UK: Conservative, Labour leaders clash in TV debate

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) – Brexit dominated a televised debate between Conservative and Labour leaders Tuesday evening, just over three weeks before crucial general elections in the U.K.

The debate, hosted by ITV, started with opening statements from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who both underlined their Brexit policies.

Johnson said the U.K. would leave the European Union in the New Year and the Labour Party would form a coalition with the Scottish nationals, and this would give the country two more referendums.

Urging his voters to “get Brexit done,” Johnson said he has “a deal ready to go.”

"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," he said.

He warned the U.K. would face a further delay of departure from the EU under a Labour government.

Corbyn said he will put Brexit back to the people in a vote and "implement what you decide,” adding he believes in a “fairer Britain.”

"This election gives you a real choice about your future — the future of your community and of our country,” he said.

"Labour is offering real change and real hope," he added.

Corbyn also said the Conservative government has "failed" on the economy, on the climate crisis, the National Health Service (NHS) and Brexit.

He stressed that Labour would not enter a coalition with any other party.

– Irish border

The problematic Irish border issue was another point of discussion during the debate.

Corbyn argued that the “agreement that the prime minister…has put to Parliament was about creating a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and creating a different customs arrangement for Northern Ireland with the rest of Ireland, having promised to the Democratic Unionist Party he would never do that.”

"Clearly, there is an issue there. Clearly, there are issues all around about this deal he has proposed," he said.

But Johnson argued that his Brexit deal allows the whole of the U.K. to come out of the EU.

"Northern Ireland is part of the customs territory of the U.K. It's there in black and white."

– NHS

The country’s national health service was another topic of debate.

"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," said Corbyn, reiterating his claim that the NHS would be on the table in a post-Brexit U.S.-U.K. trade deal.

In response, Johnson said "this is an absolute invention.”

“It is completely untrue. There are no circumstances whatever in which this government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation."

– Election

British voters will go to the polls on Thursday, Dec. 12 for a general election.

The election will shape the next parliament, which will be dealing with the crucial Brexit policies of the country.

The U.K. decided to leave the bloc in a June 2016 referendum.

The country has negotiated a withdrawal agreement under previous Prime Minister Theresa May which failed to receive the green light from parliament in a series of votes.

Replacing May, Johnson has reached a revised deal with the EU, but he failed to receive support to legislate it after MPs voted against his proposal to fast-track it to leave the union on the Oct. 31 deadline.

The EU has granted a three-month extension until the end of January 2020 after Johnson was forced to request one by parliament.

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