WORLD

UK to 'review counterterrorism strategy', Queen says

UK TO REVIEW COUNTERTERRORISM STRATEGY, QUEEN SAYS

In a ceremonial address to lawmakers, Queen Elizabeth said in her speech that the U.K. will review its counterterrorism strategy.

The U.K. will "review its counterterrorism strategy" and "tackle the threat of terrorism at source" in Iraq and Syria, the country's head of state told parliament in a high-profile speech on Wednesday.

In a ceremonial address to lawmakers, Queen Elizabeth II laid out the new minority Conservative government's policy agenda for the next two years, but the address lacked many elements of the party's controversial election manifesto.

Despite covering a wide range of policy areas -- particularly Brexit -- uncertainty about the current government's future has raised questions about Wednesday's announcements.

Speaking in Westminster, seat of the U.K. parliament, the Queen told assembled lawmakers: "In the light of the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, my government's counterterrorism strategy will be reviewed to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers they need, and that the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences are sufficient to keep the population safe."

The British government and security services have been criticized for failing to prevent a recent spate of mass-casualty attacks in the U.K., which saw its most recent atrocity earlier this week when a van was driven into a crowd of Muslims in north London, killing at least one person and injuring more than 10.

A commission will be set up to stamp out "extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread," the Queen's Speech confirmed.

Britain will also continue taking part in "international overseas military action to destroy Daesh in Iraq and Syria," the Queen added.

The country's Prevent counter-extremism strategy has come in for criticism in recent years, with opponents saying it creates fear in Muslim communities and wider apprehension about state surveillance.

-BREXIT
Brexit also featured strongly in the address, with the Queen saying a priority for her government was "to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union".

She signaled more efforts by the new government to reach a consensus with devolved bodies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to secure Brexit terms which will be negotiated with the EU before ending the country's 44-year membership of the bloc.

Official Brexit negotiations began in Brussels on Monday.

"My ministers are committed to working with parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others to build the widest possible consensus on the country's future outside the European Union," she said.

The new government will seek to "maintain a deep and special partnership with European allies and to forge new trading relationships across the globe," she said, adding: "A priority will be to build a more united country, strengthening the social, economic and cultural bonds between England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales."

-STATE VISITS
Notable by its absence was any reference to a rumored official visit by U.S. President Donald Trump to the U.K.

Although the British monarch concluded her address by looking forward to a state visit by Spain's monarch in July -- a traditional feature of a Queen's Speech -- there was no reference to the U.S. leader.

Trump had been invited to the U.K. by Prime Minister Theresa May after his election last year, but the offer proved unpopular at home, with 1.8 million people signing a petition against it.

The president himself appeared to have rowed back on visiting the U.K. until convinced such a trip would have support from the British public.

- DUP DEAL
Elsewhere, a deal by May's Conservatives with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to form a majority in parliament is still to be finalized.

The DUP reportedly is holding tough negotiations with the Conservatives on a proposed "confidence and supply" deal which would enable a minority government to survive.

British newspaper the Guardian has reported DUP representatives saying their support could not be taken for granted. The BBC in Northern Ireland also reported claims, citing unnamed DUP sources, on Wednesday that the party had asked for £2 billion ($2.5 billion) worth of various investments for the U.K. region.

At the same time, the DUP talks have come under more scrutiny amid concerns the U.K. government could be in breach of the 1998 Belfast Agreement that largely ended decades of violence and terror between pro-British Protestant unionists and Irish Catholics who seek a unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

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