Boris Johnson edged a bruising first election TV debate tonight as Jeremy Corbyn was jeered by the audience for ‘absurd dither and delay’ over Brexit.
With just over three weeks until the nation goes to the ballot boxes, the two leaders exchanged vicious barbs in the ITV special – but a poll suggested they fought each other effectively to a standstill.
A snap YouGov survey found 51 per cent thought Mr Johnson triumphed, with 49 per cent saying Mr Corbyn came out on top.
During the hour-long debate Mr Johnson insisted he is determined to ‘get Brexit done’, and warned that all Labour had to offer was ‘dither and delay, deadlock and division’ by calling another referendum.
‘We don’t know on which side Mr Corbyn will campaign. Will he campaign for Leave or Remain?’ he demanded, saying there was a ‘void at the heart of his policy.’
Mr Corbyn dodged nine times when challenged to say which side he would support in another national vote.
HOW DID TONIGHT’S ITV DEBATE WORK?
The two leaders went head-to-head in a television studio for the first time tonight on ITV.
The hour-long debate, hosted by Julie Etchingham, was split into two halves, with the first devoted to Brexit.
ITV viewers submitted questions which were chosen to ‘broadly reflect a range of society, from different political backgrounds,’ according to the broadcaster.
There was a live audience of around 200 people at Media City in Salford.
Both leaders stood behind lecterns, side by side on the stage.
They had one minute each to make an opening statement and another 45 seconds for a closing statement.
The premier also laid into the veteran left-winger for doing a ‘deal’ with Nicola Sturgeon, saying he would need SNP support to govern – and was willing to meet their red line of allowing a new Scottish independence referendum.
And he said there had been a ‘failure in leadership’ by Mr Corbyn in tackling a wave of vile anti-Semitism that has been wracking his party.
But in bad-tempered exchanges – with each frequently being told off by presenter Julie Etchingham for overrunning their 30 seconds for an initial response to questions – Mr Corbyn said he was offering ‘real change’ and would deliver ‘for the many’.
He said he would negotiate another deal, a referendum would happen within six months, and he would ‘implement the choice’.
He said: ‘We will negotiate an agreement and we will put that alongside Remain in a referendum and our government will abide by that result.
‘There will be a genuine choice put before the people of Britain and we will carry that out.’
The audience in Salford laughed when Mr Corbyn claimed to have been ‘clear’ despite repeatedly ducking the question on whether he would support Leave or Remain.
He also prompted laughter when he tried to defend what Mr Johnson described as Labour’s ‘crackpot plan’ for a four-day working week.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘It is about reducing the working week all across the economy, paid for by productivity increases all across Britain.’
At one stage Mr Johnson quipped that the Labour leader had ‘found a magic money forest’ as they were both accused of splurging money.
However, Mr Johnson was also heckled as he insisted on turning the discussion back to Brexit at all opportunities. And the PM – who is in the process of divorcing his second wife – dodged directly answering a query about the importance of personal integrity.
Mr Johnson insisted is is determined to ‘get Brexit done’, and warned that all Labour had to offer was ‘dither and delay, deadlock and division’ with more referendums. Mr Corbyn said he was offering ‘real change’ and would deliver ‘for the many’
With just over three weeks to go until the nation goes to the ballot boxes, the two leaders drew battle lines in the ITV special as they set out their pitch to voters
A snap YouGov survey found 51 per cent thought Mr Johnson triumphed, with 49 per cent saying Mr Corbyn came out on top
Nigel Farage was trying to keep his spirits up in Peterborough today as he joined Brexit Party candidate Mike Greene on the campaign trail
The pair clashed bitterly over the NHS, with Mr Corbyn accusing the government of wanting to ‘sell out’ the health service in a trade deal with the US. He waved around a sheaf of FOI requests he said demonstrated there had been ‘secret meetings’.
Mr Johnson insisted the idea was ‘total invention’.
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn shake hands after being put under pressure over campaign trust
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn shook hands on stage at tonight’s TV debate as they promised to restore trust in British politics.
An audience member called Fahad told the two men there was a ‘simple question’ at the heart of the current campaign: ‘How can we trust you?’
Mr Johnson defended his own credentials as he insisted that Brexit was to blame for ‘corroding’ trust in politics and parliament.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn said that ‘trust is something that has to be earned’.
ITV host Julie Etchingham then challenged the two men to shake hands and promise to restore trust.
Mr Johnson made the first move as he marched across the stage and said ‘come on Jeremy’ before the two men did briefly shake hands.
‘It is completely untrue. There are no circumstances whatever in which this Government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation,’ he said.
He said the NHS was ‘one of the single most brilliant and beautiful things about this country’.
Both men were subject to anger in the studio, with one member of the audience called Fahad raging that they had ‘degraded’ the debate and adding: ‘How can this nation trust you?’
Despite their increasingly bitter rowing, at one point Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn paused to shake hands after being entreated to raise the tone of politics.
During a quickfire round of questions, the leaders were asked whether they thought the monarchy was ‘fit for purpose’.
‘It needs a bit of improvement,’ Mr Corbyn said.
The PM responded: ‘The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach.’
But asked by Etchingham whether they thought Prince Andrew, who has been embroiled in scandal over his BBC interview about his links to Jeffrey Epstein, Mr Corbyn said there were ‘very serious questions that need to be answered’.
And Mr Johnson said; ‘The law must certainly take its course.’
Mr Corbyn, asked to rule out a second Scottish independence referendum before the end of the first year of a Labour government, said: ‘I’ve said there would be no deal with the SNP, there would be no support for a Scottish referendum in the early years of the next Labour government because I want to invest in Scotland and give Scotland the £70billion it needs in capital investment.’
He said it was ‘their choice’ if the SNP leadership ‘chooses to put the Conservative government back in office’.
Mr Johnson retorted: ‘I listened very carefully as I always do to Mr Corbyn – I didn’t hear him say he was going to rule out a referendum on Scotland. Did you?’
The Prime Minister claimed his Brexit deal allows the whole of the UK to come out of the EU, adding: ‘Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK. It’s there in black and white.’
The snap poll by YouGov – who interviewed 1,646 people – estimated that 51 per cent of the public believed Mr Johnson won the debate compared to 49 per cent for Mr Corbyn.
Those who answered ‘don’t know’ were removed from the result, with the result well within the margin of error.
The detailed findings showed that Mr Corbyn was seen as marginally more trustworthy – by 45 per cent to 40 per cent and more in touch with ‘ordinary people’.
PM-hopefuls clash over preserving the Union
Audience member John Firth asked Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn whether they believed the Union of the United Kingdom was worth sacrificing for Brexit.
Mr Johnson was unequivocal as he said that preserving the Union was more important than the UK leaving the EU.
But he insisted that his Brexit deal would preserve the Union as he categorically ruled out holding a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Mr Corbyn was less clear as he said he hoped ‘the Union is not going to be broken up or sacrificed in this way’ because of Brexit.
Mr Johnson repeatedly claimed that Mr Corbyn would hold a second Scottish independence vote if the Labour leader becomes PM.
He claimed that Mr Corbyn had already done a deal with the SNP to prop up his government in return for a fresh referendum.
But Mr Corbyn hit back and said: ‘There is not going to be a coalition between Labour and anybody else. There are no deals that have been done and no deals will be done.’
However, he suggested he would not stand in the way of a referendum but insisted one would not be held in the first year of a Labour government.
But Mr Johnson was more likeable by 54 per cent to 37 per cent, and seen as more prime ministerial by 54 per cent to 29 per cent.
The PM was viewed as having performed best on Brexit by a big margin of 63 per cent to 27 per cent, and on government spending by 50 per cent to 35 per cent.
Mr Corbyn did outperform Mr Johnson on perceptions of the NHS exchanges, by 54 per cent to 38 per cent.
Chris Curtis, YouGov’s political research manager, said: ‘Our snap poll shows that the public is divided on who won the debate, with most Labour voters thinking Jeremy Corbyn won, most Conservative voters thinking Boris Johnson won, and very few people changing their minds.
‘But given the Conservatives went into this debate in the lead, they will hope the lack of a knockout blow means they can maintain this until voting day.’
Speaking after the debate, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said: ‘Well, there is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is a better debater than Boris Johnson. ‘But on the key issue of the day, Brexit, nine times Jeremy Corbyn would not say as Prime Minister that a second referendum that he’d call, whether he’d vote Leave or Remain. ‘That is a failure of leadership.’
The PM was handed a major boost earlier with a poll showing the Tories surging into an 18-point lead over Labour, helped by crumbling Brexit Party support – enough to give him the outright majority he craves.
But Mr Corbyn’s team were aware that his underdog status meant that even just holding his own in the exchanges this evening could help turn the tables.
It is the first time in UK political history that the two prospective candidates for PM have gone head-to-head on television during a campaign. In 2010, David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg were involved in the equivalent battle.
A dramatic Kantar poll published earlier found the Tories were up eight points on 45 per cent, with Labour trailing far behind and stalled on 27 per cent.
Most of the Conservative advance over the past week was down to plummeting ratings for the Brexit Party.
It was down seven points to just 2 per cent after Nigel Farage withdrew more than half his candidates to avoid splitting the Eurosceptic vote on December 12.
The lead would be enough to deliver a big majority for Mr Johnson if it was replicated evenly across the country.
However, a separate survey for YouGov was slightly less rosy for the Tories – showing their advantage coming down from 17 points at the end of last week to a still healthy 12 points.
Mr Johnson travelled with his partner Carrie Symonds to the event – their first joint appearance of the election campaign.
This morning the premier posed in Jimmy Egan’s Boxing Academy in Manchester – with ‘Get Brexit Done’ across his boxing gloves.
Meanwhile, Mr Corbyn opted for a more leisurely pre-debate routine, posting pictures of himself visiting a barber for a beard trim.
As he arrived at the venue this evening he said he had braced himself for the face-off by ‘eating a Caesar salad’ and ‘drinking cups of tea’.
Mr Johnson has promised to launch a full-frontal political attack on Mr Corbyn with an ultimatum to stop ‘dithering’ on his Brexit plans.
Boris Johnson says he would get Jeremy Corbyn a pot of JAM for Christmas
Boris Johnson tonight said he would give Jeremy Corbyn a pot Damson jam for Christmas after the two leaders were told to put politics aside and play nice at the close of tonight’s TV debate.
Before their closing remarks, the prime ministerial hopefuls were asked what Christmas presents they would buy for each other.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘I know Mr Johnson likes a good read, so what I would probably leave under the tree for him would be A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and he could then understand how nasty Scrooge was.’
Responding, Mr Johnson said: ‘I would probably leave a copy – since you want a literary reference – a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal.’
Pressed by host Julie Etchingham to give a non-political answer, Mr Johnson said: ‘Mr Corbyn shares my love of plants and trees. I think maybe some damson jam,’ to which Mr Corbyn said: ‘I love damson jam.’
But Mr Corbyn is laying out a populist hard-Left platform, after he pledged to spend up to £100billion nationalising chunks of BT to provide free broadband for everyone.
In fresh evidence that Labour is abandoning the traditional centre ground, shadow chancellor John McDonnell today vowed to target ‘obscene’ billionaires, force private firms to slash pay for top executives, and oust companies from the London Stock Exchange if they do not meet climate change targets.
The Prime Minister issued a challenge to his Labour counterpart warning that failure to answer on key points would leave the public with ‘no choice but to conclude that Corbyn’s Labour, propped up by the SNP, will mean dither, delay and uncertainty’.
In a letter published by the Tories last night he set Mr Corbyn four questions to answer: how he would vote in a second Brexit referendum, what Labour’s position on freedom of movement is, how much he would pay the EU for ‘market access’, and whether all of his MPs would back his Brexit policy.
Tory sources said the Prime Minister would use the debate to hammer home his central message that only the Conservatives can be relied upon to deliver Brexit – while also raising concerns about Labour’s opposition to immigration controls.
But Mr McDonnell made clear that Labour is also spoiling for a fight, declaring war on the wealthy and business in a speech in London earlier.
He vowed to target ‘obscene’ billionaires, force private firms to slash pay for top executives, and oust companies from the London Stock Exchange if they do not meet climate change targets.
In a fresh lurch to the Left, the shadow chancellor said it was ‘obscene’ that people could become billionaires, saying ‘no-one deserves to have that kind of money’.
The hour-long election debate took place in a glitzy studio set up by ITV at studios in Salford this evening
Despite their increasingly bitter rowing, at one point Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn paused to shake hands after being entreated to raise the tone of politics
The Kantar poll this evening found the Tories were up eight points on 45 per cent, with Labour trailing far behind and stalled on 27 per cent
The veteran socialist said bosses at firms with public sector contracts should not be paid more than around £350,000.
He hailed Labour’s proposals to force medium-sized firms to give 10 per cent of their shares to workers, and bolster union power by having a third of their board made up of staff. Companies who fail to meet objectives to tackle climate change also faced being ‘delisted’ from the stock exchange.
Jeremy Corbyn accuses Boris Johnson of plotting to sell off the NHS to the US in post-Brexit trade deal
Jeremy Corbyn tonight accused Boris Johnson of plotting to sell of the NHS to the US in a post-Brexit trade deal as the two men were pushed on their plans for the health service.
The Labour leader claimed the Prime Minister had engaged in ‘secret meetings’ with the US about giving firms access to the NHS.
He brandished redacted documents he said had been obtained from the government under the Freedom of Information Act which detailed the meetings.
Mr Corbyn said: ‘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.’
Mr Johnson dismissed the claims as he said: ‘This is an absolute invention. It is completely untrue.
‘There are no circumstances whatever in which this Government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation.’
The two men were then asked, other than providing more funding, how they intended to ensure the health service will be able to meet future demand.
Mr Corbyn described the NHS as a ‘wonderful, brilliant institution’ while Mr Johson said it was ‘beautiful’ and one of the most ‘brilliant things about our society’.
And Mr McDonnell vowed to neuter the ‘Big Four’ accountancy companies, saying he would create a new state-backed auditor to stop them behaving like a ‘cartel’.
The assault on corporate governance provoked alarm among business groups, who warned that Labour risks ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’ and trying to manage the economy ‘by diktat’.
The extraordinary platform is more evidence that Labour is gearing up to unveil a much more dramatic manifesto on Thursday than their offering two years ago.
Last week Mr Corbyn pledged to nationalise huge chunks of BT and offer free broadband to every household – despite warnings it would cost £100billion and require the state to take control of huge swathes of other businesses such as Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky.
Tonight’s ITV debate from Salford was the first time the two largest party leaders have squared off on live television in an election debate.
Previous debates have featured a wider array of leaders, but Theresa May refused to take part ahead of the 2017 election where she lost the Tory majority.
One ally of the PM acknowledged that it was a ‘risk’ to take on an opponent who is lagging far behind in the polls.
‘Corbyn has nothing to lose,’ the source said.
‘I’ll be sleeping a lot easier once it’s over.’
The Liberal Democrats and SNP yesterday lost a High Court challenge to have Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon included in the debate. The two parties claimed ITV’s decision was unlawful because it breached impartiality rules. Lawyers for the Lib Dems claimed that with Labour sitting on the fence on Brexit, ‘the voice of Remain has been excluded’ from the debate.
But two judges ruled that the decision was not open to challenge in the courts and that the parties’ only recourse was to complain to Ofcom.
Tonight’s hour-long debate – with Julie Etchingham as the moderator – was split into two halves, with the first devoted to Brexit.
Mr Corbyn posed for photographs with members of the public as he arrived for the debate in Salford tonight
Both sides expected the debate to be the first time that many voters engage with the election arguments.
The first televised election debates in 2010 attracted audiences of close to ten million.
Tory strategists have told Mr Johnson to go after Mr Corbyn over his attempt to sit on the fence during the Brexit debate.
In his letter to Mr Corbyn last night, the PM said voters had a ‘right to know’ what Labour planned to do on key issues facing the country.
He added: ‘So far in this campaign, you have ducked those questions.’
While Mr Johnson hammered his opponent on Brexit, Tory strategists also urged him to also use the debate to paint a positive vision of life after Brexit.
He stressed his commitment to investing in public services like the NHS, schools and the police.
Jeremy Corbyn forced to defend his record on tackling anti-Semitism in the Labour Party as he and Boris Johnson face questions about their character
Jeremy Corbyn was tonight forced to defend his handling of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis as he and Boris Johnson faced searching questions about their personal character.
Mr Corbyn’s leadership of Labour has been repeatedly rocked by accusations of anti-Semitism within the party and he has been personally criticised for his apparent failure to act quickly enough to deal with the issue.
Tonight he tried to defend his record after it was brought up during his crunch TV election showdown with Mr Johnson.
Directed to answer about anti-Semitism complaints against the Labour Party, Mr Corbyn insisted that he took the matter ‘very, very seriously’.
He told the ITV audience: ‘Anti-Semitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society.
‘Racism in any form is a scourge in our society. I have taken action in my party where anyone who has committed any anti-Semitic acts or made any anti-Semitic statements, they either suspended or expelled from the party and investigated every single case.
‘We do take this very, very seriously indeed.’
Mr Johnson faced questions about his own character and suitability to be prime minister but when he was asked about ‘telling the truth in politics’, the premier chose to attack Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
He said: ‘It’s a complete failure of leadership what’s happened with anti-Semitism, but the failure of leadership is even worse when you look at what is happening on their Brexit policy.’
Now that’s an EU turn: In his own flip-flopping words, how Jeremy’s story keeps changing
Analysis by Ross Clark
When asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday whether he wanted to leave the EU or remain in it, Jeremy Corbyn refused to answer five times. So what does the Labour leader, who was once an ardent Eurosceptic but has since called for a second referendum, really believe?
What he is saying now:
‘We’re going to put that choice to the British people and they will make that decision,’ he told Marr when asked if he wants to Leave or Remain.
What he has said in past:
Outlining his vision for ‘Britain after Brexit’ in a speech in February last year, Corbyn claimed Labour would see Brexit through. He said: ‘Labour respects the result of the referendum and Britain is leaving the EU.’
‘Three years after the EU referendum, the country stands at a precipice,’ Corbyn told The Observer in September, commenting on how he planned to thwart a No Deal Brexit. ‘[Boris Johnson] has no right to drive our country off a cliff and into the arms of Donald Trump with his No Deal fixation.’
In the past:
For many years Corbyn advocated leaving the EU, deal or no deal. In 1993 he told Parliament that the Maastrict Treaty, which ratified further European integration, ‘takes away from national parliaments the power to set economic policy and hands it over to an unelected set of bankers who will impose the economic policies of price stability, deflation and high unemployment throughout the European Community’. Corbyn ultimately voted against the treaty, just as he had voted to leave the then Common Market in the first EU referendum in 1975.
‘I want a close relationship with the EU in future,’ Corbyn told Marr.
In the past:
Corbyn certainly didn’t want ‘a close relationship with the EU’ in 1996 when he described it as a ‘European bureaucracy totally unaccountable to anybody’. Indeed, as late as June 2015 – just a year before the referendum – he wrote in a blog for the Huffington Post website that ‘there is no future for a usurious Europe that turns its smaller nations into colonies of debt peonage’.
Speaking to the BBC ahead of the Labour conference in September, Corbyn laid out his vision for a future relationship with the EU: ‘We have consistently put forward what I believe to be a credible option, which is based on five pillars – the customs union, the trade relationship, protection of consumer and environmental rights, and, of course, the Good Friday agreement.’
In the past:
In 2008 when then Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked the Commons to approve the Lisbon Treaty, which centralised EU power, Corbyn reminded Parliament that the EU had ‘always suffered a serious democratic deficit’ and promoted ‘ever-limiting powers for national parliaments and an increasingly powerful common foreign and security policy’.
‘My whole strategy has been to try to bring people together on both sides of the argument,’ he told Marr.
In the past:
For the majority of his parliamentary career, Corbyn’s remarks were anything but unifying. Even during his campaign to be Labour leader in 2015, Corbyn didn’t mince his words. At one hustings, he said: ‘I’m concerned about the way that European Union is increasingly operating like a free market across Europe, tearing up the Social Chapter, damaging working-class and workers’ interests across Europe… ‘
At another point during that campaign, he said: ‘If Europe becomes a totally brutal organisation that treats every one of its member states in the way that the people of Greece have been treated at the moment, then I think Europe will lose a lot of support from a lot of people.’