Parliament rises for Christmas recess tomorrow – unless the various grinches arguing it should carry on sitting so it can loudly fail to make any decisions on Brexit have their way. MPs are so busy accusing Theresa May of kicking the can down the road on Britain leaving the European Union that few have noticed how many other cans are also bouncing along the tarmac. We had been expecting big announcements on social care reform, domestic abuse legislation and the NHS by the end of this term in Parliament, but all appear to have been delayed.
The social care green paper had been delayed repeatedly anyway, but was expected this autumn. A few leaves do still linger on the December trees, but ministers are now saying there won’t be any green shoots on this matter this year. Instead, the green paper will be published ‘at the first opportunity in 2019’, suggesting we may see a few more seasons go by before the government offers any proposals to deal with the social care crisis. One of the things holding the paper up is the ten-year plan for the NHS, which was supposed to be published this month but has also been kicked into 2019. This document was supposed to detail how the £20.5 billion annual budget increase was going to be spent.
Another flagship piece of domestic legislation was the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been delayed and delayed. The Home Office had been expecting to publish this draft bill in the autumn, too, but I am told by those working on the legislation that it is now ‘expected’ in January.
The reason given for all of these delays is that there just isn’t enough bandwidth, either in the departments directly involved in drafting the documents or in Number 10, for anything other than Brexit at the moment. The Home Office is rather busy today with the Immigration White Paper, for instance, and so even though the Domestic Abuse Bill was supposed to be the flagship piece of legislation in the Queen’s Speech, it is being made to wait.
Perhaps this is inevitable, given the way the Brexit debate has intensified this month. And perhaps it is better for MPs to scrutinise all these policies when they have a little more time on their hands, rather than being too distracted by Brexit to pay any attention to whether the government is about to introduce a load of dud policies. But there’s also the reality that Brexit isn’t going to stop taking up a lot of bandwidth for at least another four months. By which time, we might be looking at a new Prime Minister with completely different ideas.