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Queen Elizabeth Outlines Agenda For Beleaguered U.K. Government


Queen Elizabeth laid out the agenda for the United Kingdom's beleaguered government today, and the focus of course was Brexit.


QUEEN ELIZABETH II: My government's priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union. My ministers are committed to working with Parliament to build the widest possible consensus on the country's future outside the European Union.

MCEVERS: Getting that best possible deal for her country out of Brexit is not going to be easy. The British government is in a weak position following this month's election, and the EU is in no mood to mess around. To talk about this, we have NPR's Frank Langfitt in London. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So the queen is not a political leader in the U.K. Why is it her job to lay out the government's agenda like this?

LANGFITT: Well, Kelly, this is tradition. She is the head of state here in the United Kingdom. The government is officially known as Her Majesty's Government, and this is how here in Britain they kick off the new session of Parliament.

MCEVERS: So Brexit is of course the biggest event in Britain in decades. Did you get any sense from the queen's speech on what kind of deal the U.K. will seek?

LANGFITT: Well, I think there are clues in the line that you just heard there from the queen. Incidentally, she's reading a speech on behalf of the government. She didn't write it. She talked about the widest possible consensus. And in the speech, which comes out of the ministers of the government here, what they're acknowledging is Theresa May, the prime minister's, disastrous election results this month. She lost her majority. She's much, much weakened now. People have not - weren't even sure she would survive.

And so she's not going to be able to run through the kind of sharp break that she wanted with the European Union. She's going to have to be much more accommodating to other political views, people who like the EU here and who are going to want to try to preserve some of the big benefits of being inside the single market of the European Union, keep as much access as possible for British businesses.

MCEVERS: The Brexit negotiation started on Monday. How are they going so far?

LANGFITT: (Laughter) Not well. The United Kingdom first wanted to talk about the future trading relationship. I mean they're leaving the single market, but they want to have their cake and eat it, too, so they wanted to kind of work something out. The EU said no way. We're going to talk about a divorce bill. And these are the obligations that the United Kingdom had already agreed to pay. The EU wants something in the neighborhood of $100 billion, which would be really tough for people here to stomach.

And Michel Barnier - he's the EU chief negotiator. After the first day, here was his quote. He said, I'm not in a frame of mind to make concessions. The U.K. has decided to leave the EU. It's not the other way around. And I think that gives you a sense of the view from Brussels.

MCEVERS: As you mentioned, the election this month ended with a hung Parliament, with no party having a majority. Has Theresa May even worked out a deal to rule at this point?

LANGFITT: No, she hasn't, Kelly, and it's a bit of a mess. She has been working with a small party in Northern Ireland to get enough votes - they - this party has just about 10 votes in the Parliament - to get enough votes to be able to rule. This party now has her over a barrel.

MCEVERS: Did anything else strike you about the queen's speech?

LANGFITT: Yeah, there were two things. One is that there was mention of a state visit from the king and queen of Spain but not President Donald Trump. And people made a big deal about that in the British press, wondering if that trip is in trouble. Buckingham Palace and other people I've been talking to say it's just a matter of the fact that they don't have a date yet. But it does speak to the fact that President Trump is very unpopular here, and Theresa May has taken a lot of heat for that invitation that the queen made earlier.

The second thing that was very noticeable is the queen wore a blue hat with what looked like to me little, like, yellow flowers on it. And it actually resembles the European Union flag. Queen, as you mentioned, not a political figure, but this also - given the sort of tensions in this country, that got a lot of attention, too.

MCEVERS: NPR's Frank Langfitt, thanks.

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

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.