LONDON – UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson got the better of Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn on Friday in their second and final debate ahead of the Dec. 12 general elections, according to 52 percent of viewers responding to a snap poll by YouGov.
Johnson appears to have thwarted Corbyn’s bid to deliver a knockout blow in the face of surveys indicating that the incumbent’s Conservative Party will win an absolute majority in next Thursday’s balloting.
The main themes of the debate, which aired on the BBC, were Brexit and the need for investment in public services.
Vowing again to “get Brexit done,” Johnson attacked Corbyn’s proposal for a second referendum giving voters the chance to choose between a new, Labor-negotiated withdrawal agreement with the European Union and remaining in the bloc.
While Johnson’s Conservatives are overwhelmingly pro-Brexit, Labor voters are divided and Corbyn has sought to accommodate those opposing views, insisting that he will remain neutral if there is a second referendum.
“We have a fantastic plan to get Brexit done,” Johnson said of the accord he reached with EU leaders in October, though Parliament declined to ratify the deal.
“The people want to turn the page,” the prime minister said, asserting that only a Conservative government can “unleash the potential of this country.”
If the Conservatives secure an absolute majority, Johnson pledges to take the UK out of Europe no later than Jan. 31 and to hammer out a new trading arrangement with the EU before the start of 2021.
Corbyn said that Johnson’s approach would lead only to years of “painful negotiations and broken promises.”
“What he (Johnson) will do is walk out of a relationship with the EU into a relationship with nobody,” the Labor leader said.
“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.
Labor’s platform calls for boosting public investment in the UK to levels last seen in the 1970s, to be financed by increasing taxes on the wealthy and big corporations.
“There are now 4 million children living in poverty in our country,” Corbyn said.
Johnson, the head of a party that has presided over nine years of austerity, said that he would make “massive investments” in healthcare and education.
To afford that spending, he said, the UK needs a “solid economy” that will only be achievable if Brexit is completed.