UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab opened the ruling Conservatives' annual conference Saturday with a call for Britons to "rediscover our self-belief", as the country reels from the coronavirus pandemic and prepares for an uncertain future outside the EU.
Raab, delivering the keynote address as the party's membership gathers for this year's event virtually and in an edgy mood amid criticism of its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, conceded Britain currently "faced relentless challenges".
But he insisted the Tories' emphatic election victory last December had handed the party "the greatest opportunity we've had in 30 years" to deliver on its right-wing agenda.
In a short speech aimed squarely at his Conservative audience, he added the UK's departure from European Union rules and obligations from 2021 meant it could "re-establish our rightful place in today's world as a truly global Britain".
"Let's rediscover our self-belief as a country," Raab said. "Because a summit is within our reach."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson will close the conference with a speech on Tuesday, and he will have to face down mounting disquiet within the party and the public at large, as a second coronavirus wave worsens what is already the highest death toll in Europe.
- Rule by diktat? -
According to a survey by the ConservativeHome news site, support has slumped among party members for mandatory local lockdowns, and more now favour a Sweden-style approach that emphasises voluntary social distancing.
Despite December's election victory, ConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman noted that in the party at large, his personal approval ratings now trail that of the government's.
Johnson has been accused by some of his own lawmakers of governing by diktat as millions more people in England are forced into local lockdowns, and dissidents have been rallying around his popular young finance minister, Rishi Sunak.
Sunak, who is gaining a reputation for slick presentation, gives a keynote address on Monday to laud the drastic measures he has been taking to protect the economy from further havoc.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Johnson dismissed the idea that Sunak was now his rival, saying such reports were "genuinely untrue".
"We are as one, ad idem... I have a fantastic cabinet and huge admiration for the chancellor, and indeed all other members of the government."
- Brexit and bashing -
Johnson's ability to weather the current storms rocking his premiership will likely depend on successfully resolving the UK's long goodbye from the EU.
He held talks with EU chief Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday, during which the two leaders vowed to keep trying to reach a post-Brexit free trade deal despite talks being gridlocked.
London and Brussels are at loggerheads with Johnson's government pushing through legislation that bypasses the bloc on future trading arrangements between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The controversy has caused alarm among some Conservative lawmakers who are worried about the damage to Britain's reputation as a defender of the rule of law.
However, bashing Brussels is normally lapped up by the right-wing party faithful -- and Johnson has traditionally been the basher-in-chief whenever he has addressed the annual conference.
This time, he is deprived of a large-scale opportunity to grandstand.