British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday turned to pop group ABBA’s hit ‘Dancing Queen’ to deliver an upbeat Brexit message at the close of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.
After an awkward dance episode during her visit to Kenya in August had made the wrong kind of headlines, May decided to dance up to the podium to the beats of one of the Swedish band’s most enduring songs in an attempt to set a lighter tone to her much-anticipated speech. The Conservative party chief called for unity to deliver a Brexit that was in the “national interest”, amid deepening divisions within the ruling party over the UK’s exit strategy from the European Union (EU).
“We have had disagreements in this party about Britain’s membership of the EU for a long time. So, it is no surprise that we have had a range of different views expressed this week. But my job as Prime Minister is to do what I believe to be in the national interest,” she said.
Dismissing calls for a so-called “people’s vote”, the British PM said any second referendum over the issue of Brexit would be a “politicians’ vote” as the people had already given their verdict in the 2016 referendum.
“Those of us who do respect the result, whichever side of the question we stood on two years ago, need to come together now. If we don’t, if we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our own visions of the perfect Brexit, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all,” she said.
Making light of her speech troubles at last year’s conference, when a coughing fit had cast a shadow over all her major policy announcements, May sought to deliver a message of confidence amid ongoing speculation over her ability to lead the Conservative Party in the face of a brewing Brexit rebellion.
“Leadership is doing what you believe to be right and having the courage and determination to see it through. That is the approach I have taken on Brexit,” she said.
On the domestic front, the British PM set an agenda that moved away from austerity and cuts to public services and announced new borrowing powers for local councils to build more homes. Other promises included a “step change” in how cancer is diagnosed with a strategy aimed at increasing early detection rates, plus another freeze on fuel duty.
The Tory party conference has been dominated by Brexit, with former foreign secretary Boris Johnson launching a fresh attack against the Prime Minister’s so-called Chequers plan for post-Brexit trade with the EU, named after the British PM’s country residence where it was agreed in July.
In a fiery speech at the conference on Tuesday, the former Cabinet minister who had resigned over May’s Brexit strategy said “Chequers is a cheat,” which would escalate the sense of mistrust people have about politicians.
“If we get it wrong if we bottle Brexit now believe me, the people of this country will find it hard to forgive,” said Johnson, seen a lead contender vying to replace Theresa May as PM.
“This is not democracy. This is not what we voted for. This is an outrage. This is not taking back control: this is forfeiting control,” he said.
Just before May’s own speech on Wednesday, Conservative party MP James Duddridge, a key Johnson ally, announced that he had submitted a letter to the party’s backbench 1922 Committee calling for a party leadership contest.
An undeterred May called on her colleagues to work towards making the Conservatives a party “not for the few, not even for the many but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best”.
“Our best days lie ahead of us. Don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have what it takes,” she said.
May also launched stinging attacks on the Opposition Labour Party, which she dubbed the “Jeremy Corbyn party”, as she issued a strong call for Conservative unity on the final day of her party’s conference in Birmingham.