Theresa May speaks to the few not the many at sealed York stopover

Theresa May in the York Barbican. Photograph: Danny Lawson / PA
9 May 2017 @ 2.57 pm
| News, Politics

Prime Minister Theresa May was in York today – but few knew.

Rather than meet any of the people of the city, she chose to give an unannounced speech in a back room at the Barbican Centre in front of an invited audience.

Although ironically enough she told them: “I know how important it is to be out there, talking directly to voters, hearing their concerns.”

Need a strong mandate

In front of a panel of Conservative candidates for Northern English seats, she gave a short speech and took pre-vetted questions.

“I simply say to people in the North of England this is the team that I need behind me to be in a strong position to get a strong deal for Britain from Brexit,” she said.

“Strong” was her word of the day.

The newly elected French president Emmaneul Macron “was elected with a strong mandate that will put him in a strong position in the negotiations.

“So we need a strong mandate to put us in a strong position in those negotiations.”

‘We believe in free markets’

The scene at York Barbican

During questions she ducked a question from the BBC asking if anyone in her cabinet – including business secretary Greg Clark – ever opposed her policy of putting a cap on energy prices.

She denied the Conservatives “wanted to live in a Marxist universe” – the words her predecessor David Cameron used when former Labour leader Ed Miliband proposed a similar energy price cap at the last election.

“We believe in free markets and competition,” she said. “But we want to see competition working.”

She said the customers of the six largest energy suppliers “were paying £1.4 billion more than they would have done if there was a truly competitive market.”

Might raise taxes

The Prime Minister presses a point at the Barbican

On tax, Mrs May said it is not her intention to raise taxes but did not rule out future hikes.

She left the door open for increases after June 8 as she made clear she would not follow in David Cameron’s footsteps by making a string of tax pledges that bind the government.

Mrs May said: “It’s not our intention to increase the level of tax but I’m not going to make any tax commitments that we are not absolutely sure we can keep.

“But our instinct is to reduce taxes for working families.”

The Prime Minister has promised not to raise VAT if the Conservatives win the General Election, but signalled she will scrap a flagship “tax lock” pledge which also rules out increases to income tax and national insurance.

Questioned on tax and fake news

Dan Bean from the York Press used his question to asked her to support the paper’s campaign against fake news.

“A lot of people put great store by their local newspapers, with trained journalists actually out there faithfully reporting what is happening in their local area,” she said.

Another journalist asked her if she would take questions from the floor, but she was already heading for the exit. She was then whisked away in a black people carrier to Leeds.

Mrs May will be back in York on June 2 for an edition of Question Time Live, also featuring Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn is due to address a rally in the city on Wednesday.