British PM unveils new vision, calls for fairer society

Mrs May, speaking on the final day of the Conservative Party's annual conference, said she would make sure that everyone "plays by the same rules" in Britain.
Mrs May, speaking on the final day of the Conservative Party's annual conference, said she would make sure that everyone "plays by the same rules" in Britain.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BIRMINGHAM • British Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled yesterday what she called a new "vision" for the ruling Conservatives, to serve the country by spreading wealth more evenly and becoming the party for "ordinary working-class people".

Mrs May, speaking on the final day of the Conservative Party's annual conference, told members the government must tackle the problems which spurred millions of Britons to vote to leave the European Union in a referendum on June 23 - a decision she said was part of a protest against the "rich and powerful".

Attacking business leaders who abused the system to accrue wealth unfairly and the accountants who help them, she said she would make sure that everyone "plays by the same rules".

"If you're a boss who earns a fortune but doesn't look after your staff; an international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra; a household name that refuses to work with the authorities even to fight terrorism; a director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust, I'm putting you on warning: This can't go on any more," she said.

The pound has fallen 1.8 per cent to a 31-year low against the US dollar since the start of the Tory conference amid investor concern that Britain could be heading for a "hard Brexit", with little accommodation for the finance industry.

On Sunday, the first day of the conference, Mrs May told delegates that she would trigger negotiations with Brussels to leave the EU before the end of March, opening the door for a possible withdrawal in early 2019.

Banks warned on Tuesday that 70,000 jobs and £10 billion (S$17.5 billion) in tax revenue are at risk, while the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for British economic growth next year.

In her speech yesterday, Mrs May said she wanted a Brexit deal which offered "maximum freedom" to operate in Europe's single market but wanted control over immigration.

The demands are contradictory for European leaders, who have emphasised that access to the single market is dependent on allowing free movement of workers.

"We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration all over again and we're not leaving only to return to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice," said Mrs May.

She conceded that it will be a "tough negotiation" which will require "some give and take".

While she has given little away about her negotiating strategy, her government is seen by analysts as moving to a "hard" Brexit, which could involve limited, if any, access to Europe's single market in return for more control over immigration.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'British PM unveils new vision, calls for fairer society'. Print Edition | Subscribe