Theresa May urges Britons to unite in 2017 in Christmas message

LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May has urged the country to come together in 2017 after a year of bitter divisions exposed by the Brexit referendum, in her first Christmas message released yesterday.

She said Britain needed to unite and seize the opportunity to forge a new role in the world as it leaves the European Union.

In the June referendum, 52 per cent voted for Britain to leave the EU, and wrangling over the issue dominated the rest of the year.

Mrs May has said she wants to begin the formal process of withdrawing from the EU, which can take up to two years, by the end of March. As families gathered for Christmas, Mrs May said "coming together is also important for us as a country".

"As we leave the European Union, we must seize a historic opportunity to forge a bold new role for ourselves in the world and to unite our country as we move forward into the future," she added.

Mrs May said last Tuesday that she was planning to negotiate both Brexit and Britain's future relationship with the EU by 2019, but a transition period may be required after that.

Britain's Supreme Court is set to rule next month on whether Parliament's approval is required for Mrs May to trigger the exit process. She is increasingly isolated as her demands to control all areas of policy alienate key colleagues, according to more than a dozen officials who worry tensions will undermine planning for Brexit.

Mrs May is said to have been centralising power more than her predecessor David Cameron, and officials said an early period of goodwill towards her had given way to division and resentment, leading to policy mistakes that had to be corrected.

Still, however much Mrs May's critics within the government dislike the combative style of her administration, many Conservatives are pleased that the party under her leadership has been 14 points ahead of Labour in recent polls.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 25, 2016, with the headline 'Theresa May urges Britons to unite in 2017 in Christmas message'. Print Edition | Subscribe