UK election TV debate: Corbyn and Johnson clash on NHS and Brexit

Labour leader claims Tories are poised to sell NHS to US as part of new trade deal

British prime minister Boris Johnson and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn spar over Brexit, the monarchy and truth in politics during a live TV debate ahead of the UK general election. Video: ITV/Reuters


Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have clashed over Brexit, the National Health Service (NHS) and the future of the United Kingdom in the first televised debate of the British general election campaign. Mr Johnson pressed the Labour leader repeatedly for greater clarity on Brexit, demanding to know if he would campaign for any new deal he negotiates in a second referendum.

The prime minister described Mr Corbyn’s failure to say how he will campaign in such a referendum as a “glaring lacuna” in Labour’s Brexit policy which he said would lead to more “dither and delay”.

Mr Corbyn said Mr Johnson’s deal threatened the integrity of the UK by putting a border down the Irish Sea, and accused the prime minister of planning a trade deal with Donald Trump that would give US firms “full market access” to the NHS.

We will continue to fund the NHS massively as we are. We can only do so because we have a strong and dynamic economy

“You are going to sell our National Health Service out to the United States and Big Pharma,” he said.

Secret meetings

As Mr Corbyn brandished a document he said was evidence of secret meetings between the British government and US officials about including the NHS in a trade deal, Mr Johnson dismissed the claims as untrue and promised more funding for the health service.

“We will continue to fund the NHS massively as we are. We can only do so because we have a strong and dynamic economy,” he said.

A snap poll by YouGov for Sky News found that 51 per cent of respondents thought Mr Johnson won the debate, with 49 per cent naming Mr Corbyn as the winner. The polling company said the result was so close as to be within the margin of error.

Labour is trailing the Conservatives by double digits in some opinion polls although both parties have been gaining popularity at the expense of the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party.

‘Reckless and dangerous’

Earlier on Tuesday, Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union and a close ally of Mr Corbyn, warned that the prime minister’s Brexit deal was “incredibly reckless and dangerous” because its provisions for Northern Ireland could lead to loyalist terrorist attacks on British ports.

“Have we got to wait for people to be blown up and killed? Whether these ports are in Stranraer or Pembroke or in Holyhead, or the areas in Northern Ireland where there’s going to be checks. Do the media not understand that loyalist paramilitary groups are meeting almost on a daily basis in Northern Ireland?” he told the New Statesman.

“Now there’ll be lots of ordinary people who are concerned about other things and don’t see Ireland as a priority for them. But it will be a priority when that violence is brought into the rest of Britain. It’s dangerous, unbelievably dangerous, and we have to call it out.”