Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn clashed over Brexit and the NHS as they took part in the first televised leaders’ debate of the 2019 general election campaign last night.
The pair were quizzed on Brexit, the NHS, climate change and the future of the union, as well as a “quick fire” round of questions including whether the Monarchy was “fit for purpose”.
Mr Corbyn described the Prime Minister’s pledge to “get Brexit done” by the end of January as “nonsense” and accused the government of engaging in secret talks with the US to put the NHS on the table in an American trade deal.
Mr Johnson hit back by suggesting his rival was “not fit to lead our country” and labelled the NHS claims “an absolute invention”.
He said the Labour leader was trying to disguise the “void” at the heart of his Brexit policy, after Mr Corbyn failed to say whether he would campaign for leave or remain in a second referendum.
A snap YouGov poll of 1,646 viewers showed Mr Johnson took a narrow lead of 51-49 over Mr Corbyn, with respondents saying the Conservative leader appeared more prime ministerial and the leader of the opposition more trustworthy.
The Conservative press office faced a backlash for changing their Twitter account name to “factcheckUK” for the ITV debate, a move labelled “inappropriate and misleading” by fact-checking organisation Full Fact.
Four other party leaders took part in separate live interviews following the head-to-head.
Neither the Liberal Democrats’ Jo Swinson nor the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon were impressed with the debate performance, while the Green Party co-leader Sian Berry was “disappointed” that climate change was not higher on the agenda.
The Brexit Party’s Nigel Farage concluded that Mr Corbyn is a “better debater” but said his noncommittal Brexit stance was a “failure of leadership”.
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