General Election 2019 briefing: leaders clash over Brexit and NHS in first TV debate

General Election 2019 briefing: leaders clash over Brexit and NHS in first TV debate
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn answer questions during the ITV Leaders Debate (Photo: ITV/Getty)

The Prime Ministerial hopefuls were at loggerheads over a number of issues during an ITV debate which many have deemed inconsequential to the outcome of the election.

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have clashed over Brexit during the first televised debate of the general election campaign.

While Mr Johnson promised to “end this national misery”, Mr Corbyn’s focus was on stressing that Labour “get Brexit sorted by giving you, the people, the final say”.

Other significant topics during the debate included the NHS, The Royal Family, their potential leadership of the country and the future of Scotland.

However, political pundits have generally commented that neither Mr Johnson nor Mr Corbyn managed to assert themselves and land any knockout blows during the head-to-head.

And a YouGov poll found that 51 per cent of people believed Johnson had won, with 49 per cent opting for Corbyn, further indicating the tiny margin. ‘Don’t know’ answers were removed from the data.

The poll also found that most Labour voters believed Mr Corbyn had won, and most Conservatives believed Mr Johnson had won, suggesting that the debate will have little impact on the way people vote.

Grilled over Brexit

Boris Johnson hopes to win a majority at the general election on 12 December so that he can push through the Brexit deal he has agreed with the EU. This would see him then seeking to establish a permanent trading partnership between Britain and EU countries.

Should Labour win the leadership race, Mr Corbyn says he would completely disregard Mr Johnson’s deal and seek to establish a different one through further negotiations with Brussels.

Mr Johnson also said that a “toxic atmosphere” had taken hold in politics because MPs were “refusing to honour the referendum”.

And audience members were at times laughing at the leaders.

Mr Corbyn was mocked for suggesting a four day week, and Mr Johnson faced mockery over statements that he was earning people’s trust.

Horns locked over the NHS

The other major battle ground was over the NHS, with both leaders praising the National Health Service.

However, Mr Corbyn claimed that a Tory government wanted to sell off the service to US health firms in a trade deal post-Brexit.

He held up redacted accounts of secret meetings which showed the government offering “full market access for US products to our NHS” and accused Mr Johnson of looking to “sell our National Health Service out to the United States and Big Pharma”.

Mr Johnson dismissed these claims as fantasy and said that his government and any future Tory government would never put the NHS on the table during trade deals.

Mr Corbyn also called for an end to the privatisation of the NHS – something which Mr Johnson claimed his party were not doing.

The future of Scotland was also a contested topic, with Johnson – who recently said he would never agree to a second independence referendum – claiming Labour would grant one in order to form a coalition with the SNP if they needed to.

Corbyn refuted this, saying that a Labour-SNP coalition would never happen.

Eyebrows raised over the Royal Family

A number of viewers expressed outrage over Boris Johnson’s claims that the “institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach” in light of recent controversies surrounding Prince Andrew and his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Mr Corbyn said that “serious questions” needed to be answered on the issue and that nobody should be above the law.

Other leaders’ responses

In a programme for the other leaders that followed the ITV debate, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson both said that they were not impressed with the way either of Corbyn and Johnson spoke.

Nicola Sturgeon said “neither of these men should be able to determine Scotland’s future” and said that the SNP would help Scotland to “escape the chaos of Brexit”.

She echoed Mr Corbyn’s statement that no deal between Labour and the SNP had been arranged to form a coalition in the event of a hung parliament.

Jo Swinson took the opportunity to reinforce her party’s anti-Brexit stance and said her party was an alternative to the status quo set by the dominant two parties.

Green Party leader Sian Berry slammed the two leaders who took part in the head-to-head for not addressing the issue of climate change – something to which the Green Party committed £100 billion a year to addressing as part of the manifesto, announced yesterday.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said that the current political system was “rotten” and “broken” and promised to scrap the House of Lords.

‘FactCheckUK’ Twitter controversy

The Tory Party also drew criticism from viewers at home for changing the name of their Conservative HQ press account to ‘FactCheckUK’ for the duration of the debate.

Many have claimed that the party was attempting to mislead voters by retweeting messages of support for Mr Johnson and criticising Mr Corbyn’s statements under the guise of a neutral fact checking service.

Legitimate fact checking service Full Fact responded to the move by CCHQ:

Hot take:

“The story of this election campaign is that voters are being asked to decide between two divisive figures, the Prime Minister and Labour leader. So the question from Fahed will have hit the nail on the head for many people watching at home: ‘At the heart of all of this is one very simple question: how can we trust you?’

“Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn showed little humility in answer to this question, instead turning their answers back to their main attack lines on Brexit and the NHS.”

Read more from Jane Merrick on iNews.