PM urges him to come clean with vot­ers in tonight’s live de­bate

Daily Mail - - News - By Ja­son Groves Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

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.

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