Johnson and Corbyn trade barbs after MPs vote for December 12 election
Boris Johnson was firmly in election mode on Wednesday, trading barbs with opponents in the last Prime Minister's Questions before a snap December 12 poll.
He faced the House of Commons the day after securing an early election, aimed at ending the political deadlock over Brexit, on his fourth attempt.
It was a session for the history books, lasting 71 minutes — breaking the previous record set by his predecessor, Theresa May.
"This election is a once-in-a-generation chance," said opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was wearing a bright green tie in a nod to survivors and relatives of the Grenfell Tower fire.
"People have a chance to vote for real change after years of Conservative and Lib Dem cuts, privatization and tax handouts for the richest."
Johnson agreed "that there is a stark choice facing this country."
He said the choice was between "getting Brexit done and ending the dither and the delay" if the Conservatives won, and "economic catastrophe under the Labour Party."
The Commons is expected to be dissolved next week, paving the way for the official election campaign to start.
It follows the agreement by the European Union to delay Brexit, extending the UK’s membership until January 31, 2020.
The UK and the EU agreed a revised divorce deal earlier this month. But a missed deadline to get it approved at Westminster forced Johnson by law to seek the latest Brexit delay.
Johnson challenged on health and trade
In the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn attacked the prime minister over the state of the British health service and asked about reports of "secret meetings" with US companies.
Johnson accused the opposition Labour leader of anti-Americanism, asking whether Corbyn disapproved of "negotiations to ensure British patients get the drugs they deserve".
He also repeated his charge that Corbyn was guilty of "drift and dither" over Brexit, and alleged that his stance towards Scotland threatened the integrity of the United Kingdom.
The Father of the House, the pro-EU former Conservative minister Ken Clarke, challenged Johnson to provide more details over the government's "vague aspirations" regarding future trading relations with the EU.
The prime minister replied that there would be "zero tariffs, zero quota arrangements" with the EU, while the UK would also be free to strike trade deals around the world.
Under the UK-EU Brexit deal, once the UK leaves the EU trade negotiations would take place during a planned transition period which runs out at the end of next year. Any extension would have to be requested by the summer.
Critics have questioned whether the government can achieve a frictionless trade deal with the EU, given Johnson's intention to diverge from EU rules.
Tributes to Speaker John Bercow
Several politicians used the session to pay tribute to the House of Commons Speaker, John Bercow, who is standing down.
Johnson aluded to Bercow's passion for tennis, while adding that he disagreed with some of his innovations.
Corbyn said Bercow had stood up for parliament. Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson called him a "modernising" speaker who had dragged the chamber out of the past to face the future.
Bercow's term is ending after 10 years in the speaker's chair. He has often been a thorn in the government's side.