SHE has been teased for repeatedly using the phrase “strong and stable leadership” since her decision to call a snap general election on June 8.

But Prime Minister Theresa May had no hesitation in reinforcing her main message to voters during a visit to the Daily Echo yesterday as part of her election campaign.

And she vowed to get the best possible deal for Southampton if the Tories gain the “strong hand” they need to steer Britain through Brexit.

Mrs May, 60, has described the forthcoming poll as the most important in her lifetime.

Following Britain’s decision to quit the EU – the first member state to do so – hard-hitting discussions lie ahead and Mrs May is acutely aware of how much is at stake.

The outcome of Britain’s “divorce” from Europe will shape the country’s future for decades to come.

During her visit Mrs May stressed that the UK was facing a stark choice – “strong and stable leadership” under the Tories or a “coalition of chaos” under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

She warned that negotiations with other EU leaders would be “tough” but vowed to fight for the best possible deal for the UK – including Southampton.

The prime minister outlined her determination to secure a reciprocal agreement that would allow Poles and other foreign nationals living in the city to remain.

She also praised the Echo’s contribution to the campaign against fake news, saying it was vital to ensure that young people in particular had access to accurate information and highlighting the role played by highly-trained journalists on local papers.

Mrs May’s tour of the Newsquest offices came less than a week after the Conservatives triumphed in the local elections, banishing UKIP to the sidelines.

Despite widespread predictions of a Tory landslide on June 8 Mrs May refused to forecast the outcome of the national poll. She denied the party was feeling complacent, saying Conservatives in Hampshire and elsewhere were fighting for every seat.

“You must go out and earn people’s support, which means knocking on doors and delivering our message,” she said.

But the former home secretary looked relaxed and confident as she arrived for a tour of one of Britain’s premier local papers.

After visiting Shirley as part of her election campaign, Mrs May was shown around the state-of-the-art Newsquest complex in Test Lane, Redbridge, by Gordon Sutter, editor of the Daily Echo, and Vincent Boni, the company’s regional managing director.

She gave sports editor Simon Carter a rare insight into her few off-duty moments, saying she loved watching cricket and also enjoyed swimming.

Moving on, Mrs May chatted to a group of trainee journalists who were examining newspapers dating back to 1881 and selecting stories for our popular heritage pages.

After going upstairs the woman dubbed “the new Maggie” viewed a photograph of Margaret Thatcher and her ministers at the 1991 Tory party conference.

Everyone wondered about one of the people standing next to Mrs Thatcher. Mrs May was asked if she knew his identity but was unable to put a name to the face (it was John Wakeham).

Then it was down to business.

In an exclusive interview with the paper, Mrs May outlined her hopes and fears as the countdown to the general election begins in earnest.

She said: “I’m going out and about and taking our message to all parts of the UK. This is the most important general election in a long time and Britain’s needs strong and stable leadership to get us through Brexit and beyond.

“I’m determined to get the best deal for the whole of the UK, including Southampton.”

Mrs May was asked about the future of the 25,000 Poles living in Southampton, many of whom run businesses that play a vital role in the city’s economy.

She said: “Firstly I would like to thank them for the contribution they have made.

“I want to be able to secure their rights as status but as prime minister of the UK I’m also concerned about the future of the UK citizens who have chosen to live in the other member states.”

Mrs May she said aimed to secure a reciprocal agreement during Brexit talks.

“There’s a lot of goodwill around the table and I’m working very hard to secure early reassurance for the people concerned,” she said.

Southampton’s status as one of UK’s premier ports means Britain’s future trading arrangements with Europe and the rest of the world are key to the city’s future.

Associated British Ports (ABP) says the docks are running out of space and need to expand. New plans to develop Dibden Bay are likely to be unveiled in the autumn, 14 years after an earlier application was rejected on environmental grounds by the previous Labour government.

Mrs May said the government would have to balance the economic case against any concerns raised by locals.

She also spoke about her pledge to give MPs a free vote on hunting with dogs. The current ban was opposed by countryside campaigners across Hampshire but the possibility of the bloodsport being made legal again after 12 years has angered the League Against Cruel Sports.

Mrs May gave a clear indication that a debate on foxhunting was unlikely to take place any time soon.

Acknowledging that views were “sharply divided” she said: “It’s important we have a free vote on the subject, but there are far more important issues facing the country at the moment.”