British Prime Minister Theresa May has danced onto her party conference stage and delivered a speech that may have saved her premiership, with fierce attacks on her internal and external political enemies and a promise to end austerity.
She demanded that her party unite behind her Brexit vision, which she said was the only plan that did not betray voters but also protected jobs and trade and secured the nation’s borders against unwanted immigration.
And she said the European Union must not reject her Brexit proposals, despite its leaders turning them down at a meeting in Salzburg last month.
“If we stick together and hold our nerve I know we can get a deal that delivers for Britain,” May told the gathered Conservative members in Birmingham.
READ MORE: Boris Johnson turns up heat on Theresa May
“I passionately believe that our best days lie ahead of us and our future is full of promise.”
May was facing her Waterloo at the conference, after a fired-up Jeremy Corbyn used last week’s Labour conference to make a passionate socialist pitch for “left behind” Britons, and May’s rival Boris Johnson revved up the Tory faithful by describing her Brexit plan as an outrageous humiliation for the country.
There is a growing Tory rebellion against May’s so-called Chequers plan, which opponents say would leave the country subject to European regulations it no longer had a hand in writing.
Some members of her own cabinet were sending out an SOS, openly discussing how soon May could be replaced.
But the defiant Prime Minister came on stage to the strains of ABBA’s Dancing Queen, performing a few robotic dance moves in a nod to her startling choreography on a recent trip to Africa.
She won the audience over initially with self-deprecating humour, including a reference to last year’s disastrous speech in which she almost lost her voice in a coughing fit, was interrupted by a prankster and upstaged by disintegrating props.
But she soon moved into a withering attack on Corbyn.
His party’s policies would cost the country £1 trillion ($1.8 trillion), send businesses fleeing Britain and inevitably require tax hikes, May said.
It would be “back to square one” after years of slow recovery from the global financial crash.
May painted Corbyn as a Kremlin sympathiser, weak on defence, who “poses as a humanitarian” but was “in thrall to ideology” and not decent, moderate or patriotic.
Millions were “appalled at what Jeremy Corbyn has done to Labour”, she said. “It is our duty to make sure he can never do it to our country.”
His party “rejects the common values that once bridged our [political] divide”.
She even quoted – and modified – a Labour slogan, saying the government must work “not for the few, not even for the many, but for everyone who is willing to work hard and do their best”.
Though the next election is not due until 2022, the subtext to May’s speech was that the government could fall earlier if it fails to win agreement on Brexit both in Brussels and Westminster.
It took almost half an hour before May addressed the Brexit issue that has defined her term in office.
She reiterated that the UK must be prepared to choose “no deal” if there was not a good offer on trade and borders from Europe.
The EU had so far given two options: one which would mean staying in the EU “in all but name” with unchecked immigration for EU nationals, big payments to Brussels and no unilateral trade deals, the other “carving off” Northern Ireland to keep it effectively in an EU customs union.
“Let’s send a clear message we will never accept either of those choices”, she said.
The UK would “take back control of our borders, laws and money… it’s in the national interest”.
May told her party they must “come together” as she began the toughest last few weeks of negotiations with the EU.
And she made several unsubtle jabs at Johnson, without naming him, firstly pointing out the free trade option he preferred would not protect British jobs that relied on seamless borders for “just-in-time” industries.
In a reference to a notorious Johnson comment on corporate opposition to Brexit (he reportedly said “f— business”), May said her motto also used a four letter word ending in K: “back business”.
But May acknowledged the after-effects of the financial crash had left people feeling the economy was not working for them.
She outlined government policies on extra funding for the National Health Service – including a new cancer strategy that she said was partly inspired by the death of her goddaughter – and a boost to home building that would tackle the housing crisis, “the biggest domestic policy challenge of a generation”.
“People need to know their hard work has paid off”, she said, promising a budget in 2019 that would end austerity economics and increase government spending.
“We stand at a pivotal moment in our history and it falls to our party to lead our country through it,” she said.
Her look of relief at the long speech’s end was met with a standing ovation from her party, as loudspeakers played ELO’s Mr Blue Sky.
The chorus runs “Mr Blue Sky please tell us why / You had to hide away for so long? / Where did we go wrong?”
The initial reaction to May’s speech was positive.
One conservative commentator called it one of her best, though he pointed out that “Brexit will soon take back over” the political conversation.
Sky News political veteran Adam Boulton said it was a “well crafted” speech saying: “No change. We press on with Chequers Brexit approach. Corbyn is a menace. That’s it.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May says there is ”no limit” to what Britain can achieve at the end of her keynote speech on the final day of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham.