LONDON – U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May sought to revitalize her election campaign Tuesday after a series of polling setbacks by turning her focus squarely on what she sees as her strongest card: the coming Brexit negotiations with the European Union.
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A week after a suicide bombing in Manchester shocked the country and called a temporary halt to campaigning, Mrs. May argued only she can be trusted to deliver on the aspirations of British voters who chose to pull the U.K. out of the EU in a referendum last year.
Her governing Conservative Party is "100% committed" to Brexit and has a clear plan to see it through, Mrs. May said in a speech in Wolverhampton, in England's Midlands. Opposition parties, she said, wish to frustrate the referendum result, which she described as "a quiet revolution driven by all those who felt let down and left behind for too long."
Mrs. May pledged to "stand up to Brussels" on British voters' behalf in exit talks due to start June 19.
But she struck a less combative tone when asked about German Chancellor Angela Merkel's weekend comments that Europe must unify in response to Brexit and uncertainty around U.S. policy under President Donald Trump, saying that although Britain will negotiate hard, it will also seek a deep and special partnership with the bloc on issues ranging from security and defense to trade.
Mrs. May's latest appeal to voters comes after a succession of opinion polls have signaled a steady erosion in the center-right Conservatives' lead over the main opposition Labour Party, led by veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn.
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A survey of more than 2,000 adults conducted May 26 to 29 by pollster ICM put support for the Conservatives at 45%, against Labour on 33%. The data from the online poll are weighted to reflect demographic factors and respondents' likelihood to vote, ICM said. Other polling companies reporting in the last week have suggested a narrower lead than ICM.
Mrs. May's 12-point lead in the latest ICM survey compares with earlier polls that gave her a much larger advantage over Mr. Corbyn and Labour, including one ICM poll that put the gap at 22 points.
Pollsters say the narrowing has mostly been driven by steady Labour gains as previous supporters who had been wary of Mr. Corbyn have steadily come back to the fold.
Mrs. May in her speech reiterated the negotiating priorities for coming talks with Brussels that she first set out late in 2016.
She said the U.K. plans to relinquish its membership of the EU's single market for goods and services and will instead negotiate a bold and ambitious new free-trade accord with the bloc.
Mrs. May said London wants to continue to cooperate with the EU on issues including crime and terrorism and is willing to guarantee the rights of EU citizens resident in Britain, provided British citizens elsewhere in the EU are granted the same deal.
Asked about Ms. Merkel's comments during questions following her prepared remarks, Mrs. May stressed that Britain "is leaving the EU but is not leaving Europe."
Mrs. May repeated a campaign mantra that a bigger majority for the Conservatives would strengthen her hand in exit talks, which she said are due to start 11 days after the June 8 vote.
Mr. Corbyn's campaign has focused much more heavily on domestic issues and public services such as health. His party has pledged to nationalize railways and water companies and raise taxes on the rich if it wins power.
Labour didn't respond directly to a request comment on Mrs. May's speech. The party on Tuesday unveiled a policy to finance 30 hours of child care a week for all two- to four-year-olds in Britain.
Write to Jason Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
May 30, 2017 13:50 ET (17:50 GMT)