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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

‘Dancing Queen’ Theresa May stops the rot with barnstorming speech

British prime minister calls time on eight years of austerity during a rousing address to her Conservative party

British prime minister Theresa May delivers her leader's speech. Getty Images
British prime minister Theresa May delivers her leader's speech. Getty Images

British prime minister Theresa May stopped the rot under her leadership with a rousing address to close her Conservative Party conference on Wednesday.

The British leader called time on the age of austerity and poked fun at herself as she launched attacks on opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as well as party rival Boris Johnson.

Coming out on stage to the strains of Abba’s Dancing Queen, a nod to her impromptu dance routine with schoolchildren on a recent trip to South Africa, she re-enacted the moves on her way to the lectern to tumultuous applause.

Mrs May then disarmingly referred to 2017’s car-crash conference speech, when she suffered a coughing fit, had to deal with a stage invader as the stage set fell to pieces behind her.

In a large section devoted to Brexit, Mrs May restated her commitment to the Chequers deal that she has been forced to defend against attacks from Mr Johnson, the former foreign secretary, although she failed to refer to it by name.

But she also stated that “Britain isn’t afraid to leave with no deal if we have to”, and ruled out any possible second referendum on whether to leave the union or not.

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“We will not betray the result of the referendum and we will never break up our country,” she said, ruling out any Brexit deal that would weaken the union between the British mainland and Northern Ireland.

Much of the speech was devoted to attacks on the Labour party, who had proposed a radical agenda including the renationalisation of public utilities, which Mrs May said would cost the country £1 trillion.

But she also addressed some of the more divisive issues in British society, making an impassioned defence of civility, citing the racist abuse that shadow home secretary Diane Abbott receives and invoking the words of the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox that there was more uniting people than dividing them.

In the final stages of the speech, however, the prime minister set out a series of policies which were clearly intended to appeal to voters who had been attracted by Labour’s eye-catching measures.

An announcement that local councils were freed from a cap on borrowing would allow them to build social housing, she said, and she finished the speech by saying that from next year the age of austerity in public spending would come to an end.

“Together let’s build a better Britain,” Mrs May concluded, giving the impression that, far from this being her final speech as leader, she intended to go on for longer than March 29, 2019, Brexit day.