LONDON — The first TV debate of the U.K. general election was — surprise, surprise — predominantly about Brexit.
Conservative leader Boris Johnson and Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head in a live clash — the first ever between just two prime ministerial candidates — in a debate broadcast on ITV ahead of the election on December 12.
The prime minister said he would “absolutely” clinch an EU trade deal by the end of December 2020 but refused to say whether he would mint a new coin in celebration, after the government was forced to melt a set of 50p pieces it had made for the missed October 31 withdrawal deadline.
“We have ample time to do a fantastic free trade deal with all our friends and partners in the EU because we’re already in the state of perfect alignment both for tariffs and for quotas,” Johnson argued.
He repeatedly asked Corbyn whether he would campaign for Leave or Remain in the fresh EU referendum which the Labour Party has promised — but the leader of the opposition refused to answer.
“We will negotiate an agreement, and we’ll put that alongside Remain in a referendum, and our government will abide by that result,” he insisted.
Audience members laughed when Corbyn said he had made his Brexit position clear, and they laughed at Johnson when he said the truth mattered in the election.
Elsewhere on Brexit, the Labour boss took Johnson to task over allegations the government held meetings with U.S. pharmaceutical companies in which post-Brexit drug pricing was discussed. Corbyn has used the claims to argue the NHS will be on the table in trade negotiations after Brexit.