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UK Parliament's first week: 5 things to expect

December 17, 2019

Brexit, nationalism and record diversity: The UK election has thrown up a heady mix of historic topics for the new Parliament. What five things should you watch out for during lawmakers' inaugural week?

British Members of Parliament vote in chamber
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The new UK Parliament has convened for the first time on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson returning to power with the biggest Conservative majority since 1987.

Now the votes have been counted, and celebrations and commiserations alike are winding down, what can we expect this week?

1. Brexit timetable laid out

This is what it's all been about. Now he has a very safe majority of 80 Members of Parliament (MPs), Johnson can push ahead with his Brexit legislation without facing parliamentary deadlock. The government plans to ask MPs to vote on the Brexit bill this Friday. This is expected to then pass into law, possibly before Christmas, meaning Brexit will take place before the current European Union (EU) deadline of January 31.

Read more: What happens with Brexit after Boris Johnson's victory?

This doesn't mean it's all done and dusted in January. An intense period of trade negotiations will follow, which Johnson has vowed to have completed by the end of 2020. Many EU lawmakers have described this timeframe as too short.

Queen's Speech in October 2019
The Queen last had to give a speech in October 2019Image: Reuters/T. Akmen

2. Queen's Speech

On Thursday, Parliament will officially open in a grand regal ceremony featuring a speech from Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen's Speech, written by government ministers, will lay out key pieces of parliamentary legislation that the government plans to bring in during their session.

Read more: Opinion: Boris wins, but the UK loses

The speech is essentially a way for the government to explain what it intends to do. Watch out for Conservative election promises like increased funding for the National Health Service, as well as Brexit legislation.

3. New and old faces

Former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow, famous world-wide for his red-faced shouting of "Order!" over the noise of rowdy lawmakers, stepped down at the end of the last parliamentary session. All eyes will be on his replacement, former Labour MP Lindsay Hoyle, to see if he can live up to his predecessor's reputation. The Speaker is in charge of running debates in the House of Commons.

Former British House of Commons Speaker John Bercow
John Bercow stepped down from his role in OctoberImage: picture-alliance/empics/S. Rousseau

As Johnson is continuing as prime minister, most of his Cabinet remains unchanged. In a slightly unusual move, Johnson has retained Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan in her role despite the fact that she stepped down as an elected MP. Morgan will become a life peer in the House of Lords, the UK's upper chamber, which allows her to keep a Cabinet role under the British system.

4. Most diverse parliament ever

The incoming MPs will be the most diverse cohort ever seen in the British parliament. A record 220 women were elected last week, although this number still represents only 34% of the sitting MPs. Similarly, 65 MPs were elected from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, more than ever before, making up 10% of representatives.

Read more: Sexual abuse and violence against women widespread in Europe's parliaments

The number of out gay, lesbian and bisexual MPs remains at 45, as it was in the previous session — still more than any other parliament in the world.

The Houses of Parliament by night
The Houses of Parliament awaits the new MPsImage: Reuters/D. Martinez

5. Disunited Kingdom — nationalist MPs

Before any of this can happen, all MPs are required by law to swear an Oath of Allegiance to Queen and country before they can formally take their seats, a process that started on Tuesday. But it's worth looking to see if any of the new MPs do so through gritted teeth, because among the new lawmakers there are many from anti-UK nationalist parties.

The Scottish National Party, who want Scotland to secede from the UK, saw a landslide last week, taking 48 out of 59 Scottish seats, while Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru returned four MPs. Additionally seven Northern Irish nationalist MPs from the Sinn Fein party will refuse to take their seats as usual, in protest of being part of the UK.

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Kommentarbild PROVISORISCH Elliot Douglas
Elliot Douglas Elliot Douglas is a video, audio and online journalist based in Berlin.