Ukip launches General Election campaign as PM moves to occupy party's territory

General Election 2017

Ukip is launching its General Election campaign in the wake of Theresa May making a blatant pitch for the party's supporters while also calling for Labour voters to switch to the Tories in the national interest over Brexit.

With Ukip leader Paul Nuttall insisting he will stand for Westminster after uncertainty over his intentions, the party is hoping to draw a line under recent controversies, despite the fact he has not revealed which constituency he will target.

The party's election push comes as the Prime Minister moved to occupy Ukip political territory, with Mrs May insisting she is the only leader able to fight Britain's corner in "tough" up-coming Brexit negotiations.

Mrs May used a rally in Leeds to urge Labour and Ukip supporters to "lend" her their votes as she accused the 27 remaining EU nations of "lining up to oppose" Britain in EU divorce talks.

The PM branded Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn too "weak" to handle Brexit negotiations after German chancellor Angela Merkel accused the UK of having "illusions" about how the talks would pan out.

Speaking in Leeds, the PM said: "I know this city is one of the places that people call a 'traditional Labour area'. But here, and in every constituency across the country, it may say Labour on the ballot, but it's Jeremy Corbyn that gets the vote.

"And everyone in our country has a positive reason to lend me their vote. Because this election is not about who you may have voted for in the past, it is about voting in the national interest."

Labour accused the Prime Minister of trying to "blinker the British public" and make the election about anything other than the Government's record.

The party's national elections chairman, Andrew Gwynne, said: "Theresa May is going to extraordinary lengths to blinker the British public and make this election about anything other than her record in government. The people of Leeds won't be fooled: the only party of working people is the Labour Party.

"Under the Tories, working people have picked up the bill while those at the top have received tens of billions of pounds of tax breaks. Wages have stagnated, public services have suffered huge cuts and our NHS is in crisis.

"It is clearer than ever that the Tories are for the few, not the many. Rather than uniting the country and tackling the challenges we face, their policies are divisive and are taking us backwards."

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused the PM of "shameless opportunism", saying: "Theresa May has betrayed the national interest by opting for a disastrous hard Brexit that will wreck our economy.

"Now she is posturing to try and win votes at home instead of building bridges abroad with our allies in Europe.

"It is shameless opportunism that has nothing to do with May's hand in the Brexit talks and everything to with attempting a naked power grab."

Mrs May also dismissed as "hypothetical" a suggestion from Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that it would be difficult not to support further US air strikes against Bashar Assad's regime in Syria.

The PM did not answer directly when asked if Mr Johnson would remain Foreign Secretary after the election, but insisted he was doing a "great" job in the role.

With EU leaders meeting at the weekend to thrash out their Brexit stance, the Financial Times reported they were prepared to recognise the potential for a united Ireland within the bloc.

Northern Ireland could rejoin the EU if it voted to unite the Irish Republic, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, Tory MP David Mackintosh announced he was standing down from parliament. The move comes after reports he was fighting a de-selection battle in his Northampton South constituency.