British PM Theresa May rips into Labour's Jeremy Corbyn as election becomes blame game over Manchester attack

British Prime Minister Theresa May (right) and main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) during the weekly Prime Ministers Questions session in the House of Commons in London on April 26, 2017.
British Prime Minister Theresa May (right) and main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (left) during the weekly Prime Ministers Questions session in the House of Commons in London on April 26, 2017.PHOTO: AFP/PRU

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Prime Minister Theresa May accused rival Jeremy Corbyn of saying that Britain had brought terrorism upon itself, in an unusually personal attack that thrust the Manchester bombing into the centre of an election campaign less than two weeks before the vote.

The verbal assault was made all the more unusual by the setting. May was at the Group of Seven (G-7) meeting in Sicily discussing global affairs with fellow leaders after campaigning had been suspended for three days.

The mud-slinging marked May's own return to electioneering after a series of opinion polls showed her once dominant lead evaporating.

"I have been here today at the G-7 working with other international leaders to fight terrorism. At the same time Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault and he's chosen to do that just a few days after one of the worst terror atrocities we have experienced in the UK," she said before leaving the summit early to return to London.

"I think the choice people face in the general election has just become starker," she said. "It's a choice between me working constantly to protect the national interest and working for security and Jeremy Corbyn who frankly isn't up to the job."

May's intervention came on the day that a YouGov poll cut her Conservative Party's lead over Corbyn's Labour to just five points, the narrowest since she came to power last July. May has repeatedly sought to warn voters that the 20-point lead the Tories had at the start of the campaign last month could be misleading.

The election campaign was put on hold after Monday's attack which killed 22 people at a pop concert in the northern England city of Manchester as all political parties ceased activities as a mark of respect for the victims.

But the atrocity itself became an election issue on Friday when Corbyn made a speech setting out how he would take a different approach to foreign policy. The Labour leader argued earlier that the fact that troops were being deployed to protect the public in the street was a clear signal that British foreign and security policy had failed.

Corbyn argued Britain's decision to join foreign wars had made the country a target for terrorists. "Many experts, including professionals in our intelligence and security services, have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries and terrorism here at home," he said.

At the press conference in Taormina, the historic town where the summit was held, May offered a message to voters and to the Labour leader: "There can never ever be an excuse for terrorism; there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester."

A spokesman for the Labour leader said that the prime minister's characterization of Corbyn's speech didn't represent "the truth."  

"In his speech, Jeremy said protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security," the spokesman said in a statement.