British election: Theresa May struggles during TV interview

British prime minister faces heckles from audience as Corbyn exceeds expectations

British prime minister Theresa May faced laughter, jeers and heckling from a studio audience on Monday night as she struggled to answer questions about her record during a TV interview with Jeremy Paxman.

When Mr Paxman suggested that negotiators in Brussels would view her as "a blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire", the audience applauded.

Mr Paxman interviewed Ms May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn separately as part of the Sky News/Channel 4 Battle for Number 10 programme, with each facing questions from the audience ahead of the interview.

Ms May was uncomfortable when she was challenged on her history of U-turns, on everything from calling an early election to a manifesto commitment on social care for older people.


Earlier, during the question-and-answer session with the studio audience, the prime minister was heckled while she was answering questions about school funding.

She was more confident on Brexit, winning applause when she repeated that no deal was better than a bad deal on leaving the EU.

Asked how much she was willing to pay to get out of the EU, however, the prime minister made clear that she accepted that the UK would have to make a financial settlement as it leaves the bloc.

“It isn’t a question of what it’s worth paying to get out; it’s a question of what is going to be the right deal for us in leaving the EU which will stop us from having to pay huge sums of money into the EU every year,” she said.

Mr Corbyn said it was impossible to say how much the UK should pay as it leaves the EU, but promised to fulfil the country’s legal obligations.

He said he would start the Brexit negotiations seriously and would not countenance the idea of leaving the EU without a deal.

"We will make sure there is a deal. We won't start the negotiations by megaphone diplomacy and threatening Europe with some sort of offshore tax haven on the shores of Europe," he said.

Exceeding expectations

If the prime minister struggled under questioning from Mr Paxman and the studio audience, Mr Corbyn exceeded expectations, remaining calm and pleasant throughout.

He brushed off questions about his past attitude to the IRA, claiming that his support for Sinn Féin was aimed at promoting a peace process in Northern Ireland.

He also faced questions about his record of opposing British military interventions abroad, including the Falklands War.

He escaped mostly unscathed, most notably when Mr Paxman asked him why his longstanding wish to abolish the monarchy was not in the Labour manifesto.

“There’s nothing in there because we’re not going to do it,” he said.

“It’s not on anybody’s agenda. It’s not on my agenda.”

Campaigning in the West Midlands on Tuesday, Ms May will seek to restore Brexit to the centre of the campaign, and will warn that the European Commission will take a tough line in negotiations.

She will promise to use Brexit to make the UK a fairer society and focus more on the concerns of working people who struggle to make ends meet.

“Everything depends on getting Brexit right. So the central question in this election is: who has the will - and crucially the plan - to make a success of Brexit so that we can build the stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain we want and need?” she will say.

“And on that central question, I believe there is only one choice. Because I am clear about the instruction I have been given, clear about what needs to be done, and ready to get on with the job on day one – while Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have the belief, the will or the plan to deliver Brexit. And he doesn’t have the strength to do so either.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times