Theresa May’s legislative plans for the next two years will be presented to parliament on Wednesday with no guarantee she will be able to get them passed, after talks aimed at keeping the Conservatives in power appeared to falter.
Nearly two weeks after the shock general election result wiped out the Tories’ majority and damaged May's personal credibility, the prime minister was still scrambling to complete a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.
May will attempt to use the Queen’s Speech, the formal opening of the new parliament, to quell doubts about her political future by insisting she has learned from the crushing general election result.
Since then she has also been personally criticised for being robotic and uninspiring on the campaign trail, and accused of hiding from the public in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
“The election result was not the one I hoped for, but this government will respond with humility and resolve to the message the electorate sent,” May said in a statement on Tuesday evening.
In a sign of her weakened position, however, the legislative programme – read out by the Queen, but written by the government – will be scaled back from the ambitious policy manifesto May promised to deliver during the election campaign.
Two months ago, when the Conservatives were expected to return with a majority of up to 100 seats, May would have expected the Queen’s Speech to set out a programme that would reposition the Tories as the party of “ordinary working families” and break from its Thatcherite ideological traditions.
Instead, many of the most controversial proposals set out in the campaign manifesto – including a free vote on fox hunting, the return of grammar schools, and an end to universal free school lunches for infants – are likely to be dropped because they will be too hard to get through parliament.
Policies expected to make it through to the speech include an increase to the national living wage, measures to reduce the cost of premiums for car insurance, protections for the victims of domestic violence, and new laws to stop landlords exploiting tenants.
“We will work hard every day to gain the trust and confidence of the British people, making their priorities our priorities,” May's statement continued.
The prime minister's failure to clinch a deal with the DUP means there is no guarantee she will be able to pass even her reduced agenda.
A Conservative source said: “Talks are ongoing with the DUP and we continue to work towards a confidence and supply arrangement.
“As we have said, both parties are committed to strengthening the union, combatting terrorism, delivering Brexit, and delivering prosperity across the whole United Kingdom. While our discussions continue it is important the government gets on with its business."
Under the "confidence and supply” deal with the right-wing Northern Irish party, the DUP’s 10 MPs will vote with the 318 Conservatives, giving the government just enough votes to get bills through the Commons. It is a less formal arrangement than a full coalition.
However, the talks appeared to be going less than smoothly on Tuesday after the DUP briefed journalists that the party “can’t be taken for granted” by the Tories.
“The negotiations haven’t proceeded in a way that the DUP would have expected,” a DUP source reportedly told Sky News.
The failure to reach a deal with the DUP before the Queen reads May’s legislative programme is not necessarily fatal to it, because parliament will not vote on whether to endorse it until next week. The DUP has indicated that it will vote to push it through.
Failure to reach a long-term agreement, however, will leave May’s administration vulnerable to being voted down by opposition parties. It will do even more damage to the prime minister’s standing both with the public and in her own party.
She is already regarded as being on borrowed time after the disastrous election result, kept in place only because the Tories regard the prospect of another leadership contest even more disruptive than sticking with a severely diminished prime minister.
So weakened by the election result was May that she lost her two closest political allies in Downing Street, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, and was forced to reappoint several cabinet ministers who many suspected she would sack. Several of those ministers, who had been sidelined, are now asserting themselves, including foreign secretary Boris Johnson and chancellor Philip Hammond.
Hammond, who was almost certainly due to be replaced at the Treasury, has been emboldened by the election result. In the chancellor’s annual address to the City of London at Mansion House on Tuesday, he set out a more business-friendly approach to Brexit than May had charted before the election, one that would prioritise the economy over controlling migration.
Brexit will be the biggest challenge for the government over the next two years as it tries to push a mountain of related legislation through the Commons.
"The fact is that over 80% of the electorate backed the two major parties, both of whom campaigned on manifestos that said we should honour the democratic decision of the British people," May said. "While this will be a government that consults and listens, we are clear that we are going to see Brexit through, working with parliament, business, the devolved administrations, and others to ensure a smooth and orderly withdrawal."
The opening of parliament is taking place a few weeks later than usual because of the general election. There will also be less pomp and ceremony than is traditional: The Queen will arrive from Buckingham Palace in a car, instead of in a coach accompanied by cavalry, and she will wear a hat and dress instead of robes and a crown.