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Johnson v Corbyn: 6 key moments from the first televised UK election debate

Johnson rotated his arguments around Brexit, while Corbyn focused on wealth inequality and the future of the NHS.

Updated Nov 19th 2019, 10:53 PM

TRUST IN POLITICIANS, the Union and Prince Andrew were among the topics discussed by the leaders in the first televised debate of the UK general election. 

UK Prime Minister and Tory leader Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head tonight, after the Lib Dems and SNP lost a legal challenge to take part.

Throughout the hour-long debate, Boris Johnson attempted to steer the debate towards Brexit, while Corbyn tried to push issues like the NHS, wealth inequality, and housing.

According to a YouGov poll that asked responders “Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight’s debate”, 51% answered Boris Johnson, and 49% answered Jeremy Corbyn.

1. Jeremy Corbyn and Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn came under pressure to clarify what side he would campaign for if there was a second referendum. 

“Mr Corbyn, you’ve heard tonight, cannot answer the fundamental questions,” Johnson said towards the start of the debate. 

Is he for Remain or Leave and what price would he pay to secure Nicola Sturgeon’s support to enter Number 10? If he can’t answer those questions tonight, I don’t think he’s fit to lead our country.

Corbyn clarified that he would negotiate a new deal with the EU, and put that deal along with the option to Remain, to the public in a second referendum next year, if he won enough support to form a government on 12 December.

In response to accusations from Johnson that this would be another delay, Corbyn said accused Johnson of being misleading by saying that his “oven-ready” Brexit deal wouldn’t have “Brexit done” by the 31 January next year. 

“That idea that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s deal can be dealt with and finished by the end of January is such nonsense,” he said.

What he is proposing is a trade deal which will take at least seven years to negotiate whilst at the same time saying he will negotiate a special trade deal with the European Union. The two things are actually incompatible.

“You are not going to get it done in a few months and you know that perfectly well.”

2. Boris Johnson and the Union

Boris Johnson 2 Source: ITV debate

When asked by a member of the audience whether Brexit was more important than the Union, Corbyn gave a long and winding answer, while Johnson said succinctly: “The Union is the most important thing”.

Corbyn’s reply was: “The agreement the PM has put to parliament is about creating a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, creating a different customs arrangement having promised to the DUP he would never do that.

He said that Johnson’s deal “is damaging to this country, to workers’ and consumers’ rights”.

Johnson responded with: “We have a deal that keeps the whole of the UK together”.

“Corbyn would do a deal with Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National Party, and the price of that would be a second referendum on the Union with Scotland.”

Corbyn said that “this is nonsense, there’s not going to be a coalition with the SNP, no deal has been done and there will be no deal done”.

After a bit of back and forth on whether there would be another Scottish independence referendum, Johnson concluded that “I didn’t hear him rule it out”.

3. The NHS

Corbyn accused Johnson’s government of entering into secret talks with the US to open up the NHS to American pharmaceutical companies in a future trade deal.

“What we know of what Mr Johnson has done is a series of secret meetings with the United States in which they were proposing to open up our NHS markets as they call them to American companies,” he said.

Johnson hit back, denouncing the claims as “an absolute invention”, insisting there were “no circumstances whatsoever” in which a Conservative government would put the NHS “on the table” in trade talks.

Our NHS will never be for sale, and I’m amazed at how often this comes up.

4. The monarchy

Answering a question on whether is the monarchy fit for purpose, Corbyn won applause for his immediate, pointed response: “Needs a bit of improvement.”

Johnson said after a short pause that “The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach.”

The question was followed up with a query on Prince Andrew, to which Corbyn said that “we must be mindful of the victims” of Epstein.

5. The audience

The live studio audience were engaged and lively all through the debate. 

Claps and jeers were heard after almost every response, and in some cases, the sincere responses from Corbyn or Johnson prompted laughter from the audience. 

When asked whether they could be trusted, Johnson answers “look what I’ve delivered”, which prompted some laughter. When asked again whether the truth matters in this election, Johnson said “I think it does” – which prompted even more laughter. 

At one point, the presenter Julie Etchingham asked both leaders to shake hands as a gesture and a pledge to change politics for the better.

Later on, a member of the audience asked, in the interest of cooperation and friendship, what Christmas present would each leader leave under the tree for the other. Corbyn responded with ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens to show “understand how nasty Scrooge was”, and Johnson said he’d gift “a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal”, before choosing the non-political pot of damson jam.

6. Post-10pm interviews

Other party leaders were asked for their views on various issues after the Johnson-Corbyn debate – here’s a quick round-up of what was said.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson. Repeating comments that she’s made before, Swinson said that she would revoke Article 50 and reverse Brexit if she became Prime Minister.

Swinson said that Labour are “all over the place” on Brexit and said that the EU has been helpful to the UK in tackling issues like climate change. Swinson said that she would use a nuclear weapon if she was leader, which raised some eyebrows.

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon. Answering questions during the rapid-fire question round, Sturgeon said that she would be open to “an informal arrangement” with Labour, despite Corbyn ruling it out earlier. 

She also said that the EU’s solidarity with Ireland was a good reason for Scottish independence, and also added that she didn’t think Scotland would adopt the euro instead of the pound.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said pulling Brexit Party election candidates was a “big decision”, but was needed to make sure there wasn’t a second EU referendum. He said that he would “rebrand

He criticised judges for making political decisions “without being accountable to anyone”, and said a written British constitution was needed to make referendum decisions legally binding. 

“Trade not aid, is where we should be heading,” Farage said. “So much foreign aid is spent in bad ways, I think halving it is the right thing. We’re going to reduce tariff barriers, we’re going to stop raping and pillaging their fisheries, we’re actually going to help these countries to make themselves richer and better.” 

Sian Berry leader of the Green Party said “none of the other parties are quite there yet” when it comes to their environmental policies, and said she couldn’t believe that the topic of climate change was “relegated to the quick-fire section”.

“I can’t believe neither of these two leaders brought up the most important issue that we face alongside Brexit, I think it’s just outrageous.”

When asked whether they can spend £100 billion a year on getting the UK carbon neutral by 2030. “In the Greens, this isn’t a target that we take lightly.”

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