[LONDON] Theresa May took a swipe at "elites" and business leaders, telling them to end abusive work practices and pay their taxes because "change has got to come" to Britain.
"Today too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the streets," the prime minister told a packed conference hall in Birmingham, England, as she closed the Conservative Party conference Wednesday. "A change has got to come and this party is going to make it."
Ms May pitched her government as the champion of struggling working classes in a speech that portrayed the June 23 vote to leave the European Union as a protest not just against the EU, but a call for change in the way the country and its companies work.
"If you're a boss who earns a fortune but doesn't look after your staff; an international company that treats tax laws as an optional extra; a household name that refuses to work with the authorities even to fight terrorism; a director who takes out massive dividends while knowing that the company pension is about to go bust, I'm putting you on warning: this can't go on anymore," Ms May said.
The pound has fallen 1.8 per cent to a 31-year low against the dollar since the start of the Tory conference amid investor concern that Britain could be heading for a "hard Brexit," with little accommodation for the finance industry.
Banks warned Tuesday that 70,000 jobs and 10 billion pounds (S$17.63 billion) in tax revenue are at risk, while the International Monetary Fund cut its forecast for UK economic growth next year.
But Ms May devoted little of her speech to the looming Brexit negotiations, focusing instead on domestic matters and the grievances that led Britons to end more than four decades of EU membership.
"Just listen to the way a lot of politicians and commentators talk about the public," she said. "They find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal, your attachment to their job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than 17 million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering."