Amber Rudd, U.K. home secretary (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Manchester Terror Suspects May Still Be at Large, Rudd Says

(Bloomberg) -- There are “potentially” more suspects at large in the investigation into Monday’s terrorist attack in Manchester, U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said on Sunday, as national security continues to dominate the general election campaign.

“It’s an ongoing operation; there are 11 people in custody, the operation is still really at full tilt,” Rudd said in a BBC television interview. “Until the operation is complete we can’t really be entirely sure that it’s closed.’’

The suicide bomber, named by police as Salman Abedi, killed 22 people at a concert in Britain’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade. It led to a three-day truce in campaigning ahead of the June 8 election before it resumed, with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn suggesting Britain’s foreign policy had made the country less safe. Prime Minister Theresa May has accused him of trying to capitalize on the Manchester attack to score political points.

With polls narrowing and the Conservatives down in some surveys to a single-digit lead from as many as 24 points earlier in the month, May and her team are focusing on national security to reinforce their core message that the premier will provide “strong and stable” leadership, and that Labour can’t be trusted to defend the country. Polls consistently show voters trust the Conservatives more on defense and security policy.

The Polls

An Opinium poll for Sunday’s Observer newspaper found that 46 percent of voters trust the Conservatives the most to tackle terrorism, compared with 11 percent for Labour. Some 42 percent of respondents said May is able to keep Britain safe, compared with 24 percent for Corbyn. Rudd sought to reinforce that by pointing to the parliamentary voting records of Corbyn and his key spokespeople on home affairs and finance.

“Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott and John McDonnell all have a history of not supporting terrorist legislation,” Rudd said. “It does worry me.”

Appearing on the same program, Abbott was questioned about past remarks she made that a defeat for Britain in Northern Ireland would be a liberation, suggesting support for the Irish Republican Army’s goals.

“It was 34 years ago. I had a rather splendid afro at the time,” said Abbott, the first black British woman to win a seat in Parliament. “I don’t have the same hairstyle and I don’t have the same views.”

Voting Records

Abbott sought to deflect attention from her voting record on anti-terror legislation by pointing out that May herself and Brexit Secretary David Davis had both opposed anti-terror measures in Parliament. Corbyn made the same point in an ITV interview later in the day.

“I have been assiduous in my scrutiny of anti-terror laws whilst in parliament and voting against in common with David Davis, on occasions Theresa May and others, on the basis that anti-terror laws are important but they must be subject to judicial oversight,” Corbyn said. “My concern was always we were going down the road of executive orders, executive detention and executive control.”

Asked whether he would appoint Abbott home secretary if he wins the election, Corbyn gave lukewarm support by stating only that she is currently home affairs spokesperson. In a slip of the tongue, he also said he’d be appointing a “shadow” cabinet after the vote, suggesting he doesn’t think he’ll win.

Police Cuts

Without making an explicit link to the Manchester attack, Corbyn sought to turn the tables on the Conservatives by suggesting that their austerity measures have led to cuts in police numbers that endangered the public. On May’s watch -- as home secretary for six years and then as premier -- the number of police officers in England and Wales fell about 15 percent.

“It seems that the cuts in police numbers have led to some very dangerous situations emerging,” he said. “I would hope they would have the resources to act” when needed.

Labour reiterated their campaign message on Sunday that if elected to power, the party will add 17,000 officers and staff, including 10,000 police and additional workers for the intelligence services.

“There is no point having lots of police with no powers,” Security Minister Ben Wallace told BBC radio on Sunday. “Jeremy Corbyn would produce James Bonds who would be licensed to do absolutely nothing and police officers with one arm tied behind their back. We have given them powers.”

May, in a statement late Saturday, pledged to set up a statutory body to fight non-violent extremism and promote "pluralistic" British values and women’s rights. The proposed commission would also advise government on what laws are needed to combat extremist behavior.