ITV Debate: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn go head to head

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Weiner

Brexit, the NHS and trust were among the topics of debate as the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties faced off in the first major clash of the election campaign.

Neither seemed to land a knockout blow, with ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston describing "no significant fluffs".

A Twitter poll run by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand asking for who people believed won the debate resulted in 78% voting for the Labour leader.

While the poll is not scientific, just under 30,000 voted in total.

Boris Johnson focused on Brexit early on, asking more than once what Jeremy Corbyn would campaign for during any second referendum.


Mr Corbyn has dismissed Boris Johnson's pledge to "get Brexit done" by the end of January as "nonsense".

In the opening exchanges, the prime minister warned the UK faced more "dither and delay" under a Labour government.

He said a vote for the Conservatives would be a vote to finally "get Brexit done".

"If you vote for us, we have a deal that is ready to go. Approved by every one of the 635 Conservatives candidates standing at this election," he said.

"As soon as we can get that deal through Parliament, as we can in the next few weeks, we can get on with the people's priorities."

But Mr Corbyn retorted that he could not deliver on what he was promising.

"That idea that the Prime Minister Boris Johnson' deal can be dealt with and finished by the end of January is such nonsense," he said.

"What he is proposing is a trade deal which will take at least seven years to negotiate whilst at the same time saying he will negotiate a special trade deal with the European Union.

"The two things are actually incompatible."

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks reports from behind the scenes during the debate

Mr Johnson also challenged the Labour leader about a future referendum, asking: "Are you going to campaign for Leave or Remain?"

Mr Corbyn replied: "I want to bring people together, therefore there will be a referendum in which that decision will be made by the British people and our government will abide by that decision."


Mr Corbyn's shifted focus onto the NHS, claiming the service would be part of trade negotiations with the US.

Mr Corbyn accused the prime minister of conducting "secret meetings" with the US about the NHS and a future trade deal.

The Labour leader said: "What we know of what Mr Johnson has done is a series of secret meetings with the United States in which they were proposing to open up our NHS markets as they call them to American companies."

To this claim, Mr Johnson replied: "I'm amazed how often this comes up."

Mr Johnson insisted: "This is an absolute invention, it is completely untrue, there are no circumstances whatever that this Government or any Conservative Government would put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiations."

The Union or Brexit?

Asked if the union is more important than Brexit, Mr Corbyn opened by initially replying to "nonsense" suggestions from the prime minister about a coalition between Labour and the SNP.

Both highlighted the importance of the Union.

Mr Corbyn said: "There's not going to be a coalition between Labour and anybody else. There are no deals that have been done and there will be no deals that are done."

On the union question, Mr Corbyn said: "Our country is obviously very, very important and we have to bring this business to a close, and that's why we're proposing a trade deal with Europe or staying in - one or the other - as a way of bringing this issue to a close."

Mr Johnson said: "The union is, of course, the most important thing. It's a fantastic thing."

Scottish Independence Referendum

When it came to the Scottish Referendum, Mr Johnson argued a coalition would be formed between Labour and the SNP and a second vote would follow.

Mr Corbyn, asked to rule out a second referendum before the end of the first year of a Labour government, said: "I've said there would be no deal with the SNP, there would be no support for a Scottish referendum in the early years of the next Labour government because I want to invest in Scotland and give Scotland the £70 billion it needs in capital investment."

He said it was "their choice" if the SNP leadership "chooses to put the Conservative government back in office".

Mr Johnson added: "I listened very carefully as I always do to Mr Corbyn - I didn't hear him say he was going to rule out a referendum on Scotland. Did you?"

The Prime Minister claimed his Brexit deal allows the whole of the UK to come out of the EU, adding: "Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the UK. It's there in black and white."

Trust and personal character

A member of the audience asked how the two can be trusted.

The prime minister and Labour leader shook hands before the advertisement break and agreed to work together to tackle "nastiness in politics".

The pair were asked by host Julie Etchingham to "make a gesture" towards one another after what she described as a hostile political environment.

Earlier, they were asked to address questions about their personal character.

Directed to answer about anti-Semitism complaints against the Labour Party, Mr Corbyn said: "Anti-Semitism is an absolute evil and scourge within our society.

"Racism in any form is a scourge in our society. I have taken action in my party where anyone who has committed any anti-Semitic acts or made any anti-Semitic statements, they either suspended or expelled from the party and investigated every single case. We do take this very, very seriously indeed."

When asked about "telling the truth in politics", Mr Johnson attacked Mr Corbyn's leadership and said: "It's a complete failure of leadership what's happened with anti-Semitism, but the failure of leadership is even worse when you look at what is happening on their Brexit policy."


Both Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson said they would invest in public services and increase government spending after a General Election.

Mr Corbyn said: "We will end austerity, I am absolutely clear about that because it is so brutal on the lives of so many people."

Mr Johnson said: "I believe in spending, investing massively in our public services because we support ... a dynamic wealth-creating sector."

The Monarchy

Asked if the monarchy is fit for purpose, Mr Corbyn simply replied: "It needs a bit of improvement."

Mr Johnson answered: "The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach,"

Ms Etchingham then asked if Prince Andrew is fit for purpose.

Mr Corbyn highlighted how sympathies should be with Jeffrey Epstein's victims, which Mr Johnson echoed.

Christmas Gifts

Before their closing remarks, the prime ministerial hopefuls were asked what Christmas presents they would buy for each other.

Mr Corbyn said: "I know Mr Johnson likes a good read, so what I would probably leave under the tree for him would be A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and he could then understand how nasty Scrooge was."

Responding, Mr Johnson said: "I would probably leave a copy - since you want a literary reference - a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal."

Pressed by host Ms Etchingham to give a non-political answer, Mr Johnson said: "Mr Corbyn shares my love of plants and trees. I think maybe some damson jam," to which Mr Corbyn said: "I love damson jam."

How they opened

Mr Corbyn was first up and opened the debate with the first speech - an advantage often coveted by debaters.

He said: "This election gives you a real choice about your future - the future of your community and of our country.

"Labour is offering real change and real hope."

Mr Corbyn said the Conservatives have "failed" on the economy, on the climate crisis, the NHS and Brexit.

Speaking second, Mr Johnson said a vote for the Tories is a vote to "get Brexit done".

"If you vote for us, we have a deal that is ready to go. Approved by every one of the 635 Conservatives candidates standing at this election," he said.

"As soon as we can get that deal through Parliament, as we can in the next few weeks, we can get on with the people's priorities."

How they closed

In his closing remarks, Mr Corbyn urged viewers to register to vote in a "once-in-a-generation election".

He added: "This is a once-in-a-generation election to end privatisation and give the National Health Service the funding it needs. To give people the final say and get Brexit sorted.

"To tackle the climate emergency that threatens our futures. To invest good jobs in every region and nation of our country.

"I ask that you vote for hope and vote Labour on December 12."

Summarising, Mr Johnson accused Mr Corbyn of being "unfit" to be prime minister.

He added: "Mr Corbyn, you've heard tonight, cannot answer the fundamental questions. Is he for Remain or Leave and what price would he pay to secure Nicola Sturgeon's support to enter Number 10?

"If he can't answer those questions tonight, I don't think he's fit to lead our country."

Reaction from the Spin Room in Salford

Michael Gove accused Jeremy Corbyn of "a terrifying display of intellectual vacuity" over his Brexit stance.

Asked about the audience's laughter at Boris Johnson when asked about telling the truth, Mr Gove told reporters: "There was open laughter at Jeremy Corbyn's failure to answer the questions on Brexit. People want Brexit done, they want an end to the paralysis.

"What we have had from Jeremy Corbyn was a terrifying display of intellectual vacuity, he simply has no answer to the essential question ... does he want us to be inside the European Union or out?"

Speaking after the debate, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said: "Well, there is no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn is a better debater than Boris Johnson.

"But on the key issue of the day, Brexit, nine times Jeremy Corbyn would not say as Prime Minister that a second referendum that he'd call, whether he'd vote Leave or Remain.

"That is a failure of leadership."

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said laughter at Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit was not concerning and instead criticised Boris Johnson for trying to talk about the issue at every opportunity.

Asked about the laughter, the Labour candidate told reporters: "That didn't worry me at all. What I think was worrying was Boris Johnson's inability to answer a straight question, or rather, not inability, but his decision not to answer questions straight.

"Also, he tried to make every single issue about Brexit, this is a General Election. The Brexit crisis the Conservatives have created is only one of many crises the Conservatives have created.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was unimpressed by both leaders.

She said: "I was mentioned several times. I wasn’t impressed with either of the leaders and the big take away for Scotland is that we shouldn’t allow either of these men to determine our future.

"We have Boris Johnson who wants a hard Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn who can’t even tell us whether he is in favour of leaving the EU or remaining in the EU.

"I don’t think either of them are fit to be prime minister certainly not on the strength of those performances tonight.

"It really underlines the importance of for Scotland to get our future out of the hands of Boris Johnson Jeremy Corbyn a broken Westminster system and taking our future into our own hands."

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne and Michael Gove had a heated debate with ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks in the spin room.

During the fiery exchange on Brexit, Mr Gwynne told Mr Gove: "You're turning into Boris Johnson telling half-truths here, there's no referendum on Scotland Michael and you know it!"

The public's reaction

Leaders of the two main parties take part in debates like tonight's, in part, to try to win over undecided voters.

A YouGov snap poll suggested 51% of Britons believed Mr Johnson won the debate compared to 49% for Mr Corbyn.

Those who answered "don't know" were removed from the result, with YouGov adding the figures are so close as to be within the margin of error.

  • ITV News Correspondent John Ray reports as Leeds University lined up a group of 100 undecided voters to watch the debate and monitored their responses using technology developed by Dr Anna De Liddo, of The Open University, in collaboration with the University of Leeds.

Chris Curtis, YouGov's political research manager, said: "Our snap poll shows that the public is divided on who won the debate, with most Labour voters thinking Jeremy Corbyn won, most Conservative voters thinking Boris Johnson won, and very few people changing their minds.

"But given the Conservatives went into this debate in the lead, they will hope the lack of a knockout blow means they can maintain this until voting day."