Queen makes return with historic speech
Queen Elizabeth II outlined her government's post-pandemic legislative agenda as she opened a new session of the UK parliament on Tuesday, local time, in her first public appearance since the funeral of her late husband Prince Philip.
"My government's priority is to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic that makes the United Kingdom stronger, healthier and more prosperous than before," the 95-year-old monarch said in a speech from a gilt throne in the upper House of Lords.
Only a select few from parliament's two chambers were allowed to attend to maintain social distancing, and those present needed to have tested negative for Covid.
The Queen - Britain's longest-serving monarch - was accompanied by her 72-year-old son and heir, Prince Charles, as she returned to public duties three weeks after the Duke of Edinburgh was laid to rest. He died last month, aged 99.
The monarch's state opening of parliament last occurred in late 2019 amid political acrimony over Brexit. Normally an annual event replete with five centuries of tradition and pageantry, it was scaled back this year due to the pandemic.
This meant far fewer attendees and the Queen travelled to Westminster by car instead of in a horse-drawn carriage. She wore a powder-blue day dress and feathered hat, instead of robes and a crown.
In her speech, written by the government, the Queen also detailed plans to "strengthen the economic ties across the union", in part by improving national infrastructure.
The monarch's role is to stay above the political fray but the future of her kingdom could be at stake after the election results north of the border gave new impetus to the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP).
When Scots last voted on the question of quitting the UK in 2014, Queen Elizabeth issued a guarded remark for voters to "think very carefully about the future".
They opted against independence then, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's flat rejection of SNP demands for a fresh referendum threatens to open a new constitutional crisis in the Queen's post-Brexit realm.
Mr Johnson, buoyant after his Conservative party's triumph in local and regional elections in England last week, is vowing to deliver on his mantra to "build back better" with a wide-ranging raft of policies.
His government, after rolling out a successful coronavirus vaccination drive, is intent on reopening the economy and "levelling up" prosperity across Britain following its Brexit withdrawal from the European Union.
Countering COVID-19 remains the "number one priority" with recovery providing a "historic opportunity to change things for the better".
Other priorities include an environment bill to set legally binding emissions targets as Britain prepares to host the UN's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November; and a "counter-state threats bill" intended to provide security services tools to tackle hostile foreign activity.
Originally published as Queen makes return with historic speech