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Theresa May rallies Conservatives around Brexit plan

British Prime Minister Theresa May has doubled down on her Brexit plan at a divided Conservative conference. She urged the party to coalesce around her plans; otherwise, she said, there may be "no Brexit at all."

Prime Minister Theresa May urged her fractious Conservatives on Wednesday to unite and rally around her so-called Chequers Brexit plan. She entered to the Abba song "Dancing Queen," doing a little jig while taking the podium in reference to her recent display of dance moves on a visit to Nigeria.

May also made some self-deprecating quips about her disastrous conference keynote speech a year ago, which was punctuated by a severe coughing fit and a comedian handing her a P45 — the tax form issued to employees who have been dismissed from their job in Britain and Ireland.

Addressing the final day of this year's Conservative conference in Birmingham, May said Britain was entering the "toughest phase" of divorce negotiations with the EU.

With just six months until Brexit is scheduled to take at least partial effect, May is under pressure after the EU rejected parts of her Brexit plan and critics in her party call for a change of strategy.

"If we all go off in different directions in pursuit of our own vision of the perfect Brexit, we risk ending up with no Brexit at all," she warned a Conservative party beset by internal bickering. "What we are proposing is very challenging for the EU. But if we stick together and hold our nerve I know we can get a deal that delivers for Britain."

Divided party, even before Chequers is diluted

On Tuesday, former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson had urged Conservatives to "chuck Chequers" and completely break with the EU.

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Key Brexit issues remain unresolved

May's plan seeks to establish a free-trade area for goods and agricultural products, keeping those sectors under EU single market rules, while taking Britain out of the single market for services, which accounts for around 80 percent of its economy. Many Conservatives feel the deal already gives too much away, while European leaders have made it clear that further British concessions would be necessary for "Chequers" to work. 

May said that "leaving without a deal — introducing tariffs and costly checks at the border — would be a bad outcome for the UK and the EU."

Despite difficulties, May sought to paint a picture of a bright future for the UK after Brexit.

"I passionately believe that our best days lie ahead of us and that our future is full of promise," May said.

Highlighting the pressure she is under, Conservative lawmaker James Duddridge in a letter called for May to resign. Forty-eight lawmakers would be needed to trigger a vote of confidence. 

But May's speech appeared to go over well among key Conservatives. 

"Congratulations Theresa May for a remarkable speech delivered with humor and passion. Firmness of purpose, clarity and conviction - EU friends do not underestimate!" Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweeted.

May also addressed a number of domestic policy issues. 

She claimed that opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, if elected, would "outsource our conscience to the Kremlin."

She said the Conservatives next year planned to end austerity implemented in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

"A decade after the financial crash, people need to know that the austerity it led to is over," she said, claiming that debt levels would continue to fall but public service spending would increase. 

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Brexit along the Irish border

cw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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