UKIP chides May over Manchester attack as election campaign resumes

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s UK Independence Party (UKIP) criticised Prime Minister Theresa May’s record on security after a bombing in Manchester as it announced its policy pledges on Thursday, restarting an election campaign which was suspended following the suicide attack.

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Britons are due to vote on June 8 with the latest polls, published before the attack, showing May’s ruling Conservatives comfortably ahead of the main opposition Labour Party, albeit with a narrowing lead.

The two main parties will restart their national campaigns on Friday.

UKIP, which was key to securing Britain’s exit from the European Union, said the best response to the militants was to begin electioneering as soon as possible.

It launched its manifesto by focusing on the bombing in Manchester, which killed 22 people and injured dozens more, and criticised May’s tenure as interior minister from 2010 to 2016 and as prime minister since last summer.

“We’ve seen a reduction in the number of police officers, we’ve seen a reduction in the amount of money the security service has been getting, we’ve seen a reduction in the number of our armed forces,” leader Paul Nuttall told Reuters.

“It’s time for a rethink now,” he said.

Opinion polls providing the first insight into whether the bombing has affected voting preferences are due in the coming days.

Before the attack in Manchester, May was forced to backtrack on her plan to force elderly people to pay more for their social care, after her party’s opinion poll lead halved in just a few days.

At the last election in 2015, UKIP received nearly 13 percent of the vote but picked up just one parliamentary seat due to an electoral system in which smaller parties with support spread across the country rather than concentrated in certain areas are at a disadvantage.

UKIP’s plans include banning the Islamic full-face veil known as the burqa in public places and introducing a “one in, one out” immigration policy which would slash the number of people arriving in Britain.

But the party has haemorrhaged around half of its support in recent months, losing its raison d’etre since Britons voted to leave the EU and enduring two divisive leadership battles to replace charismatic figurehead Nigel Farage.

Nuttall told Reuters the party still had a key role to play by making sure the government does not go back on pledges including to restrict freedom of movement and end payments to the European Union as Britain leaves the bloc.

“We have to be the guard dogs of Brexit,” he said.

“We won the war on June 23 last year. We’ve now got to win the peace and ensure that we get the peace that people have voted for.”

Editing by Guy Faulconbridge