April 25, 2017 / 10:10 AM / 8 months ago

Drop 'tribal politics' - Britain's May takes election fight to Wales

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May will call on voters on Tuesday to drop the “tribal politics” of the past and back her plan for leaving the European Union, bringing her election message of “strong leadership” to Wales.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to the media outside 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

May is targeting Wales, a largely rural country which has long been a stronghold of her Labour opponents but voted in favour of Brexit, by exploiting rifts in the opposition party to press her argument that only she can win a good divorce deal with Brussels.

Her visit is timely, with Labour on the back foot over its plans for Brexit and an opinion poll suggesting her Conservatives are on track to win a majority of parliamentary seats in Wales for the first time in more than 100 years.

“This election is not about the kind of tribal politics that has held sway in Wales and elsewhere for many years. It is not about calling in old favours or relying on past allegiance. It is about the future,” she wrote in the Western Mail newspaper before visiting Wales.

“It is an opportunity to provide this United Kingdom with the strong and stable leadership it needs to see us through Brexit and beyond.”

By calling an early vote for June 8, three years before it was scheduled, May has sent opposition parties scrambling to come up with election manifestos in just six weeks, handing the prime minister the upper hand.

With national opinion polls giving her a lead of around 20 percentage points over Labour, she looks set to get a large majority in parliament, easing passage of the dozens of laws needed to guide Britain’s divorce from the European Union.

But she may also face election fatigue among an electorate who voted in the EU referendum less than a year ago, and some commentators say her warnings that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn might win the vote ring hollow in light of opinion polls.

Running well behind, his Labour Party went on the offensive on Tuesday, berating May for a “reckless” approach to the Brexit talks that will start in earnest in June. Its Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said his party would reset the tone by immediately guaranteeing the rights of millions of EU citizens living in Britain if it won.

But May shot back, accusing Labour and other opposition parties of trying to disrupt the negotiations.

“That approach can only mean one thing – uncertainty and instability, bringing grave risk to our growing economy with higher taxes, fewer jobs, more waste and more debt,” she wrote.

“That is why I will be fighting to earn every vote I can in this election, because every vote I receive will strengthen my hand as I negotiate with the prime ministers, presidents and chancellors of Europe.”

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

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