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Boris Johnson's Agenda Outlined In Queen's Speech

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A day of pomp and politics marks a turning point in the United Kingdom.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS PLAYING)

GREENE: Elizabeth II, today, opened the new parliamentary session with what is called the Queen's Speech. This is a speech written by Britain's new government, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, laying out his agenda for the coming year.

And let's talk about this with NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: Safe to say the British really excel at this kind of pageantry. I mean, what was the scene like?

LANGFITT: They do. And this was my second Queen's Speech. The household guard, they marched up with - they have these big, gold-colored helmets and pikes. They marched into the Parliament building. The crown arrived with its own car. The queen - of course, she's 93 now - she arrived in her own Bentley limousine. But actually, this is lower key than past - some past Queen's Speeches. The horse-drawn carriage was left at home at Buckingham Palace.

GREENE: Car probably quicker, I would imagine, to make the trip.

LANGFITT: Much - and a lot more comfortable, David.

GREENE: Yeah, I can imagine. Well - so let's get to the substance of the speech.

LANGFITT: Sure.

GREENE: This is Boris Johnson's agenda. What were some of the important highlights?

LANGFITT: Well, the key thing - the first thing that she mentioned, of course, was Brexit. This is how the queen actually opened the speech.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: My government's priority is to deliver the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union on the 31 of January and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom.

LANGFITT: Now, David, I should mention here, getting Brexit accomplished is essentially a done deal because of the election last week. Boris Johnson's Conservative Party did very well. They have an 80-seat majority, so they should easily be able to accomplish this. The other thing that was mentioned in the agenda, which is important - and I think Americans can kind of relate to - is concern about health care here. The National Health Services is beleaguered; it's underfunded. And Boris Johnson is promising another $44 billion a year for that, which will be very popular.

GREENE: Back to Brexit - I mean...

LANGFITT: Sure.

GREENE: ...You say it's a done deal. The U.K. leaves the EU at the end of January. I mean, after all of this rancorous debate for months and months and a complicated process, is it now smooth sailing for Boris Johnson?

LANGFITT: No, not at all. He has an 11-month deadline that he's set for himself, saying he's going to get a new trade deal with the European Union by the end of next year. I don't know a single policy expert who thinks that's possible. It's so complex if he wants a really comprehensive deal that would be helpful for the economy here. So he's more likely to get a bare-bones deal or no deal at all. If he gets even just a bare-bones deal, something pretty simple, economists I was talking to yesterday said that would knock 6 percentage points off of the country's GDP over the next decade.

GREENE: All right. So a day like this, you have all this ceremony - you have the queen; you have the prime minister's agenda. It's conveying a sense of unity, but it sounds like Scotland is complicating...

LANGFITT: Yeah.

GREENE: ...That today.

LANGFITT: No, and it was really fascinating. This morning, Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scottish National Party, she seemed to deliberately upstage the queen and Boris Johnson. She came out and said - as we know that she wants - is she's saying Scotland wants a second independence referendum.

What is the argument? Here's what she's saying. In 2016, they voted against Brexit. She did very well. Her Scottish National Party did very well last week in elections, running on an independence referendum platform. And she's saying, it's time to let us have another say. There was a referendum back in 2014, which the Scottish National Party lost. But she's saying this is a material difference. We want to stay in the EU. You can't drag us out. You've got to give us another say. Boris Johnson says, no, we're heading for a constitutional standoff, and it might take several years to resolve this.

GREENE: Wow. OK. We'll be following all of that.

NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Thank you, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.