MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson doubled down on his Brexit promises on Tuesday, saying only he could take Britain out of the European Union quickly in a testy leadership debate with opposition Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn.
Conservative leader Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are seen during a televised debate ahead of general election in London, Britain, November 19, 2019. Jonathan Hordle/ITV/Handout via REUTERS
After the hour-long debate, polls showed the public were split over who was the victor: 51% said it was Johnson while 49% backed Corbyn – a result that analysts said reflected better on the Labour leader, who is trailing in opinion polls.
Both leaders tried to undermine the other in the first such debate before a Dec. 12 election, called by Johnson to break the Brexit deadlock that has hurt Britain’s international standing and weighed on the world’s fifth largest economy.
At one point, the host, ITV’s Julie Etchingham, asked the two men to shake hands and promise to improve the tone of political debate in Britain, which is deeply divided since voters backed leaving the EU in a 2016 referendum.
“We certainly will come out on January the 31st, because we have a deal … that is oven ready,” Johnson said, reinforcing a message he has used throughout the election campaign that his Conservative government would end the Brexit crisis quickly.
Johnson is promising to implement the exit deal he negotiated with Brussels and lead Britain out of the EU by Jan. 31. He pledged to meet a 2020 deadline to secure a trade agreement for Britain’s long-term relationship with the EU.
He took aim at Corbyn, saying his promise of a second referendum would only prolong Britain’s departure from the EU,