PM urges him to come clean with voters in tonight’s live debate
BORIS Johnson will challenge Jeremy Corbyn over his Brexit ‘dithering’ tonight, as the two leaders go head-to-head in the first TV debate of the election.
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.
In a statement of intent, Mr Johnson last night wrote to his Labour opponent, 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’.
Tonight’s debate on ITV is the first time in British election history that the two main leaders vying to be prime minister have agreed to a direct head-to-head.
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 ‘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 broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.
Tonight’s hour-long debate – with Julie Etchingham as moderator – will be in two halves, with the first devoted to Brexit.
Both sides believe that it is likely 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, Mr Johnson said voters had a ‘right to know’ what Labour planned to do on key issues facing the country, adding: ‘So far in this campaign, you have ducked those questions.’
The PM demanded answers on questions including whether Labour will campaign to Leave or Remain in its planned second Brexit referendum, and whether it will abandon its 2017 pledge to end free movement of people in favour of a party conference resolution in September that committed it to ‘maintain and extend free movement’.
Mr Corbyn will attempt to press Mr Johnson on the fate of the NHS in a post-Brexit trade deal.
‘Dither, delay and uncertainty’
LIBeRAL Democrats wow business community shocker. Not words you often read when the lentil-munching tendency goes-a-wooing the Savile Rowsuited City fat cats.
But that’s what’s happened when Jo Swinson turned up in Docklands yesterday – along with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn – to address the CBI, that occasionally whiney voice of British enterprise.
The venue was that drab peninsula that houses what we used to call the Millennium Dome. Goodness, what a sorry relic that monstrosity now looks. Boris was alrightish. Corbyn, surprise, surprise, bleaker than a dystopian JG Ballard novel. Or as the fellow two ahead of me in the lunch queue afterward kept repeating: ‘Just terrifying.’
Swinson? Buzzy. Vivacious. Knocked the pampered rascals’ Gucci loafers right off. Neither Boris nor Corbyn it should be said, are the CBI’s sort of people. A fiercely proeU bunch, most will never forgive Boris for backing the Leave campaign.
As for Corbyn, CBI directorgeneral Carolyn Fairbairn admitted yesterday that Labour send a ‘chill through British boardrooms’.
She was still rabbitting on when the Prime Minister suddenly walked on to the stage ahead of cue.
For most politicians, this would be have been a humiliating moment. Instead, the whole conference room erupted in collective guffaws. No one pulls off looking a prized twit quite like Boris Johnson.
For a Monday morning, the PM was definitely peppy. He kicked off with one of his meandering tales about his own short-lived business career trying to set up a kitchen tile business which never even got off the ground. Apart from that his speech was pretty much the same one we’ve heard several times over the past week. Get Brexit done, get Britain moving etc.
except this time the PM was the bearer of bad news. That promise he made about making a cut to corporation tax was being binned.
Labour’s attacks on Tory tax cuts for the better off had clearly got Team Johnson spooked. Around the conference halls, delegates wrinkled their noses in irritation.
During the Q&A, most people wanted to ask about Prince Andrew’s train wreck Newsnight interview. ‘Nice try,’ the PM grumbled. One hack asked whether he’d be dumping Sajid Javid as Chancellor if he won the election. Absolutely not, said Boris. The Saj was doing a fine job. Audience reaction: tepid.
Corbyn was up next, looking even more bored and detached than he had been on Andrew Marr’s sofa on Sunday. ‘I hope you enjoyed the warm up act who’s just left the stage,’ he joked. Actually, that’s not a bad gag for Jezza.
There was misapprehension put about by the media that he was anti- business, Corbyn complained. Can’t imagine why. Perhaps it’s the way he says the word ‘business’ like he’s accidentally swallowed a beaker of vinegar.
Anyway, he then launched into what was effectively a halfhour verbal assault on the business community.
WEDGED between the corporate tower blocks of Canary Wharf, he looked like a man who’d rather be spending his morning at the proctologist.
His mood was defensive and stand-offish. even when gripping the lectern, he did so with the points of his fingertips as though fearful of some sort of capitalist contamination. Nor was the audience in the mood to offer much love in return.
When someone asked if Labour was ‘for the many and not the Jew’ – a reference to the party’s perceived antiSemitism – she received a round of applause. The stage then was set for Swinson to work her cosmetic charms. It helped that unlike the other two leaders, she actually wanted to be there.
Thanks to her TV debate snub, she admitted this was probably as close as she’d get to the other two leaders all campaign.
Smiley Swinson gave the crowd the cheery nurse treatment. Poor you, she kept telling them, having to go through all this Brexit nonsense, I can only imagine how hard it’s been. Ahh, this was what the delegates wanted to hear. A bit of comfort talk. It was as though someone had just plonked their tired, trodden- on tootsies in a plug-in foot Jacuzzi.
Us Lib Dems are the only ones on your side, she said. ‘We will Stop. Brexit. From day one.’ Cue applause. ‘Oh I like her,’ beamed a female delegate beside me.
Auntie Jo had won the jargon jabberers over. Boris and Corbyn will be mighty relieved not to have her on ITV’s television debate this evening.