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Unfinished business: policies that could have failed under UK ‘lame duck’ government | Boris Johnson

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Boris Johnson remains prime minister for the time being and has appointed a cabinet, so the government can technically continue. With the nation in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis and action needed on everything from education to energy, ministerial pallets are overflowing. But the chances of a lame-duck administration doing much look slim. Here are some key policies that can stop the chaos.

Energy

It promised to be an important – and tense – week in the energy industry as long-running battles came to a head. A decision to approve plans for Britain’s first new £165m coal mine in decades near Whitehaven in west Cumbria was expected but has been delayed. The fracking review, originally expected last week, has yet to appear. A decision on planning approval for the Sizewell C nuclear reactor in Suffolk, which is opposed by environmental groups, was due to be made on Friday. Now it has been postponed to July 20.

Whitehaven in Cumbria is the site of a planned new coal mine in north west England. Photo: John Super/AP

Suppression of gambling

A once-in-a-generation overhaul of Britain’s antiquated gambling laws was due to be unveiled next week, but it has been thrown into doubt by the resignation of Gambling Secretary Chris Philp. The White Paper is expected to include tighter betting limits on online casino games and affordability checks to ensure players don’t lose too much unless offers are relaxed. Other policies hanging in the balance include the creation of a gambling ombudsman, a mandatory levy on operators to fund addiction services and a possible ban on betting logos on T-shirts.

Northern Ireland Protocol

Johnson, like his predecessor, can leave office with the issue of trade with Northern Ireland unresolved. His government is pushing legislation to end the arrangements it has signed which see goods coming from the UK to North Africa inspected.

EU leaders yesterday quickly urged Johnson’s successor to abandon these plans deliberately breaching international law, which could trigger a wide-ranging trade war between the UK and its biggest trading partner. A warming relationship could also open the door to the UK’s return to the €90bn (£76bn) Horizon research scheme.

HS2 in the north

The majority of Conservative voters, especially among Brexit supporters, have always opposed the high-speed rail network. Johnson likes big infrastructure projects and has supported them. However, in his leadership campaign he raised the vote by promising to review it – even if, after his election, he referred this review to the former chairman of HS2.

Certainly too much work was done on the first phase from London to Birmingham to return without colossal waste, and phase 2a to Crewe went through Parliament. But the new leader may still decide to abandon the others.

Education

Teacher pay is a major sticking point for new education secretary James Cleverley – he needs to publish recommendations from a school teacher inspection body by the end of term or risk further angering teachers in England ahead of a vote in the autumn.

Exam results for A-levels and GCSEs are due in mid-August – and there will be a sharp drop in top grades compared to last year. Whoever is the education minister will have to make it clear to the unhappy students and parents why this happened. A corresponding admissions tour to universities can be a similar nightmare for ministers.

Michelle Donnellan is leaving 10 Downing Street
The Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill faces opposition in the House of Lords and has now lost its main sponsor, Michelle Donnellan. Photo: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The schools bill before parliament is troubled and needs a major overhaul to overcome opponents in the Lords who see it as a centralized takeover of academies.

The Higher Education Freedom of Speech Bill has also faced opposition in the House of Lords and has now lost its main sponsor in Michelle Donelan as a minister. It may be delayed further if its flaws are discovered.

Other policies that have remained unadopted include consultations on special educational needs and disability, which are closing fast and require urgent focus if reforms are to progress, while new policies on post-Covid catch-up and school attendance also require attention from on the part of the ministers.

Retail taxes

The rapid changes in the retail industry brought about by the Internet have not been matched by tax updates. The government has held consultations on reforming the tariff system for shops and on online sales tax for online shops. A decision on the latter was expected by the fall, but has already faced stiff opposition from conservative-friendly think tanks.

The Internet is harmful

Parliament is due to scrutinize the government’s online safety bill next week. Major changes in Internet regulation will potentially be required of social media platforms, video streaming services and search engines. reduce the influence of foreign-backed disinformation. Two of the bill’s backers, Nadine Dorris and Priti Patel, are still in office, and the government has said it will complete the next phase before parliament recesses on July 21.

Human rights

Dominic Raab has long had his eye on the Labor-initiated Human Rights Act. He wants to replace the “bill of rights” to allow the UK’s supreme court to ignore the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (European Convention on Human Rights arbitrator outside the EU).

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The bill proposes to ban the wealthy from using the threat of expensive lawsuits to silence journalists or campaigners by filing so-called strategic public participation lawsuits, or slapps. The consultation has been completed but no detailed proposals have been published.

Immigration

The government’s decision to send UK refugees to Rwanda has sparked opposition from backbench Tory supporters to the Archbishop of Canterbury. It also failed to pass through the courts until now, after the first scheduled flight was prevented from leaving. The architects of the scheme, Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel, are both still in their posts, and government lawyers are due to argue their case for flights to begin on July 19. Even if it clears that hurdle, a future administration could easily abandon the policy.

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