Theresa May attempted to revive her party’s election campaign with a promise of a “brighter future” after Brexit as polls showed Labour continuing to close the gap on the Tories.
Mrs May insisted only she could deliver on the UK’s “great national mission”, saying Jeremy Corbyn was “simply not up to the job” of Brexit and appealing to voters to put their trust in her.
But the Tories continued the shift away from the presidential-style campaign that dominated the early weeks, with the Prime Minister delivering her message against a backdrop emblazoned with “Theresa May and the Conservatives”.
The Conservative reboot came as Labour suggested it would seek to govern alone if the party succeeds in denying Mrs May a majority.
Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said Labour would put forward a Queen’s Speech and Budget and dare opposition parties to vote it down if the Tories fail to push key legislation through parliament.
Polls suggested the gap between the two largest parties continues to narrow, with a new YouGov poll putting Labour within 3 points of the Tories, the closest they have been for more than a year.
The Conservatives’ reckless approach has left us isolated and marginalised, increasing the chances of crashing out of the EU without a dealJeremy Corbyn
Another poll from Panelbase held worse news for the Conservatives, despite putting the gap between the parties at eight points. Panelbase had previously given the Tories the biggest lead of any polling company at 14 percentage points.
Delivering his own Brexit message yesterday, Mr Corbyn said the Tories’ Brexit strategy would cause a “jobs meltdown” and mocked the UK government’s lead Brexit ministers for their claims that the NHS would get £350 million after the UK left the EU.
Despite campaigning for a Remain vote herself, Mrs May told an audience on Teeside: “You can only deliver Brexit if you believe in Brexit. You can only fight for Britain if you believe in Britain.”
She added: “What we know in this election is that the only other person that can be prime minister in seven days’ time is simply not up to the job.
“He doesn’t believe in Britain. He doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t have what it takes.”
She claimed that, once freed from the “shackles” of Brussels, the UK could become a “great global trading nation” again.
Telling voters, “put your trust in me, back me” the Prime Minister said: “If they do, I am confident that we can fulfil the promise of Brexit together and build a Britain that is stronger, fairer and even more prosperous than it is today.
“Because the promise of Brexit is great, the opportunities before us enormous,” she said. “Because if we get Brexit right, then together we can do great things.
“We can build a Britain beyond Brexit that is stronger, fairer and more prosperous than it is today.”
She put the Conservative plan to expand grammar schools in England at the heart of her vision for a better post-Brexit country, saying it would help build a “great meritocracy”.
Mrs May continued to face criticism over her refusal to take part in a televised leader’s debate on Wednesday, exploited by Mr Corbyn who made a last-minute decision to attend.
It was reported yesterday that the Prime Minister had turned down an invitation to appear on the BBC Radio 4 programme Women’s Hour today, following appearances by other party leaders.
She denied reports that she was considering giving Amber Rudd, who stepped in to represent the Conservatives in the BBC debate despite the death of her father on Monday, the job of chancellor if she is returned to Downing Street.
Asked about the issue during a question-and-answer session, the Prime Minister said: “I am focusing on actually making sure that when people come to vote next week they are very clear on what the choice is at this election.
“It’s between me and my team – and you’ve seen the excellence of the team I have around me – and with that strong and stable leadership which will take us to that brighter future.”
Mr Corbyn yesterday hit back at the Tories’ position on Brexit, telling a campaign event in Basildon: “The Conservatives’ reckless approach has left us isolated and marginalised, increasing the chances of Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal, which would be the worst possible outcome for Britain.
“That would mean slapping tariffs on the goods we export – an extra 10 per cent on cars – with the risk that key manufacturers would leave for the European mainland, taking skilled jobs with them.
“In sector after sector, ‘no deal’ could prove to be an economic disaster. Theresa May’s approach risks a jobs meltdown across Britain.”
Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said Mrs May’s comments were “delusional”, pointing out that she had backed Remain in last year’s referendum.
“Only a year ago, Theresa May declared that being in the EU makes us more secure, more prosperous, more influential,” he said.
“The relentlessly upbeat assessment of Brexit in her speech today is a U-turn of epic proportions.
“It is also dangerous, because it is calculated to distract attention from the shark-infested waters which we are now entering, and the fact that Theresa May herself has steered us towards them.”
Answering questions following Mr Corbyn’s speech in Basildon, Ms Thornberry ruled out any coalition deals when asked if Labour would try to persuade Sinn Fein MPs to attend the House of Commons in order to support them.
She replied: “The truth is we are fighting to win and we are fighting to win with a majority. That’s what we are fighting to do.
“If we end up in a position where we are in a minority, we will go ahead and we will put forward a Queen’s Speech and a Budget.
“If people want to vote for it, then good. If they don’t want to vote for it, they are going to have to go back and speak to their constituents and explain to them why it is that we have a Tory government instead.
“If we are the largest party, we go ahead – no deals – with our manifesto, our Budget and our Queen’s Speech.”