United We Stand: Theresa May Tours Devolved Nations
Photograph: Theresa May, from Shutterstock
On Monday (20 March), Theresa May starts her tour of devolved nations in an attempt to keep the UK together before Brexit negotiations begin.
She will be visiting Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland. At her first meeting, today, with Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones, May will discuss how different parts of the UK can benefit from new Brexit opportunities. The visit coincides with a £1.3bn city deal for Swansea to build a new digital district in the Bay area and research centres, funded by local authorities, the UK and Welsh governments. The PM argues that the city deal is exemplary of the advantages of collaboration between different institutions in the UK. In a statement, May said: "I want every part of the United Kingdom to be able to make the most of the opportunities ahead and for Welsh businesses to benefit from the freest possible trade as part of a global trading nation."
A spokesperson for the government said the PM’s tour is part of an “ongoing engagement” with the nations and that the government will consider all the peoples’ thoughts as the UK prepares to exit the EU.
…divided we fall
It has been a difficult week for the government. From first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of a second independence referendum, to a record £70,000 fine for the Conservative party’s undeclared election expenses in 2014 and 2015, and Philip Hammond’s change of heart and ditching of plans for increasing national insurance contributions for the self-employed, the government needs the union to remain united.
Theresa May is determined to strengthen collaboration and unity within the United Kingdom. On Sunday, however, during a speech to party activists, the Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, criticised her “aggressive nationalistic, anti-Nato, anti-EU” agenda, which he compared to that of Trump in the US and Putin in Russia. He talked about the politics of Marine Le Pen, Putin and Trump as the “new normal, the new status quo.”
On Sunday, in an interview to the BBC, Tony Blair also continued his anti-Brexit comments, reiterating his view that people will change their mind once they see the challenges of Brexit. He said: “One, that the gain is actually illusory. Two, that the pain is very substantial. And three, that the distraction of the government and the country in the meantime is enormous when there are these big, real challenges on the economy, in healthcare, education, immigration that aren’t being dealt with.”
Theresa May, speaking before her visit to Wales, stressed her position:
“From my first day on the steps of Downing Street, I made clear my determination to strengthen and sustain the precious Union.” She added: “I have also been clear that as we leave the European Union, I will work to deliver a deal that works for the whole of the UK.”
As the PM is preparing to trigger article 50 next week, another warning is sounded by a new report from the Institute for Government (IfG), titled “Legislating Brexit”. The independent group is saying that delivering Brexit will take an additional 15 new bills concerning areas such as immigration, customs and agriculture. The report said that "Brexit will place a huge burden on both Parliament and Government departments," while "Considerable time and resource will be soaked up and there will be precious little space left in the legislative programme for other legislation that departments might have wanted to see pass."
The report also highlighted the need for clarity “about the role that the devolved legislatures will play in legislating for Brexit" and how this will affect the smooth passage of Brexit-related legislation in Westminster.
As if the PM didn’t already have too much on her plate, Jill Rutter of the IfG, warned that “Whitehall is about to enter a much more intense phase”.