MAIDSTONE, England/LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn clashed over Brexit on Friday in the last televised debate before next week’s election that will determine the path for Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Six days before Britain votes in its second national election in less than three years, the debate was seen as the last chance for Corbyn to squeeze Johnson’s lead in the polls, which mostly point to victory for the prime minister.
A snap poll by YouGov found 52% of viewers thought Johnson had won the debate.
The two leaders set a combative tone over how to leave the EU and in their very different offers for domestic policy – “socialism carried out in a democratic way” from Corbyn, or “one-nation Conservatism” that will not “rack up debts” from Johnson.
More than three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, the Dec. 12 election will determine when, how and even whether Brexit happens.
Johnson ridiculed Corbyn’s support for a new referendum in which Corbyn has said he would remain neutral, while the Labour leader said the prime minister’s pledge to “get Brexit done” actually meant years of trade talks.
“We have ample time to get on and build a new free trade partnership, not just with the EU but with countries around the world,” Johnson said in the BBC television debate.
But Corbyn countered that it would take the government seven years to negotiate a trade deal with the United States and said business could not live with the uncertainty that Britain might still leave the EU without a deal next year.
Polls show Johnson’s governing party is well ahead of Labour. A Panelbase survey on Friday showed the Conservatives extending their lead slightly over the opposition party to nine points,