Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head in the first televised debate of the 2019 UK General Election Campaign on Tuesday.
The debate was shown live on ITV, broadcast from Salford.
In their opening speeches, Jeremy Corbyn focused on the failures of the Conservatives and pledged to give the country a final say on Brexit, while Boris Johnson said he could get Brexit done in a matter of weeks and that a Corbyn-Sturgeon coalition would result in ‘more dither and delay.’
The first question of the debate asked for certainty on the timetable for Brexit. Mr Johnson said that ‘we have an oven-ready deal’ and ‘will definitely leave’ the EU by the end of January. Mr Corbyn said Labour will negotiate a credible leave option within 3 months, and then put it back to the country with the alternative option to remain in a referendum within 6 months.
Mr Corbyn said that Mr Johnson’s deal is worse than Theresa May’s deal and would result in damage to jobs. Johnson responded by saying we don’t know whether Labour really wants to leave or remain and whether they would back their own Brexit deal or still back remain in a new referendum. This was a question that Mr Johnson revisited throughout the debate, but Mr Corbyn refused to give a straight answer.
The second question of the debate asked whether the union of the UK is worth sacrificing for Brexit. Mr Corbyn said that Mr Johnson’s deal would create a border and clear issues, whereas Johnson claimed it would keep ‘the whole of the UK together’. Mr Johnson challenged Mr Corbyn about doing a deal with the SNP to get into government, saying he would do this (or may have already done so) and a condition of this would be a Scottish Independence referendum in 2020.
The next question complained about the lies and ‘childish abuse’ on both sides and asked how either leader can be trusted. The audience member asking the question said ‘This whole nation will have watched you throughout this campaign in utter despair’. Corbyn’s response was based around the idea of bringing people together, whereas Johnson avoided the question. He then said that he thinks trust is important, and this received laughs from the audience.
Mr Corbyn was challenged on antisemitism in the Labour Party and he responded by saying ‘We’ve got to stand up to racism of any form in our society’, a statement which received much applause. Meanwhile, Mr Johnson was challenged over breaking promises and completely ignores the question, saying that Labour’s leadership has been a failure.
Both of the leaders were reminded about the poor levels debate has reached in Parliament and politics in general in recent times, a shook hands on improving politics, no matter who is elected into government.
Asked about the NHS, Jeremy Corbyn gave an example of long waiting times in the health service and said that funding gaps and vacancies need to be filled. He added, ‘Let’s end the privatisation of the NHS’, and received cheers on this statement. Mr Johnson claimed that failing to get Brexit done is holding back progress on improving the NHS. Mr Johnson also criticised Labour’s plan for a four-day working week.
Both leaders pledged to fully end austerity before being challenged on whether they had found ‘magic money trees’ – Mr Johnson claimed Mr Corbyn had found a ‘magic money forest’, while Mr Corbyn discussed austerity and a need for change.
The leaders were asked ‘Is Prince Andrew fit for purpose’ – Mr Corbyn said victims of abuse need to be talked about and recognised first and Mr Johnson echoed this message.
The leaders were asked whether climate change is the biggest issue for the UK. Mr Johnson implied Brexit is more important, while Mr Corbyn said it is the biggest issue for ‘the world’.
The last questions were less politically relevant – the leaders were asked, with politics aside, what present would you leave for each other under the Christmas tree this year? The Labour leader said he would give Mr Johnson a book, the Christmas Carol, while Mr Johnson said he would give Mr Corbyn some jam.
In their closing statements, Mr Corbyn encouraged people to register to vote and then to vote for Labour, whereas Mr Johnson said reiterated his pledge to get Brexit done by January 31.
Reaction and analysis follows…