It was also the first time in more than 70 years that a king handed over the speech, an event made famous, at least to Americans, by the 2010 film starring Colin Firth as wartime monarch King George VI overcoming a speech impediment. Since 1952, she has been a queen doing the job, although Carlos replaced her mother in 2022 due to her poor health.
Prince Charles opens Parliament, but it’s still the Queen’s speech
It was also the first event of its kind. for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and hopes it won’t be the last. His Conservative Party is far behind in the polls and an election must be held before January 2025.
The king’s speech is read by the king sitting on a golden throne, but in this case, the monarch is only the messenger. The speech is written entirely by the government and is the moment in which the prime minister shows what the ruling party’s priorities are. With an election looming, this speech was closely watched for clues as to how the Conservatives plan to campaign in the upcoming election.
The first bill Charles, a lifelong environmentalist, read was for a new system for licensing oil and gas. The current system provides for licensing periodically, but the government says the new policy is important for energy security. Charles read the words with the deadpan expression expected of a monarch.
Environmental groups oppose the move, saying the UK should focus on renewable energy and that the move is an attempt to drive a wedge with the opposition Labor Party.
Sunak to delay UK climate targets to avoid ‘bankrupting’ Britons
Charles, or rather the speech he has been given to read, also announced legislative reforms including a gradual smoking ban to create a smoke-free generation; a new regulator for English football; and greater powers for judges to force convicted criminals to appear in the dock for their sentencing hearings.
The ceremony was a collection of centuries-old customs that recall a time when the relationship between the monarch and Parliament was much more tense. Before Charles arrived in Parliament, royal bodyguards searched his cellars for explosives (a reference to Guy Fawkes’ “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605), a failed attempt by English Catholics to blow up the Protestant King James I. and to Parliament.
The best known part of the ceremony was probably when Black Rod, a senior official in the House of Lords, knocked on the door of the House of Commons, only to have his face shut, this It was intended to symbolize the independence of the House of Commons from the monarch.
Undeterred by the chilly reception, Black Rod tapped on the door three times with his ceremonial staff (there is a dent from the beating over the years) and finally the door to the House of Commons opened. Then the legislators emerged and followed Black Rod to the House of Lords to hear the monarch’s speech.
In another tradition, inspired by the beheading of King Charles I in 1649, a lawmaker was held “hostage” at Buckingham Palace during the ceremony to ensure the monarch’s safe return.
For his part, Charles wore the Imperial State Crown, brought especially from the Tower of London, and a crimson velvet tunic, which he put on in the Wardrobe Room. He made the short trip between Buckingham Palace and Westminster in a horse-drawn carriage.
After the speech, lawmakers returned to the House of Commons, where the normal back-and-forth of politics resumed. Sunak and Labor leader Keir Starmer will lead a multi-day debate on the legislative program outlined in the speech, which will end with a vote.