(Bloomberg) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn go head-to-head in the final scheduled leadership debate ahead of the Dec. 12 general election. The Conservatives still enjoy a healthy lead in opinion polls but will be wary of any gaffe or misstep that could undermine Johnson’s bid for a parliamentary majority in the last days of campaigning.
Ahead of the debate, the premier accused Corbyn of trying to “fiddle” the result of the second Brexit referendum the Labour leader wants by allowing European Union nationals to vote. Corbyn in turn said Johnson is misleading voters over the impact of the divorce agreement with Brussels.
Meanwhile, Johnson is facing a backlash over his decision not to give an interview to the BBC’s Andrew Neil, who delivered a prime-time condemnation of the prime minister, calling it “a question of trust.”
Must Read: Britain’s Brexit Election Is Now a Referendum on Jeremy Corbyn
For more on the election visit ELEC.
Corbyn accuses Johnson’s government of misleading voters on the impact of his Brexit dealJohnson-Corbyn BBC debate in Southampton at 8.30 p.m. Sky News announces result of YouGov’s snap poll on the winner at 9:30 p.m.BBC interviewer Andrew Neil attacked Johnson for refusing to be interviewed by him, accusing him of avoiding scrutinyBetting odds show a 71% chance of a Conservative majority, according to LadbrokesThe Tory lead is now below 10 points, according to the BritainElects poll tracker
Johnson Denies Brexit Means N. Ireland Checks (12 p.m.)
Boris Johnson dismissed as “complete nonsense” Labour’s statement that his Brexit deal would mean checks on goods passing between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, though he said he hadn’t read the government document Jeremy Corbyn’s party produced earlier (see 10:30 a.m.) to back up its position.
Speaking to journalists at a campaign event in Kent, Johnson said voters should “believe exactly what I say” on Brexit, and repeated his assertion that there would be no checks on goods traveling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. — unless they were destined for the Republic of Ireland.
But the Treasury document released by Corbyn matches what government ministers, including Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay, have previously conceded: That some checks will be necessary on goods traveling in both directions.
At the event, Johnson attacked Corbyn’s decision not to pick a side in the second Brexit referendum the Labour leader has pledged to hold if he wins the election. He also repeated the line that the divorce deal with Brussels allows the country to leave the EU “as one whole U.K.” It’s a line his former Northern Irish allies, the Democratic Unionist Party, do not agree with.
Corbyn Says He’s a ‘Marmite’ Choice for Voters (11 a.m.)
Jeremy Corbyn acknowledged he’s a divisive figure among voters, a trait that’s borne out regularly in opinion polls. Following his speech in central London on Friday, he compared himself to Marmite — a spread made from yeast extract that’s long been sold in the U.K. under the slogan “love it or hate it.”
Asked whether he’s turn-off for voters, Corbyn replied: “I think Marmite’s really good for you. Some people like it and some people don’t.”
Must Read: Britain’s Brexit Election Is Now a Referendum on Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn has the lowest leadership satisfaction rating for any opposition leader since 1977, according to a recent poll by Ipsos Mori. Even some of his allies have commented on the issue. “There have been some reservations about Jeremy on the doorstep, because every single leader of every single political party is not to everyone’s taste,” Labour’s education spokeswoman Angela Rayner told Sky News last month.
Labour: Document Shows Threat to N. Ireland (10:30 a.m.)
The document presented by Jeremy Corbyn is a Treasury assessment of the economic and political impacts of the Northern Ireland protocol — the part of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal covering how goods moving across the Irish Sea between Northern Ireland and mainland Britain are checked and taxed.
According to the document, customs declarations and physical checks will be “highly disruptive” to the Northern Irish economy. The Treasury also says that 98% of Northern Irish exporters to Great Britain are small-to-medium sized enterprises, who are “likely to struggle to bear” the cost of these changes.
In terms of imports to Northern Ireland, high street goods are likely to increase in price. Johnson’s deal will constitute “tariff equivalents of 30% on purchases in Northern Ireland,” according to the document.
The document also appears to cast further doubt on Johnson’s repeated assertions that his withdrawal agreement takes the U.K. “whole and entire” from the EU. It’s not a new dispute — the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which propped up the Tories in government, declined to back the Brexit deal because they said it treats the province differently to the rest of the U.K.
The deal “has the potential to separate Northern Ireland in practice from whole swathes of the U.K.’s internal market,” the document reads.
Corbyn Says Johnson Hiding Truth on Brexit Deal (10 a.m.)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn unveiled what he called a confidential government document he said proves that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hiding the truth about the impact of his Brexit deal on the U.K.
In a speech in London, Corbyn said the 15-page document “drives a coach and horses” through Johnson’s claim that there will be no border in the Irish Sea after Brexit and that it was a “great deal” for Northern Ireland. It shows, he said, that the government has admitted there will be customs declarations and security checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain.
“Johnson’s deal will be disastrous for businesses and jobs across the whole U.K.,” Corbyn said. “And the government’s confidential report confirms this.”
Gove Defends Johnson Swerving Neil Interview (9 a.m.)
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove denied that Boris Johnson is avoiding accountability by being the only major party leader not to do a televised interview with BBC journalist Andrew Neil. “The prime minister has done more than 100 interviews during the campaign so far,” Gove told BBC Radio. “It’s an unprecedented amount of scrutiny that the PM has allowed to happen.”
Neil himself challenged Johnson to agree to an interview at the end of his grilling of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage on Thursday. “We have an interview prepared — oven-ready, as Mr. Johnson likes to say,” he said.
Click here for Neil’s monologue.
“The theme running through our questions is trust, and why at so many times in his career in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy,” Neil said. “The prime minister of our nation will, at times, have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. It was surely not expecting too much that he spend half-an-hour standing up to me.”
Labour campaign coordinator Andrew Gwynne sent a complaint to the BBC Thursday, accusing the public broadcaster of being “complicit in giving the Conservative Party an unfair electoral advantage.” He said Labour had arranged party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the understanding Johnson had agreed the same terms.
Johnson has also declined an invitation to be questioned by ITV’s Julie Etchingham as part of her series of leader interviews. ITV said they will run a profile of Johnson featuring archival footage instead.
Britain’s Brexit Election Is Now a Referendum on Jeremy CorbynU.K. Election Primer: Britain’s Economic Future Held in BalanceThe Big Brexit Bet That Hasn’t Paid Off: Therese Raphael
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