As Theresa May kicks off her Brexit tour of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, it's clear she has no idea what she's doing

Tom Peck
Theresa May (pictured at the Conservative Spring Forum in Cardiff on Friday) will visit Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland prior to triggering Article 50: Getty

Not since the 4our participating members in the 5ive reunion tour were reduced suddenly to 3hree can a travelling stage show have started with lower expectations.

2017: A Bigger Brexit! kicks off in Swansea today, the Prime Minister’s mercifully short tour round the devolved nations, with no grander stated aim than to convince its various audiences not to walk out in disgust.

It won’t be easy. As well as herself (lead vocals), she’ll also have David Davis (vocals), and possibly even Boris Johnson (vocals) and Liam Fox (backing vocals). Sure, every member of the band infinitely prefers listening to their own voice than the tedious rigmarole of, say, learning to play any instrument right down to and very much including the triangle. But, given no attempt whatsoever has been made to shy away from that unfortunate reality, the Prime Minister can hope the crowds will overlook it.

In her own case, that every song will be a cover is unfortunate, but so utterly compelling is her Nigel Farage tribute act these days that even if the punters don’t like the music, who’s to say they can’t at least admire the sheer craft of it?

It has been pointed out many times in the past week that Theresa May faces an epistemological highwire act of death-defying proportion – that, for example, telling Scotland it would be suicidal to abandon its union with its single largest trading partner, while simultaneously telling the UK as a whole to embrace the “opportunities” of doing just that, is a display of such extreme intellectual contortionism that can only possibly end with the head lodged in a particularly sub-optimal location.

Already, she has been relentlessly mocked, for example, for writing in The Times that the SNP is being “fundamentally unfair to the Scottish people” by “asking them to make a crucial decision without the necessary information” and “without knowing what the new partnership with the EU would look like”.

It’s been argued that our new Prime Minister’s volte face from Remain to Leave, followed now by a transparent repackaging of Remain arguments with regard to Scotland Northern Ireland and even, to an extent, Wales, is evidence of some kind of inconsistency. But what these people don’t seem to get is that Theresa May is taking her consistent, pre-referendum position.

Scottish, Northern Irish, even Welsh independence might well be a great idea, but they are views May doesn’t traditionally hold until after losing a referendum on the matter. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to imagine we won’t at some point see Theresa May painting her face with a saltire and galloping on horseback down Prince’s Street, or belting out “Hymns and Arias” in the front row at the Millennium Stadium or even spray-painting two storey murals to IRA hunger-strikers on the Falls Road, but you have to wait for the results first.

Indeed that is the unique and brave message she and she alone can take to the other three corners of the country: “I’m on your side, just tell me what it is.”

And if reason won’t do it, perhaps freebies will. Wales, of course, voted en masse for Brexit, despite being a huge net beneficiary of EU funds that will shortly no longer be forthcoming. But if Scotland and perhaps Northern Ireland too are rewarded for their disobedience, as Gordon Brown has argued the former at least should be, don’t expect the Anglo-Welsh union to remain any firmer than the rest. Not to mention that if Brexit makes the UK poorer (which it will), Wales’s EU funding will almost certainly not be matched. If Brexit makes the UK richer (which it won’t) in the meantime, the Chancellor made clear in his Budget he intends to bank any spare cash just in case the likes of Nissan need it.

On the Prime Minister’s visit this morning, Swansea was to be promised a “digital district” on its waterfront, with Wales as a whole reminded of its proud status as exporter of “aircraft wings to the world, cooling technology to the Middle East and TV formats to dozens of countries”.

Only a few months ago, government ministers faced with the task of rebalancing the entire economy were boasting of selling “fresh air to China” and “boomerangs to Australia” so at least there has been slight retreat from the full Tonto.

As for the biggest question of all, Tata Steel in Port Talbot was promised “an innovation and knowledge centre for steel”, and what steelworker doesn’t want that?

Is now the time to mention that leaving the EU was meant to mean liberation from the state aid rules that made it all but impossible for the Government to intervene there to save jobs?

Presumably, that too will come later down the line, once the Prime Minister has worked out which way the wind is blowing, and whether its Charlotte Church or Tom Jones she’s meant to be covering today. Cymru am byth and God Save the Queen!