broadband.
Another element likely to feature in Johnson’s campaigning was an environment bill outlining post-Brexit policies in areas including plastic, biodiversity and air quality.
Quite a damning assessment of Labour and particularly Corbyns confused position, especially when its come from one of labours main supporters, the Guardian.