May stands over calling election as Corbyn is heckled on nuclear stance
Prime minister faces angry questions from BBC audience on healthcare and policy U-turns
Theresa May on Friday night faced angry questions about public services and her policy U-turns, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was heckled over his attitude to nuclear weapons as polls continued to tighten ahead of next week’s general election. The British prime minister was more assured answering audience questions during the BBC Question Time special than in other appearances during the campaign and Mr Corbyn faced his toughest grilling to date.
Accused by one questioner of calling the election to advance her own political interests, Ms May said she “had the balls” to call an election because of Brexit.
“What became clear to me when going through the article 50 process . . . was that other parties wanted to frustrate negotiations and the will of the people. It would have been easy for me as prime minister to stay on and keep a hand on the job. But this is an important moment for our country, we’ve got to get it right,” she said.
Although she repeated her assertion that no deal would be better than a bad deal on Brexit, she appeared to accept that negotiations on Britain’s future relationship with the EU could not begin until “sufficient progress” is made on the divorce settlement. She also acknowledged that Britain will have to make a financial settlement with the EU, although she declined to say how much the exit bill would be.
“If I gave you a figure here tonight for what I thought what be a good figure, it would not a very good negotiating stance,” she said.
Ms May and Mr Corbyn each faced questions from the audience for 45 minutes in separate sessions in the last major televised event of the campaign. Mr Corbyn’s most difficult moment came when he refused to say if he would authorise a retaliatory nuclear strike.
“I think the idea of anyone ever using a nuclear weapon is utterly appalling,” he said.
The Labour leader said he would not use nuclear weapons first and when he declined to say if he would use them second, he faced heckles from the audience.
He said he would not do a deal with the Scottish National Party (SNP) to form a government in the event of a hung parliament, insisting that Labour was fighting the election to win. He defended his proposal to increase the corporate tax rate, saying it was worth it to pay for improved public services.
Earlier on Friday, the Crown Prosecution Service charged Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay with overspending during the 2015 general election. Mr Mackinlay, who defeated former Ukip leader Nigel Farage to become MP for Thanet, is standing again in next week’s election.
Mr Mackinlay’s election agent Nathan Gray and Conservative official Marion Little were also charged under the Representation of the People Act 1983. The charges followed an investigation into claims that the cost of sending busloads of Conservative activists to marginal seats were wrongly reported as part of the party’s national spending than in the candidates’ constituency budget.
The latest opinion polls on Friday continued to show the Conservatives’ lead over Labour shrinking, as Ms May’s personal approval rating fell to its lowest level since she became prime minister last year. An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard put the Conservatives just five points ahead of Labour, with women and middle-aged voters turning away from Ms May. Satisfaction with Ms May among all voters is down from 55 to 43 per cent, her lowest ratings to date.