I must say, this Brexit business is going much better than expected. Not long ago, some of us fretted that Britain’s foreign relations were about to become even more confusing. But, hurrah! Not a bit of it. The negotiations haven’t even begun and while a former Conservative leader, Michael Howard, is tumescent with glee about the prospect of war with Spain, the incumbent nips to Saudi Arabia to celebrate our shared values with those of the desert kingdom.
Here’s hoping Theresa May got some sleep on her Middle East jaunt, because she’s starting to look exhausted. You could use the bags under her eyes as makeshift silos for the medium-range missiles she’ll have been trying to flog to the Saudis.
Small wonder. Any Cabinet post robs its holder of sleep at the best of times. Now that the top jobs come with the added duties of commercial traveller (Liam Fox has been in Malaysia, and Philip Hammond in India), the workload is even more crushing.
This in mind, you might expect May to conserve energy by not sweating the small stuff. But, no: she found time on her travels to contribute to one of those deliciously archaic domestic furores that make us proud to be Her Britannic Majesty’s subjects. Gordon Brown appears to be the May role model for more than capacious under-eye bags. He lit up a foreign trip with his thoughts on a Celebrity Big Brother race row. Now she does the same by opining passionately on the Easter-less egg imbroglio.
The PM is “disappointed … as both a vicar’s daughter and a National Trust member”, that the word Easter – “a very important festival for the Christian faith,” as she helpfully reveals – is absent from a marketing campaign for the annual chocolate egg hunt held by Cadbury and the Trust. “I think the stance they have taken is absolutely ridiculous,” she harrumphed in that now-familiar schoolmarmish tone. “I don't know what they are thinking about frankly.”
Frankly, I think I do know. Not content to be a magnet for comfortably-off Anglican leisure pursuitists such as May, the National Trust wouldn’t mind increasing its revenues by also appealing to those of other classes and hues, and even of religions such as Islam. That makes such solid sense that May might easily have turned the other cheek, and focused exclusively on the godly task of sucking up to the ever enchanting House of Saud.
On reflection, however, you see why she is outraged. Her Christian beliefs are incredibly strong, as she underlined recently by denying sanctuary to child refugees from the Middle East to gratify the barbaric right-wing press. So the last thing she would countenance is silencing the language of those beliefs out of respect for followers of other religions.
Imagine, for example, that May went to Saudi Arabia. In that event, it’s unthinkable that she would indulge her Muslim hosts’ delicate sensibilities by censoring her vocabulary of such words as: “When are you going to stop funding terrorists?”; “Do you think you’ll ever get bored with this beheading lark?”; and “It’s lovely you keep buying our arms, but any chance you might stop using them to kill, maim and displace civilians in your proxy war in Yemen?”
As for the Saudi treatment of women, May would never bite her tongue about that when one primary purposes of any such trip is to celebrate what we have in common. Here, we have a lively debate when a female judge concludes a rape trial by advising women that, while they have every right to drink themself into a stupor, and can never be blamed to the minutest degree for anything done to them if they do, it might be sensible to be careful all the same. There, they give rape victims the lash and send them to prison.
Shared values, eh? Wherever would we be without them?
To her credit, the PM, who arrived in the country without a headscarf, did say something about the status of Saudi women. Throwing caution to the desert wind, she expressed the hope that ”people see me as a woman leader … will see what women can achieve and how women can be in significant positions”.
That’ll do it. We know this because, before Margaret Thatcher’s visits in 1981 and 1985, life for Saudi women was a shade medieval. Thatcher was such an effective role model that these days, you can’t spend two minutes by a Riyadh hotel pool without hearing bikini-clad women telling saucy tales about their days at medical school, and chatting about their plans to leave the old man on the prayer mat on Friday and drive the Audi TT to the UAE for a hen party.
Anyway, touch wood that May set up another decade of selling instruments of death to the House of Saud, and returns refreshed to honour the death and rebirth of the supreme pacifist she worships.
Ordinarily, I’d wish any PM who upholds our values so courageously only luck in finding oodles of Cadbury’s finest as she traipses from one National Trust property to another the weekend after next. But being a type 1 diabetic, perhaps she might think about going on an Easter hunt for her Christian principles instead?