Election debate: Johnson and Corbyn clash over Brexit

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Media caption,

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn locked horns over the NHS, Brexit and the Royal Family

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have clashed over Brexit in the first TV election debate of the campaign.

Mr Johnson promised to "end this national misery" and said Labour offered "only division and deadlock".

Mr Corbyn said Labour would "get Brexit sorted by giving you, the people, the final say".

An average audience of 6.7m people watched the leaders lock horns over the NHS, trust and leadership, the future of Scotland - and the Royal Family.

BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said it was not clear if either men had won or lost the debate but it was striking how the audience had been ready to laugh at their statements.

A snap YouGov poll suggested the public were evenly split on who had won the debate, "with most Labour voters thinking Jeremy Corbyn won, most Conservative voters thinking Boris Johnson won".

Meanwhile, the Conservatives received criticism for rebranding one of their Twitter accounts as "factcheckUK" during the debate.

Will Moy, the chief executive of fact-checking website Full Fact, accused the party of trying to "mislead" voters and said Twitter "could have acted sooner," including by forcibly renaming the account.

But Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab defended the move, saying it offered an "instant rebuttal mechanism" against "nonsense thrown at the Conservatives".

The Electoral Commission said voters were entitled to transparency and integrity from campaigners.

It said it has no role in regulating campaign content but urged parties to "undertake their vital role responsibly and to support campaigning transparency".

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said she was "not impressed at all" by the debate and said neither man was "fit" to be prime minister.

Liberal Democrat Leader Jo Swinson dismissed the performances of Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn as "bluster and diversion from both of them".

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry expressed dismay at the "climate chaos" issue being "relegated to the quickfire round in that debate".

And Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said Mr Corbyn was the "better debater" but criticised him for not saying if he would Leave or Remain in a future referendum.

The Lib Dems and SNP lost a court challenge to ITV's decision not to include their party leaders in the debate.

The NHS and Brexit

The first half of the debate was dominated by questions on Brexit.

Mr Johnson wants to win a majority in 12 December's general election so he can get the Brexit deal he struck with the EU into law and take the UK out of the bloc 31 January and begin talks with Brussels on a permanent trading relationship.

Mr Corbyn says he would tear up Mr Johnson's agreement and negotiate a new deal with the EU, with a customs union and a closer relationship with the single market, which he would then put to a public vote.

A row broke out over the Labour leader's claim that US health firms will be given access to the NHS in a post-Brexit trade deal.

Media caption,

Moment Corbyn produces 'NHS dossier'

Mr Corbyn told the PM: "You are going to sell our National Health Service out to the United States and Big Pharma."

He held up redacted accounts of "a series of secret meetings" with the US, in which the government proposed "full market access for US products to our NHS."

In response, Mr Johnson said the claims were "an absolute invention" and that there were "no circumstances whatever in which this government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation."

With Labour behind in the polls, tonight the danger was for Boris Johnson, to throw away his lead, and that didn't happen.

And the opportunity was for Jeremy Corbyn to start closing the gap and he didn't manage to take it.

This is a genuinely momentous election.

The decision the country faces is between two fundamentally different paths.

But what was striking too in Salford, where the debate was held, was the readiness among the audience to laugh at both men's statements.

The two leaders then clashed over whether Brexit put the future of the union between England and Scotland at risk.

Mr Johnson claimed Labour would agree to another referendum on Scotland to get the support of the SNP and that isn't a price he would be willing to pay.

But Mr Corbyn called the PM's comments "nonsense" and insisted his party would not form a coalition between with the SNP.


Asked about the issue of trust, Mr Johnson said a toxic atmosphere in politics had been caused by MPs "repeatedly refusing to honour the referendum".

The Labour leader said "trust is something that has to be earned and as a public representative you have to listen". He said his style of leadership was to "listen to people and try to bring consensus".

Asked by ITV presenter Julie Etchingham if they would "make a gesture" to change the tone of the debate, the pair shook hands.

Some audience members laughed at Mr Johnson's statement on trust, while others laughed at Mr Corbyn's statements on a Labour's proposal for a reduced working week and his party's Brexit stance.

Media caption,

The two leaders had differing views on the monarchy

On health, both men praised the NHS, with Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson describing it as "one of the most civilised things about this country" and "one of the single most beautiful and brilliant things about Britain" respectively.

However they quickly differed over NHS management. Mr Corbyn called for an "end to privatisation" of services. Mr Johnson insisted his party was not privatising the NHS.

Asked if the monarchy was "fit for purpose", Mr Corbyn replied: "Needs a bit of improvement."

Mr Johnson said: "The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach."

Asked if the Duke of York Prince Andrew was "fit for the purpose" following criticism over his friendship with the sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, Mr Corbyn said there were "very, very serious questions that must be answered" adding "nobody should be above the law".

Mr Johnson said "The law must certainly take its course."

The final question pushed the leaders to say what Christmas present they would give each other. Mr Corbyn said he would get the PM a copy of Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens "and then he can understand how nasty Scrooge was".

Mr Johnson initially said he would buy the Labour leader "a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal" but when pushed to give a "non-political answer" he said he would get "some damson jam".

Other party leaders grilled

Following the head-to-head between the Labour and Conservative leaders, the leaders of the Brexit Party, Greens, Lib Dems and SNP were interviewed separately on ITV.

During her interview, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson emphasised her party's opposition to Brexit and said she could offer the country a "better future" than "those two tired old parties".

She also said her party had plans for a frequent flyer tax to help combat climate change.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said "neither of these men should be able to determine Scotland's future" and promised voters that her party would ensure people "escape the chaos of Brexit".

She also insisted "no deal has been done" to form a coalition with the Labour Party in the event of a hung Parliament.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage called the current political system "broken, rotten and corrupt" and said he would change the voting system and scrap the House of Lords.

Last up was Green Party co-leader Sian Berry, who accused Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson of failing properly to address climate change, which she said would leave young people feeling "let down".

BBC debate plans

The BBC will also host a live head-to-head debate between the Conservative and Labour leaders in Southampton on 6 December, plus a seven-way podium debate between senior figures from the UK's major political parties on 29 November, live from Cardiff.

The Lib Dems have sent a legal letter to the BBC over its decision not to include Ms Swinson in the head-to-head.

BBC Scotland will stage a televised debate between the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats on 10 December, although the Scottish Greens have criticised the decision not to include them.

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Election translator

What do all the terms mean?

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  • Backbencher

    Term for an MP who is not a minister. They sit behind the front benches in the House of commons.

  • Ballot

    Another term for vote.

  • Ballot box

    A sealed box with a slit in the lid. Voters place their ballot papers through the slit into the box. When polls close the boxes are opened and counting begins.

  • Ballot paper

    Paper containing a list of all candidates standing in a constituency. Voters mark their choice with a cross.

  • By-election

    An election held between general elections, usually because the sitting MP has died or resigned.

  • Candidate

    Someone putting themselves up for election. Once Parliament has been dissolved, there are no MPs, only candidates.

  • Canvassing

    During a campaign, active supporters of a party ask voters who they will vote for and try to drum up support for their own candidates.

  • Close of nominations

    The deadline for candidates standing to send in the officials forms confirming their place in the election. This is usually __ days before polling day.

  • Coalition

    When two or more parties govern together, when neither has an overall majority. After the 2010 election, the Conservatives and Lib Dems formed a coalition, which lasted for five years.

  • Confidence and supply

    A agreement between two political parties where the smaller party agrees to support a larger one without enough MPs to have a majority in parliament.

  • Conservative

    The Conservative party is

  • Constituency

    The geographical unit which elects a single MP. There are 650 in the UK.

  • Dead cat

    In politics, a 'dead cat' strategy is when a dramatic or sensational story is disclosed to divert attention away from something more damaging. The term comes from the concept of an imaginary dead cat being flung onto a dining table, causing the diners to become distracted by it.

  • Declaration

    The announcement of the election result in each constituency.

  • Deposit

    A sum of £500 paid by candidates or their parties to be allowed to stand. It is returned if the candidate wins 5% or more of the votes cast.

  • Devolution

    The delegation of powers to other parliaments within the UK, specifically the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies.

  • Devolved parliament

    The Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies are elected by voters in those nations of the UK. They make laws on policy areas controlled by those nations such as health, environment and education.

  • Dissolution of Parliament

    The act of ending a Parliament before an election. When parliament is dissolved there are no MPs, but the prime minister and other senior ministers remain in their roles.

  • Electoral register / roll

    A list of everyone in a constituency entitled to vote. Also known as electoral roll.

  • Exit poll

    An exit poll is a poll of voters leaving a voting station. They are asked how they have voted, and the results are used to forecast what the overall result of the election may be.

  • First past the post

    Term used to describe the UK's parliamentary election system. It means a candidate only needs to win the most votes in their constituency to win the seat.

  • Gain

    When a party wins a constituency from another party, it is said to have "gained" it from the other.

  • General election

    Election at which all seats in the House of Commons are contested.

  • Hung parliament

    If after an election no party has an overall majority, then parliament is said to be "hung". The main parties will then try to form a coalition with one or more of the minor parties. Opinion polls have suggested that a hung parliament is a strong possibility after the 2015 general election.

  • Hustings

    A meeting a which candidates address potential voters. The word comes from an old Norse word meaning "house of assembly".

  • Independent

    A candidate who is not a member of any political party and is standing on their own personal platform. To qualify as an official political party, a party must be registered with the Electoral Commission, the organisation which administers elections in the UK.

  • Landslide

    The name given to an election which one party wins by a very large margin. Famous landslides in UK elections include Labour's victory in 1945, the Conservative win in 1983 and the election which brought Tony Blair to power in 1997.

  • Left wing

    A person or party with strong socialist policies or beliefs.

  • Liberal Democrat

    The name of the party occupying the centre ground of British politics. They were formed from the former Liberal party and Social Democrats, a Labour splinter group, and combine support for traditional liberalism such as religious tolerance and individual freedom, with support for social justice.

  • Majority

    A majority in Parliament means one side has at least one more vote than all the other parties combined and is therefore more likely to be able to push through any legislative plans.

  • Majority government

    When one party wins more than half of the seats in the Commons, they can rule alone in a majority government

  • Mandate

    Politicians say they have a mandate, or authority, to carry out a policy when they have the backing of the electorate.

  • Manifesto

    A public declaration of a party's ideas and policies, usually printed during the campaign. Once in power, a government is often judged by how many of its manifesto promises it manages to deliver.

  • Marginal

    Seats where the gap between the two or more leading parties is relatively small. Often regarded as less than a 10% margin or requiring a swing (see below) of 5% or less, though very dependent on prevailing political conditions.

  • Minority government

    A minority government is one that does not have a majority of the seats in Parliament. It means the government is less likely to be able to push through any legislative programme. Boris Johnson has suffered a number of defeats in Parliament over a no-deal Brexit because he does not have a majority.

  • MP

    Strictly this includes members of the House of Lords, but in practice means only members of the House of Commons. When an election is called Parliament is dissolved and there are no more MPs until it assembles again.

  • Nomination papers

    A candidate must be nominated on these documents by 10 voters living in the constituency.

  • Opinion poll

    A survey asking people's opinion on one or more issues. In an election campaign, the key question is usually about which party people will vote for.

  • Opposition

    The largest party not in government is known as the official opposition. It receives extra parliamentary funding in recognition of its status.

  • Party Election Broadcast

    Broadcasts made by the parties and transmitted on TV or radio. By agreement with the broadcasters, each party is allowed a certain number according to its election strength and number of candidates fielded.

  • Percentage swing

    The swing shows how far voter support for a party has changed between elections. It is calculated by comparing the percentage of the vote won in a particular election to the figure obtained in the previous election.

  • Polling day

    Election day

  • Polling station

    Place where people go to cast their votes

  • Postal vote

    People unable to get to a polling station are allowed to vote by post if they apply in advance.

  • Proportional representation (PR)

    Any voting system where the share of seats represents the share of votes is described as proportional representation. The UK currently has a first past the post system.

  • Prorogation

    Parliament is usually prorogued, or suspended, ahead of an election or Queen's Speech to allow for preparations. In September 2019 Boris Johnson attempted to prorogue Parliament for five weeks, but the Supreme Court later ruled the prorogation unlawful and MPs returned to Parliament.

  • Psephologist

    A person who studies voting and voting patterns.

  • Purdah

    This is the time between the announcement of an election and the final election results. During this period media organisations have to ensure any political reporting is balanced and is not likely to influence the outcome of the election.

  • Recount

    If a result is close, any candidate may ask for a recount. The process can be repeated several times if necessary until the candidates are satisfied. The returning officer has the final say on whether a recount takes place.

  • Returning officer

    The official in charge of elections in each of the constituencies. On election night they read out the results for each candidate in alphabetical order by surname.

  • Right wing

    Someone who is right wing in politics usually supports tradition and authority, as well as capitalism. The Conservative party is regarded as the main centre-right party in the UK.

  • Safe seat

    A safe seat is a constituency where an MP has a sufficiently large majority to be considered unwinnable by the opposition.

  • Spin room

    The attempt to place a favourable interpretation on an event so that people or the media will interpret it in that way. Those performing this act are known as spin doctors.

  • Spoiled ballot

    Any ballot paper that is not marked clearly, eg with more than one box ticked or with writing scrawled across it, is described as a spoiled ballot and does not count towards the result.

  • Tactical voting

    This is when people vote not for the party they really support, but for another party in order to keep out a more disliked rival.

  • Target seat

    In theory, any seat that a party contests and held by a rival is one of its targets. In practice, a target seat is one that a party believes it can win and puts a lot of effort into doing so.

  • Turnout

    Turnout is the percentage of eligible voters who cast a ballot on polling day.

  • Vote of no confidence

    It is usually the leader of the opposition, currently Jeremy Corby, who calls for a vote of no confidence, in an attempt to topple the government. If more MPs vote for the motion than against it, then the government has 14 days to try to win back the confidence of MPs through another vote – while the opposition parties try to form an alternative government. If nothing is resolved, then a general election is triggered.

  • Westminster

    The UK Parliament is located in the Palace of Westminster in the centre of London and the term is often used as an alternative to Parliament.

  • Working majority

    A working majority in Parliament is what a government needs to carry out its legislative programme without risk of defeat. It means the government can rely on at least one more vote than the opposition parties. However, in the current Parliament, the government no longer has a majority and MPs from a range of opposition parties have joined forces to form a parliamentary majority big enough to defeat the government over plans for a no-deal Brexit.

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