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Jeremy Paxman had May and Corbyn in his sights last night but failed to land a knockout punch

Corbyn faced tough questioning on his past IRA comments on Sky News and Channel 4 last night.

Posted by on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

LAST NIGHT, THE two main rivals in the British general election went head-to-head on live TV with presenter Jeremy Paxman, with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn pushed on his past comments on the IRA and Prime Minister Theresa May accused of being a “blowhard”.

Ten days before the UK goes to the polls, the two party leaders separately faced wide-ranging questions on their manifestos, on Brexit and on past political stances and comments from the veteran tough questioner.

Despite Paxman’s combative stance, both appeared to field his questions quite well with neither leader landed a killer blow.

Questions were also posed by audience members, with several attacking Theresa May for her cuts to public sector pay and conditions and others asking Corbyn about how his comments after the Manchester attack.

May had refused a direct debate with her opposite number in Labour.

Deal or no deal?

General Election 2017 Source: Stefan Rousseau PA Wire/PA Images

Brexit has been atop the list of main issues heading into this election, and both candidates’ capabilities of getting the right deal for Britain in its EU negotiations was raised.

While Corbyn insisted he would “make sure there’s a deal” with the European Union before Britain leaves the bloc, May said she was “prepared to walk out”.

“No deal is better than a bad deal,” the 60-year-old prime minister repeatedly said in the broadcast.

“We have to be prepared to walk out,” the premier insisted, noting that some people in Europe were “talking about punishing us”.

Paxman, at one stage, called May a “blowhard” and said that her changes in policy would mean that some in Brussels would see her as a soft touch in negotiations.

Posted by on Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Her 68-year-old rival Corbyn said the “reality” of last year’s Brexit referendum result had to be respected and insisted: “We will make sure there’s a deal”.

“We won’t start the negotiations with megaphone diplomacy, threatening Europe with some kind of offshore tax haven on the shores of Europe,” he said in a dig at May’s efforts to handle Brexit.

Austerity

May, who was at times heckled by the audience during the televised questioning, was asked by a serving policeman about “devastating” cuts to police numbers during her six-year tenure as interior minister.

She said the government had to ensure Britain was “living within our means” given “the economic situation we had inherited”.

She said budgets were currently being protected for both counter-terrorism forces and overall policing.

General Election 2017 Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

Corbyn, meanwhile, emphasised that Labour’s manifesto was anti-austerity, promising more funding for the NHS.

He also said that he would not allow companies to bring in groups of foreign low-paid workers as this was “destroying working conditions” for British employees:

The choice is clearly there: this manifesto, investing for the future, taxing more – a bit for the corporation tax and the wealthiest; 95% would pay no more. Or you can go down the road of continuing austerity and an ever-widening gap between the richest and the poorest in society.

IRA links

Corbyn was quizzed by an audience member who said he had “openly supported the IRA in the past”.

The veteran Labour man said that he had respected a period of silence for all those who died in Northern Ireland when attending a commemoration for IRA men killed by the British. He said:

The contribution I made to that meeting was to call for a peace and dialogue process in Northern Ireland. It is only by dialogue and process we brought about peace in Northern Ireland and I think that’s a good thing.

He had a similar answer when asked about his supposed support for Palestinian militant group Hamas in the past, saying that he supported dialogue with all parties to secure peace.

When asked why he had once said that the death of Osama Bin Laden was a “tragedy”, Corbyn said: “I think he should have been arrested and he should have been put on trial. And he could have been.”

Corbyn’s performance won praise from, of all people, right-wing firebrand Nigel Farage.

With reporting from AFP

Read: ‘Anything to keep the Tories out’: How the Irish living in Britain are voting in the general election

Read: Jeremy Corbyn says IRA bombing campaign was ‘completely wrong’

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Sean Murray

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