Theresa May is facing fresh embarrassment just days into her ‘minority Government’ as ministers admitted that both the State Opening of Parliament and crunch Brexit talks could be delayed.
Downing Street failed to confirm whether both events – due to take place next Monday, June 19th - would go ahead as planned.
The hint of a possible delay sparked speculation that May was looking for ‘wriggle room’ in case talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) broke down.
The DUP is locked in negotiations with the Conservatives to approve the contents of the Queen’s Speech, the list of Government bills announced by the Queen during the State Opening.
May’s new deputy, First Secretary of State Damian Green conceded: “We are still forming the programme for government. Obviously we’re in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party to see the deal we can put together and I’m very optimistic that will happen.
“But obviously until we have that we can’t agree the final details of the Queen’s Speech.”
The date had already been announced by the PM after she called the snap election.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said on Monday that there would be an “update” “in due course” from the new Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom on the timing of the event.
Labour sources told HuffPost UK: “Number 10’s failure to confirm the date of the Queen’s Speech shows that this Government is in chaos, as it struggles to agree a backroom deal with a party with abhorrent views on LGBT and women’s rights,” the source said.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seized on the possible delay. “Delaying the Queen’s Speech does raise the question: is she really capable of putting together a credible functioning Government?” she told Sky News.
Labour MP John Spellar told HuffPost UK: “That ‘coalition of chaos’ quote is coming back to haunt them. So much for ‘business as usual’ too. They are clearly carrying on as they ran the election campaign. It’s an omnishambles.”
Amid the confusion, Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire said that the Queen’s Speech was “on track”.
Her Majesty was already set to take part in a “dressed down” State Opening of Parliament, when she will not wear her Crown or full robes, because of the short notice of the snap election.
Delaying the Queen’s Speech next week would conflict with the Sovereign’s duties in attending the Royal Ascot horse race event from Tuesday, June 20th.
As well as the Monarch’s race-going activities, it also emerged that the quaint English tradition of printing the Queen’s Speech on goatskin parchment paper also had a role in the delay. The ink on the paper needs several days to dry out, Governmesources pointed out.
Buckingham Palace had already been forced to cancel a major event to accommodate the original June 19 date. The Order of the Garter service, which takes place at Windsor, had to be ditched when May announced her plans for the State Opening of Parliament.
In a further embarrassment, the Government may also delay the start of its Brexit talks with Brussels and the other EU 27 states.
Theresa May said throughout the general election that the crucial discussions would start “11 days after polling day”, an attempt to scare voters into not backing Jeremy Corbyn to lead the country.
But Brexit Secretary David Davis said only that the talks would take place “next week”, without giving a date.
The two-year process of the UK quitting the EU was thrown into chaos after the Prime Minister lost her majority.
Asked on Sky News about the start date for talks, Davis said: “In the week of next week basically, is the first discussions.”
“It may not be on the Monday because we have also got the Queen’s Speech that week and I will have to speak in that and so on, but that’s not because of the election.”
Labour has vowed to table amendments to the Queen’s Speech, in a bid to vote down key Tory policies such as cuts to winter fuel allowance, pension guarantees and grammar schools.