Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Theresa May's speech interrupted by a prankster ... and then took a turn for the worse

On Wednesday morning, the only name on people’s lips at the UK Conservative party conference was that of Boris Johnson. After an extraordinary speech to round off the four-day event no one was talking about anyone other than the prime minister.

Overnight, the UK foreign secretary had succeeded in making all the coverage be about him, after he told a fringe event in Manchester that Sirte in Libya could be turned into the next Dubai but “the only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies away.”

He was attacked by many in his party, with three fellow Tory MPs calling for him to quit.

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But then came Theresa May’s speech, an address bathed in pathos and interrupted as it was by a stage invader, several bouts of coughing which reduced her to near-muteness, and by part of the set behind her falling to pieces.

Delivering what many felt was a make-or-break speech for her prospects of retaining the premiership, and against a backdrop of open warfare taking place between members of her cabinet, Mrs May kicked off by apologising to Conservative party members for the way this year’s election campaign had been run.

It had been “too scripted, too presidential”, she said, and had allowed the opposition Labour party to portray the Tories as representing “continuity”.

She went out of her way to extol the virtues of her political creed, saying “this is a Conservatism I believe in, a Conservatism of fairness and justice and opportunity for all, a Conservatism that keeps the British dream alive for a new generation.”

Then it all went wrong.

Her speech was interrupted as what appeared to be a delegate from the audience walked up to her proferring a piece of paper which Mrs May took from him.

It was a P45 form - which is issued to Britons when they leave a job. The stage invader, who turned out to be the TV prankster Simon Brodkin, claimed Mr Johnson had asked him to do it.

Mr Brodkin, also known as Lee Nelson, has form in pulling off audacious stunts such as this, having previously showered the former Fifa president Sepp Blatter with fake bank notes at a press conference and attempted to get on the Manchester United team bus.

Sepp Blatter was showered in cash in a previous Brodkin stunt. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters
Sepp Blatter was showered in cash in a previous Brodkin stunt. Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters

After Mr Brodkin had been bundled away by security, things took a turn for the worse, as Mrs May began to lose her voice and to cough constantly.

The chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, offered her a lozenge, and she appeared to be winning the battle of delivering the speech.

But the final indignity came when letters started to drop off the party slogan on the wall of the stage behind her as she was rounding off her address, with the F and the final E from the line ‘for everyone’ dropping to the floor.

Party members in the hall were willing her through the speech and it was with great courage that she finished it, but the news bulletins on Wednesday night will only be featuring the slip ups in the speech.

Theresa May coughs her way through her speech. Rui Viera / AP Photo
Theresa May coughs her way through her speech. Rui Viera / AP Photo