May faces Brexit backlash as UKIP loses new leader

British Prime Minister Theresa May / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jack Hill

British Prime Minister Theresa May / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jack Hill

Prime Minister Theresa May will give a speech to close her party’s conference Wednesday against a backdrop of currency turmoil and growing criticism of her plans for pulling Britain out of the EU.

May will use the address to outline a programme designed to appeal to working-class voters, mirroring some of the rhetoric and policies of the anti-EU UK Independence Party which is steeped in a deep crisis.

But her message risks being drowned out by attacks on announcements by her ministers at this week’s Conservative conference, particularly around reducing immigration and moving towards a “hard” Brexit.

The most controversial proposals include urging employers to publish a record of how many non-British citizens they hire and restricting the number of foreign students by tightening visa rules.

“I want businesses to think first about locally training people where possible,” interior minister Amber Rudd told BBC radio Wednesday.

“We’re asking them to join us on this journey so they don’t automatically go abroad where it’s cheaper perhaps and sometimes, they feel, more efficient”.

Rudd has stressed that leaving the EU is only part of the government’s pledge to cut net annual migration to tens of thousands from the current level of nearly 330,000.

Acting director of the British Chambers of Commerce Adam Marshall said the measures would be “bad news for the economy, job creation and business investment.”

On Wednesday, the pound slumped to a new 31-year low against the dollar on concerns about how Brexit will unfold after May said she would trigger two years of negotiations with Brussels before the end of March, opening the door for an early 2019 departure.

– UKIP chaos –
May stands up to speak with the anti-EU UKIP in turmoil after the resignation of its leader Diane James on Tuesday just 18 days after being elected to replace Nigel Farage.

Farage, who quit after June’s vote to leave the EU saying his ambition had been achieved, technically remains party leader as James did not formally register her new job with electoral authorities.

But he has insisted he will not return to the job.

Critics and analysts on Wednesday claimed the Conservatives were echoing UKIP in some announcements made at the four-day conference in Birmingham, central England.

“Disgusted by front pages from Tory conference. Just because UKIP created a vacancy doesn’t mean Theresa May has to fill it,” the leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour party in Scotland, Kezia Dugdale, wrote on Twitter.

“I think Theresa May is doing a very shrewd job of parking her tanks on UKIP’s lawns,” added Professor Matthew Goodwin of Kent University, a UKIP expert, speaking to BBC radio.

May’s approach since taking office in July has also gone down well with many Conservative supporters at the conference.

“I feel quite optimistic, I feel Theresa May will deliver,” said one, Ros Lloyd, 59. “I believe Theresa is cautious but with good intentions.”

The prime minister hinted in a speech Sunday that she could favour a “hard” Brexit from the EU which would involve limited, if any, access to Europe’s single market in return for more control over immigration.

“We are not leaving the European Union only to give up control of immigration again,” she said.

She has said she will invoke Article 50 — the formal procedure for departure — by the end of March next year.

In Wednesday’s closing address, she will vow to “set our party and our country on the path towards the new centre ground of British politics, built on the values of fairness and opportunity,” according to pre-released extracts.

But commentators warn her premiership will be dominated by leaving the EU, despite her best efforts.

“She is the Brexit prime minister and nothing else,” Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times this week.

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