She told us that she would give formal notice that the UK would leave the EU before the end of March. This is hardly a revelation. Since she has repeatedly told us Brexit means Brexit she has to do it sooner or later. Then she made the great revelation that she would make all EU laws that currently apply part of UK law and then change them gradually when the UK parliament decided. This is hardly a surprise. How else was Brexit supposed to work?
In fact these two moves were so glaringly obvious that it beggars belief that anyone in the media could try and spin them as significant announcements. They are bland statements of the politically unavoidable. They tell us nothing meaningful about the future policy of our government. We are still at the stage of being told once again that Brexit means Brexit and we mustn't expect any details to be revealed to those poor mortals the voters.
The reason for this lack of information is not that she wishes to strengthen her negotiating position. It is because she fears the consequences of clarity for the unity of her own party. John Major and David Cameron thought they had problems over an internal divide on the EU. It was nothing compared to May's difficulties.
Many people who join the Conservative Party do so because they see it as the party of business. They want rational no nonsense government that focuses strongly on what is best for industry, commerce and finance. This faction is dead set against losing access to the single market and a lot of them are equally certain that they need access to immigration to gain access to the best talent and to cut their costs. The faction now has some very determined and very angry spokespeople with a lot of backing outside Parliament. Nicki Morgan, Anna Soubry, Ken Clarke, George Osborne and the like are not opponents you can easily bat away or who will give up on what they believe lightly in order to preserve party unity. For the first time in years this faction has realised that it is a bad idea to leave the soundbites, the leaks, the disunity and the smears from the other side of the party to go unchallenged. There is now a powerful faction in the party that is prepared to speak out against the idea that everything coming from the EU is the spawn of the devil that that Liam Fox is the best person to protect the interests of British employers.
The other major faction inside the Conservatives is in the party for very different reasons. They sincerely believe that you have to remove everything that gets in the way of the free market because the welfare state is morally wrong. They are essentially totally committed to tea party thinking and are more interested in ideology than practicality. That is why so many of them repeat things that they want to be true as if they are fact. This is the faction that believes people will buy more UK goods because we are out of the EU and were once the fifth largest trading nation in the world rather than because they are well made, well designed and competitively priced. They have convinced themselves that losing free access to our biggest external market isn't really a problem since it would be inconvenient if that was true. Everyone else that they talk to in their narrow belief circle repeats the same wishful thinking and they aren't really interested in awkward truths or expert opinions. The real world isn't what matters to them. Pursuing the purity of their vision is.
No one can square the circle between these two factions. There are obviously a number of Conservatives who want to operate in the space between these two very different approaches but as soon as any hard decision is made the government's majority will be shattered by the scale of the anger in the camp that loses out. May cannot please both sides and she could very easily end up pleasing neither. For now all that she can do is try and sound calm and states-womanly, try and tell the voters that she has a safe pair of hands and is the best person to steer the ship through choppy waters and try and focus on attacking other parties.
She is avoiding all the important questions and she needs to be made to answer them. Does she think that the UK can prosper without being part of the single market? We don't know and she can't tell us without generating vicious opposition from within her own party.
How much freedom of movement is she prepared to allow from the EU and for which groups? Will Polish plumbers be welcome to deal with a shortage of builders? Will doctors be allowed in? Will investment bankers be deemed crucial to the UK economy? Will we permit foreign university students to spend their money in the UK for 3 years before returning home leaving the UK significantly more prosperous? We don't know and she can't tell us without generating vicious opposition from within her own party.
Is she prepared for UK citizens to require visas to travel to the EU? Does she intend to compensate Nisan in Sunderland for any new export tariffs? Who else will she compensate? What will our own tariff policy be? Which countries are first in line for a trade deal? How long will it take to negotiate? Will it look like TTIP with big business able to sue the UK government? We don't know and she can't tell us without generating vicious opposition from within her own party.
It is possible that May knows what she wants to do about each and every one of these questions and is not telling us until her government has got its feet a little more securely under the table. It is also entirely possible that she simply doesn't know. That she hasn't yet come up with a way that she can make Brexit work in practice. That she doesn't even know what outcomes she really wants from negotiations let alone how she will persuade the EU leaders to let her have what she wants.
She is clearly a capable and intelligent politician who showed great skill in playing her cards during her party's leadership election. But even the best card player struggles to brag successfully when their luck is out and they have a dreadful hand.
I think Theresa May is in for a very bumpy ride. Prime Ministers usually start out popular with a united government and then things slowly fall apart. May has broken the mould. She has started out as the least worst compromise candidate at a time when her party is more horribly split than it has ever been. Platitudes and wait and see can only hold things together so long. Where is her government going to be six months from now when it becomes clearer day by day that we are not dealing with a safe pair of hands with a clear vision of the future but a very dangerous and difficult set of problems and increasingly bitter arguments about how to deal with them.
I hope she enjoys her honeymoon period. A messy divorce lies in waiting.