May appeals for party unity at ‘toughest phase’ of Brexit
BIRMINGHAM: Prime Minister Theresa May appealed on Wednesday to her divided party to unite behind her as she heads into the “toughest phase” of Brexit negotiations, as EU leaders pressure Britain to change tack.
She offered delegates at her Conservative party conference a positive vision of life after Brexit, which she announced would also see the end of eight years of austerity measures.
Brexit was a “moment of opportunity”, she told a packed hall in Birmingham, England, adding: “There is a whole world out there. Let’s lift our horizons to meet it.”
May acknowledged the coming months were crucial, and warned failing to reach a deal “would be a bad outcome” for both sides.
“We are entering the toughest phase of the negotiations. If we stick together and hold our nerve, I know we can get a deal that delivers for Britain,” she said.
May’s immediate concern on Wednesday was to regain the confidence of her party, the day after Johnson gave his own rousing address to 1,500 delegates condemning her approach.
She began with a little dance after walking on stage to the sounds of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’, one of her favourite tunes — a nod to her widely-mocked moves displayed on a recent visit to Africa.
May then set out a wide-ranging vision for the future, attacking leftist Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, promising new home-building measures and vowing to make the economy work for those “left behind”.
Ten years after the global financial crisis, she announced that “the austerity it led to is over”, with new investment in public services due to be unveiled next year.
She says her plan is the only way to protect jobs and trade while also avoiding physical checks on the land border between British Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.
However, she did not actually use the word Chequers in the hour-long address, prompting speculation the name itself has been quietly dropped as too toxic.
Despite the pressure on all sides, May has supporters in the party and Brussels who believe any alternative to her plan would make matters far worse.
She has surprised observers by surviving two years of plots against her, and few delegates in Birmingham want a change in leadership now.
“We underestimated Mrs May’s resilience,” a senior European official said.