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Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn clash in final debate before U.K. election

In this handout image provided by the BBC, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn go head to head in the BBC prime ministerial debate at Maidstone Studios on December 06, 2019 in Maidstone, Kent, England.

In this handout image provided by the BBC, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn go head to head in the BBC prime ministerial debate at Maidstone Studios on December 06, 2019 in Maidstone, Kent, England.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Boris Johnson, a Conservative who supports Britain’s exit from the European Union, tried to portray Jeremy Corbyn as a waffler with no firm Brexit stance who would plunge the U.K. into more uncertainty.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed on December 6 night in the last head-to-head debate before a general election in six days — an underpowered showdown that saw both men stick to well-worn phrases and promises about their plans for Brexit and Britain’s future.

Mr. Johnson, a Conservative who supports Britain’s exit from the European Union, tried to portray Mr. Corbyn as a waffler with no firm Brexit stance who would plunge the U.K. into more uncertainty.

Mr. Corbyn reminded viewers about the Conservative government’s spending cuts, and claimed Mr. Johnson was bent on striking a trade deal with the United States that might harm Britain’s interests.

Each questioned the other’s character. Mr. Johnson accused Mr. Corbyn of a “failure of leadership” for failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in his party. Mr. Corbyn retorted that “a failure of leadership is when you use racist remarks,” as Mr. Johnson has done in newspapers and magazines.

BBC moderator Nick Robinson suggested voters faced an “impossible choice” between two unpopular leaders. That impression was reinforced Friday when two former prime ministers criticized their own party’s contenders.

Former Conservative premier John Major called Brexit the “worst foreign policy decision in my lifetime,” while ex-Labour leader Tony Blair urged voters to make the best of a “horrible choice”.

Opinion polls put Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives ahead of the Labour opposition before the election next Thursday, in which all 650 House of Commons seats are up for grabs.

The Conservatives had a minority government before the election, and Mr. Johnson pushed for the December vote, which is taking place more than two years early, in hopes of winning a majority and breaking Britain’s political impasse over Brexit.

He says that if the Conservatives win a majority, he will get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the U.K. out of the EU by the current Jan. 31 deadline.

In the debate, Mr. Johnson contrasted that promise with Mr. Corbyn’s refusal to say whether he favored leaving the bloc or remaining.

Labour has promised to negotiate a new Brexit deal, then give voters a choice between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc. Mr. Corbyn says he would be neutral in that referendum.

“You cannot end the uncertainty on Brexit if you do not know what the deal is that you want to do,” Mr. Johnson said. “You cannot negotiate a deal if you are neutral on it.”

Mr. Johnson’s opponents say his promise to get Brexit done rings hollow, because leaving the bloc will be the prelude to months or years of complex trade negotiations.

Mr. Corbyn claimed that under a Johnson government, Britain would walk out of the EU into a relationship with nobody and spend years trying to strike a new trade deal with the United States.

He said that would bring seven years of complete uncertainty and continued job losses in manufacturing and industry.

The two men also tussled over security in the wake of last week’s deadly attack in London by a knife-wielding man who had served a prison sentence for terrorist crimes. Mr. Johnson tried to portray Mr. Corbyn — a longtime anti-war and anti-nuclear campaigner — as soft on security. Mr. Corbyn highlighted cuts to police and prison services under the Conservatives.

Mr. Johnson’s party is promising to increase public spending if it wins the election, and Mr. Corbyn tackled Mr. Johnson on inflated promises, such as a claim his government will build 40 news hospitals. In fact that number includes many existing facilities that will be renovated.

Labour took aim on Friday at Mr. Johnson’s insistence that there will be no new checks on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. after Brexit. The divorce deal Mr. Johnson has negotiated with the bloc agrees to keep Northern Ireland aligned to EU customs rules and some goods standards to avoid checks along the currently invisible border with EU member Ireland.

Trade experts say that means some checks will have to be conducted on goods moving across the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland.

Labour said it had obtained a leaked Treasury document that says there will be customs declarations and security checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay has previously said there will have to be some checks.

Mr. Corbyn said the document drives a coach and horses through Boris Mr. Johnson’s claim that there will be no border in the Irish Sea.”

But Mr. Johnson claimed it was nonsense to suggest there would be any new checks The Conservative Party said the leaked document was an “immediate assessment rather than a detailed analysis”.

Labour has promised to negotiate a new Brexit deal, then give voters a choice between leaving on those terms and remaining in the bloc. It also has a radical domestic agenda, promising to nationalize key industries and utilities, hike the minimum wage and give free internet access to all.

The party has struggled to persuade voters that its lavish spending promises are deliverable without big tax hikes. Labour’s campaign also has been dogged by allegations that Mr. Corbyn — a long-time champion of the Palestinians — has allowed anti-Jewish prejudice to fester in the left-of-centre party.

Mr. Corbyn has called anti-Semitism “a poison and an evil in our society” and says he is working to root it out of the party.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 12:39:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/boris-johnson-jeremy-corbyn-clash-in-final-debate-before-uk-election/article30227204.ece

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