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New Tory onslaught on Jeremy Corbyn as Labour gain ground

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with Charlie Wardle (17), playing an erhu during a community visit to Pagoda Arts in Liverpool on Sunday. Picture by Joe Giddens/PA
Gavin Cordon, Press Association Whitehall Editor

THE Conservatives have launched a renewed onslaught on Jeremy Corbyn amid signs that Labour is gaining ground in the opinion polls.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the Labour leader could not be trusted to lead the Brexit talks if he gained power in the general election on June 8, warning that EU negotiators would "have him for breakfast".

His attack came as Mr Corbyn came under pressure over his past involvement with rallies associated with the IRA as well as Labour's policy on immigration.

However, ministers also found themselves forced onto the defensive over the Conservatives' plans to overhaul funding of social care which would for the first time see thousands of elderly people required to pay for the cost of being looked after in their own homes.

Following the launch last week of the main party manifestos, four polls for the Sunday newspapers put Labour between 35 per cent and 33 per cent, up significantly on the scores as low as 26 per cent it was recording early in the campaign.

The Tory advantage was narrowed to just nine points in one survey by YouGov for the Sunday Times - the first time it has been in single figures in a mainstream poll since Theresa May called the snap election on April 18 - prompting talk of a "wobble weekend" for the Conservatives.

Although the figures would deliver a comfortable Tory majority if repeated on June 8, they will bolster Labour insiders' belief that Mr Corbyn's campaign is making inroads into the Conservative support.

Ministers said the findings would focus voters' minds on the prospect that Mr Corbyn could be leading the Brexit talks, due to start less than two weeks after election day, underlining the nature of the choice facing them at the ballot box.

Mr Johnson told ITV's Peston on Sunday: "We are at a critical phase in the history of this country. We have to get Brexit right. I am genuinely alarmed by the idea that it could be handled in just 11 days after the election by Jeremy Corbyn.

"I do not for the life of me understand how he is supposed to go and sit at that table in Brussels on day one of the talks when he hasn't got a clue whether he wants to stay in the single market or the customs union and he has a completely unintelligible position on immigration.

"They are going to look at him and have him for breakfast. It think it will be deeply damaging to the interests of this country."

Mr Corbyn, appearing on Sky News's Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, faced repeated questions over whether he condemned the IRA.

The Labour leader, who has been criticised for his involvement with the Troops Out campaign in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's campaign of violence, said he condemned "all bombing" but that he had wanted to find a way of opening up a peace process.

"In the 1980s Britain was looking for a military solution in Ireland. It clearly was never going to work. Ask anyone in the British army at that time," he said.

"Therefore you have to seek a peace process. You condemn the violence of those that laid bombs that killed large of numbers of innocent people and I do."

On immigration, Mr Corbyn said Labour was committed to a "fair" policy which met the needs of society but refused to be drawn on the numbers.

"It'll probably be lower but I don't want to start making predictions on that because the issue has to be the needs of our economy," he said.

Mr Johnson meanwhile defended the Conservatives' plans to overhaul social care, saying that with the number of over-75s set to increase by two million over the next 10 years, they had to address the "huge costs" involved.

"I think it is a mark of Theresa May's bravery and candour with electorate that she is doing this. It shows the strength and purpose she will bring to everything she does if we are re-elected," he said.

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