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Wednesday 4 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
# Last Chance Saloon
Johnson v Corbyn: The key moments from the final head-to-head election debate
The BBC hosted the hour-long face off.

PastedImage-82741 Twitter / BBCPolitics The stage for tonight's BBC leaders debate. Twitter / BBCPolitics / BBCPolitics

SIX DAYS FROM now it’ll all be over bar the counting, so tonight’s head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn was a huge opportunity for both parties. 

Chaired by the BBC’s Nick Robinson, the hour-long debate took in issues like Brexit, the NHS, wealth inequality and Northern Ireland. 

Here are some of the biggest talking points from how it all played out.

Ghosts of Christmas past

In an intervention earlier today that was both unprecedented and utterly unsurprising, John Major and Tony Blair put their party allegiances to one side and shared a platform to oppose Brexit. 

While Blair said he would still vote Labour in the election, Major said he would back ex-Conservative candidates running against Johnson’s party.

Both said voters should consider candidates opposing the two main parties. 

The question of was put to Corbyn and Johnson whether this was ‘worrying’ to them or whether Major and Blair were ‘a pair of has-beens’.

Both candidates rather deflected the question, with Johnson pivoting to Brexit and Corbyn talking about austerity. 

“I have the utmost respect of course for all former Conservative leaders and don’t wish to deprecate anyone as a has been, but I didn’t think he’s right,” Johnson said. 

And Corbyn: 

Tony Blair and John Major are welcome to make the comments that they do. I urge them to think for a moment, think for a moment at the reality of what nine years of austerity has done to the people of this country.

Ooh, matron!

With the NHS at the centre of the election and the protection of it something that all sides seem to agree is a good thing, it appeared at some points tonight that Corbyn and Johnson were engaged in a competitive love bombing of the service. 

Labour has been pushing a long-term proposal for a four-day working week but Corbyn denied that this would apply to nurses. 

“There is a plan to properly invest in our NHS because I am fed up with people queueing and waiting and in dire straits as they try to get an appointment to see a GP or to go into hospital,” he said.  

Johnson went down the route of literally expressing love for the NHS and calling Labour’s claims of impending privatisation “Bermuda triangle stuff” 

“I believe very passionately in it, I use it, I love it. It’s one of the most incredible things about this country, it’s admired around the world, the central idea that if any of us gets sick, all of us take care of them, it’s a fantastic thing,” he said. 

The pair engaged in much of the familiar debate about whether the NHS would be on the table in trade talks with the US before Corbyn got a clap for the line:

The Prime Minister says he’s not going to do that sort of a trade deal. If that’s the case, why did the talks go on for two years? It doesn’t take two years to say no to privatisation of the NHS. 

The Irish question

The biggest actual news line out of the campaign today came over Johnson’s claim that there will be no border in the Irish Sea under his Brexit plan.

Corbyn produced a document earlier which he said showed that the Prime Minister has been “misleading” people about his withdrawal deal.

We’ve Factchecked Johnson’s claim previously and found that while checks may be avoided going eastwards, it’s rather impossible to say the same about goods going in the opposite direction

“The documents show quite clearly that there are going to be charges, there are going to be customs checks, there are going to be restrictions on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland,” Corbyn said during tonight’s debate. 

Untrue, Johnson responded. 

“What the document also says is that Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK,” he said. 

For good measure, Johnson brought up Corbyn’s past support of Irish republicanism. 

I do find it slightly curious to say the least Nick, to be lectured about the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland by a man who all his political life has campaigned to break up that union, and actually supported for four decades the IRA in their campaign violently to destroy it


Another question put to the two prospective Prime Ministers was about whether “safety or human rights” were more important. 

The question was an indirect reference to the recent London Bridge terror attack and, answering it first, Corbyn didn’t mention the attacks. 

Instead, he said that it’s “not an either or” question, focusing on the need to invest in policing to ensure public safety. 

“You don’t get security on the cheap, you have to invest in it. Human rights are our defense against autocracy, and our defence against abuse of power. There is no difference between wanting security and human rights, those two things are actually inextricably linked together,” he said. 

Johnson agreed that there was “no need to compromise” on human rights for safety but did bring up the recent attack, arguing that attacker Usman Khan’s release from prison was “extraordinary and wrong”.

“I said long before I became prime minister that we needed to campaign against short sentences. I said in August that we should get rid of automatic early release.,” he said. 

Johnson then went on to falsely claim that a bill to stop this was “stuck because of the blockade in parliament”. The obstruction in parliament is over Brexit bills, not other legislation. 

‘Why is this lying bastard lying to me?’

Towards the end of the debate, one member of the audience asked mischievously: 

What punishment do you think is appropriate for elected politicians who lie during political campaigns?

Johnson seemed a little flummoxed by the question, asnwering: 

Well, they should, they should be, they should be made to go on their knees to down the, through the chamber of the House of Commons, scourging themselves with copies of their of their offending documents.

Corbyn went down the route of saying voters could remove them:

“If they don’t deliver, then there is a democratic process to deal with that in the future. That is what democracy is about. It’s about holding people to account.” 

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