HALIFAX, United Kingdom, May 18 – British Prime Minister Theresa May urged voters to “strengthen my hand” in Brexit talks and vowed to cut immigration as she unveiled her Conservative Party’s manifesto Thursday ahead of a general election.
May reiterated that Britain would be leaving the European single market and the customs union and warned of battles ahead over the next two years as the country negotiates its departure from the European Union.
“Every vote for me and my team will strengthen my hand in the negotiations to come,” May said at the launch in Halifax in northern England, calling it “a manifesto to see us through Brexit and beyond”.
“If we fail, the consequences for Britain and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we succeed, the opportunities ahead of us are great.”
Pitching to voters outside her centre-right party’s traditional base, May promised new rights for workers, to curb executive pay and cap energy prices.
She repeated a pledge to cut net migration to below 100,000 a year — despite the government’s failure to meet this target since 2010.
As dozens of anti-austerity campaigners and trade unionists rallied outside, she declared: “It is time to put the old tribal politics behind us and to come together in the national interest, united in our desire to make a success of Brexit.”
– Challenging times –
May said “the next five years will be among the most challenging in our lifetime” — and repeated that only she offered the “strong and stable leadership” necessary.
“We will leave the European Union and take control of our money, take control of our borders, take control of our laws,” she said to applause from the audience of local activists and members of her cabinet.
May repeated her threat to walk away from the negotiations with the EU if she deemed the terms on offer too onerous, although she said she wanted to secure a deal, including on new trade ties.
The manifesto also repeated promises to limit immigration, and pledged to double the charge on companies employing migrant workers, using the money to invest in skills.
The majority of voters in Halifax backed Brexit, and the picturesque town, which was built on the cloth trade and remains relatively prosperous, is one of May’s target seats in the June vote.
The prime minister is confident of being re-elected with an increased majority in the House of Commons, as her Conservatives are well ahead of the main opposition Labour party in the polls.
Two new opinion surveys published on Thursday showed Labour gaining some ground after leftwing leader Jeremy Corbyn published his manifesto this week, although the party is still trailing badly.
A telephone poll by Ipsos MORI poll put the Conservatives on 49 percent — unchanged since April — and Labour up eight points on 34 percent.
The latest YouGov online poll meanwhile put the Conservatives down four points on last week to 45 percent, and Labour up one point on 32 percent.
– Good solid Conservatism –
Labour made a raft of spending pledges in its manifesto, also promising income tax rises, in a shift away from the centre ground where May is looking to make major gains.
But commentators noted that some of her policies risk alienating Conservative voters, not least her refusal to rule out future rises in income tax.
The manifesto also raises the prospect of increased costs for the wealthy to pay for elderly social care, and ends winter fuel subsidies for rich pensioners.
Asked about her shift away from the approach of former premier Margaret Thatcher, May insisted: “This is good solid Conservatism.”
She added: “Margaret Thatcher was a Conservative, I am a Conservative, this is a Conservative manifesto.”
It also promises more funding for the state-run National Health Service (NHS), and spells the end of free school lunches for young children, diverting the money to education.
However, Corbyn said: “Despite Theresa May’s warm words, she leads a party that has created a rigged economy that only works for the super-rich.
“The Conservatives have not changed. While the Labour Party has promised to protect low and middle earners from any tax rises, all Theresa May has promised is a cut to corporation tax for their big business friends.”