UK leaders' debate: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn clash over Brexit, security and fake news

Jeremy Corbyn (left) and Boris Johnson (right) will go head to head in the leaders' debate
Jeremy Corbyn (left) and Boris Johnson (right) will go head to head in the leaders' debate Copyright Reuters
By Rachael Kennedy
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his rival Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed over Brexit, security, fake news, and more in a leaders' debate six days before voters go to the polls.


Boris Johnson has clashed with political rival Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit, security and fake news in a leadership debate held six days before UK voters go to the polls.

It comes after a tense few weeks between the pair after Labour leader Corbyn twice revealed documents that he says provide proof the prime minister is misleading the public on his Brexit deal.

Johnson has denied these claims.

But what were the issues discussed in Friday night's debate?


Johnson, who has pledged to cut VAT on sanitary products, open free ports and control immigration in a post-Brexit UK, heavily criticised his opponent on Friday night for a "failure in leadership" for taking a neutral stance on the UK's withdrawal.

But Corbyn said such a stance was necessary to stop the country from "arguing with itself" and that he believed it was "a way of bringing people together".

He said his focus as prime minister would be placed on making sure manufacturing jobs would be kept in the UK, and that trade with the EU could continue.

The 'leaked' documents

Twice in a week Corbyn has held a press conference to hold up documents that he says prove the prime minister is misleading voters on Brexit — both of which became a hot topic in the debate.

The first conference, held last Thursday, saw the Labour leader present a 450-page document that he said served as evidence that the National Health Service (NHS) was "on the table" in trade talks with the US.


Johnson again faced scrutiny on Friday evening for the document, but dismissed it as "pure Bermuda Triangle stuff," before adding: "I believe very passionately in the NHS."

"We believe in the NHS free at the point of use...under no circumstances will we sell it off to anyone.

"I've made it absolutely clear to everyone that will not happen," he said.

In the second press conference — held earlier on Friday — Corbyn this time waved a 15-page document from the Treasury that he said contained "cold, hard evidence" his opponent had lied about avoiding a border in the Irish Sea post-Brexit.

He said it specifically talked about customs checks being in place for trade between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Again, forced to answer to this in the debate, Johnson argued that Corbyn's words were not true.

Major-Blair intervention

Also on Friday, two of the UK's former prime ministers spoke at a rally in a bid to warn voters against backing Johnson and other parties supporting Brexit.

Former Conservative prime minister Sir John Major was seen to break party ranks as his speech was broadcast, in which he called Brexit "the worst foreign policy decision in my lifetime".


He then introduced his political rival, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, to the stage, and noted that such an introduction was evidence of "strange alliances".

Issues surrounding Brexit and encouraging people to vote had brought the two former opponents together, he said, before adding: "absolutely at one".

READ MORE: UK's former Conservative PM breaks party ranks to urge voters to reject Brexit

In response to this assessment, Johnson said later in the evening he didn't believe Major was correct in his judgements.

He then made a stab at his former leader: "Unlike Mr Major, I lead a party that is totally united."


Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn lightly dismissed the lack of confidence from the political veterans, and said: "Tony Blair and John Major are welcome to make the comments they do."


The topic of national security in the UK has shot up the agenda since last week's deadly terror attack on London Bridge.

It was revealed that the attacker, Usman Khan, was already a convicted terrorist at the time of the incident, and had been released early from prison as part of a policy brought in by a former Labour government.

When pressed on this during the debate, Corbyn said he found the incident "utterly appalling" and that he would call for a review on early releases as prime minister — and further focus on rehabilitation, too.

Johnson was opposed to this, and said he found it "extraordinary" a convicted terrorist should not serve a full sentence.


He went on to say a bill was "ready to go" in parliament, which would see the abolishment of automatic early release on prison terms.


Fake news

Toward the end of the night, one audience member pitched the question: "What punishment is appropriate for politicians who lie during election campaigns?"

Johnson, who answered first, appeared to joke: "They should be made to go on their knees through the chambers of the House of Commons scourging themselves with the offending documents..."

However, Corbyn said he believed an independent process should be in place to tackle it.


If politicians "don't deliver, then there's a democratic process to deal with that in the future," he said.

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