By Karla Adam,
LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May pledged Wednesday to build a widespread “consensus” on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union even as her election-weakened government was locked in talks to keep its hold on power.
“My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union,” said a statement from May’s government that was read by Queen Elizabeth II as she formally opened a new session of Parliament.
The government, May wrote in the statement, is committed to working with lawmakers, regional officials and others “to build the widest possible consensus” on Brexit after the difficult divorce talks with the European Union opened Monday in Brussels.
The opening of Parliament — known as the Queen’s Speech — was delayed for nearly a week amid the political turmoil set in motion by national elections June 8 called by May.
She has hoped to consolidate power ahead of high-wire Brexit negotiations expected to last two years. But the gamble backfired spectacularly. Her Conservative Party lost its majority and is now forced to negotiate with a small, right-wing North Irish party to ensure the government has majority support in the House of Commons on key issues.
The Queen’s Speech was dominated by Brexit-related legislation and covered a two-year period instead of the usual one, highlighting the significance of Brexit.
But there was also much absent. Following a bungled election, May watered down pledges outlined in her party’s election manifesto relating to schools, social care and energy.
There was also no mention of President Trump’s planned state visit to Britain later this year. Although that does not mean the visit is canceled, the queen typically indicates in the speech if she will be hosting a state visit during the year.
Shortly before the event, Buckingham Palace announced that the queen’s husband, Prince Philip, 96, was admitted to hospital on Tuesday evening as a “precautionary measure.”
The Duke of Edinburgh would normally have been expected to be at her side during the occasion, but a palace spokeswoman insisted he was in “good spirits” and was “up and about.”
May’s Conservative Party, which has 317 seats in the 650-seat Parliament, is trying to strike a deal with Northern Ireland’s far-right Democratic Unionist Party. They need the support of the DUP’s 10 members to pass key legislation through Parliament.
The Queen’s Speech will be debated over the next few days before it’s put to a vote, expected next Thursday.
After a string of tragedies in Britain — four terrorist attacks in three months, and a devastating fire in west London — protesters were planning to take to the streets of London on Wednesday for a “Day of Rage.”
Despite the botched election and calls for her resignation, May has stayed on as prime minister, although many commentators don’t think she will last the full parliamentary term.
“The election result was not the one I hoped for,” May said ahead of the Queen’s Speech. “But this government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent.”
As she left Downing Street on her way to Westminster, a reporter yelled out to her: “Your first and last Queen’s Speech, prime minister?”
This year’s state opening of Parliament was unusually low-key because the snap election meant there wasn’t time to prepare for a major event.
It’s normally the height of pomp and pageantry, but this year there was no gold carriage, no royal procession, no ceremonial robes.
Instead, the queen wore a blue dress and a blue hat with flowers. Some commentators on social media said her hat bore a resemblance to the flag of the European Union.