Sunday 24 September 2017

Leaders make final pitch for votes as UK goes to the polls

May and Corbyn criss-cross the nation, with predictions Tories still on course for a majority

Diane Abbott said she would ‘rejoin the fray soon’. Picture: PA
Diane Abbott said she would ‘rejoin the fray soon’. Picture: PA

Charlotte Ryan

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn clashed on security and their respective visions of post-Brexit Britain as they made their final pitches to the British people ahead of today's election.

As the British Prime Minister and her Labour opponent each went on a whistle-stop tour of the UK on the final day of campaigning, Mrs May promised voters a Brexit boost of billions of pounds in state investment to support business, transport and housing. Mr Corbyn said the election was an opportunity to end the Conservative government's austerity agenda and build a more just society.

"It's a choice of the kind of world, kind of country we want to live in," the Labour leader told a rally in Runcorn, northwest England. "It's a choice of this or cuts, closure and privatisation. It's a choice, quite simply, of hope or fear."

With polls at odds on how close the election will be, the outcome is far less certain than at the start of the campaign seven weeks ago, when Mrs May was projected to win by a landslide. Since then, the Tory lead over Labour has narrowed as Mr Corbyn outperformed expectations and Mrs May made unforced campaign errors, while two terrorist attacks in the past two weeks added a further layer of uncertainty.

At stake is the UK's future prosperity as it prepares to leave the EU, its largest market. Talks with EU officials on quitting the bloc are due to begin less than two weeks after the election, with economic indicators suggesting the outlook is worsening.

In her final rally of the campaign, Mrs May portrayed the election as a choice of who is best equipped to lead the country into Brexit, thus "setting the course for generations to come".

"Only the people can give us the mandate, so my message to people is very simple: Give me the mandate to lead Britain, give me the authority to speak for Britain," Mrs May said. "Strengthen my hand as a I fight for Britain."

Mrs May shuttled by bus, plane and car from London to Southampton, Norwich, Nottingham and finally Birmingham on the last day of the campaign. Mr Corbyn, for his part, started the day in Glasgow, before heading to the capital via stops in Cheshire, north Wales and Watford.

Two last-minute polls last night showed the Conservative Party is on course to increase its majority. Polling firm ICM said its final pre-election poll showed Mrs May's lead had increased by one percentage point to 12 points. Rival pollster ComRes said the lead had narrowed by two points but still stood at a comfortable-looking 10 points.

ICM said its 46-34 lead for the Conservatives over Labour would give Mrs May a majority of 96 seats in parliament, up sharply from the working majority of 17 she has had until now.

The 'Independent' newspaper, which commissioned the ComRes poll, said the 44-34 lead it gave Mrs May would leave her with a majority of 74, bigger than any Conservative majority since the days when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

ICM and ComRes have tended to give the Conservatives bigger leads than other polling firms.

As Mrs May takes flak for her Home Office record, the Tories have concentrated their fire on the Labour leader's past relationship with extremist groups, and the performance of his home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott.

Mr Corbyn replaced Ms Abbott yesterday with Lyn Brown, the party's spokeswoman on police matters, citing ill health.

"For a couple of days, she's taking a break from the campaign," Mr Corbyn told the BBC. Ms Abbott later said on Twitter that she was "still standing" and would "rejoin the fray soon".

Irish Independent

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