1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn
Image: picture-alliance/AP/Itv

UK Election TV debate: Johnson vs Corbyn

John Silk
December 6, 2019

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn went head-to-head for the last time before next Thursday's general election. The pair clashed over Brexit, the NHS and national security.


The two leading candidates to be prime minister in Great Britain faced off on Friday in the final televised debate before voters head to the polls next week.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in his opening gambit, said: "Millions of people are struggling. They need an ambitious government on their side. A vote for Labour is a vote for real change."

Johnson, the Conservative leader and current PM, responded: "We can spread opportunity, and improve our services. But that will only happen with a Conservative government. If Labour gets in there will be chaos and two referendums," a reference to Brexit, the UK's looming departure from the European Union.


The exchange began relatively timidly before Johnson accused his opposite number of supporting the break-up of the United Kingdom as the two politicians argued over the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland.

"I find it slightly curious to be lectured about the union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland ... when he actually supported for four decades the campaign by the IRA to destroy it," Johnson said.

Corbyn refuted the allegation while praising the last Labour government for achieving peace via the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Britain: Rebel Tories vs. Boris Johnson


Next up the pair went head-to-head over the NHS, the country's free national health system.

"Labour will end privatization in the NHS and return it to what it was always intended to be ... a public health service," said Corbyn.

"President Trump has said many times people pay too little for US medicines around the world — that's the kind of agenda the [Conservatives] want to get involved with," he added.

Johnson dismissed the suggestion that the NHS is on the table in future trade negotiations with the United States as "pure Bermuda triangle stuff."

"Next thing we will be talking about is little green men," he said.


Both parties have mentioned significant investment in the upcoming parliament.

On public spending the PM said: "What we won't do is borrow hugely to fund day-to-day investment. That is the mistake that Labour would make. They would rack up our debts."

The Labour leader argued the country has "gone too far down the road of free market economics."

Corbyn said: If "every single bit of our manifesto was carried out tomorrow" the UK would "just about reach" the public service levels of France or Germany, never mind reaching the levels of Scandinavia.

The PM responded that Labour "always ends their time in office with an economic crisis."


Following last week's terrorist attack in London, an audience member asked about public safety.

Corbyn was first to respond: "You have to keep the public safe ... you have to give people that security, you don't get security on the cheap," in a thinly veiled criticism of Conservative policies on police spending.

He added: "There is no difference between wanting security and human rights, the two things are inextricably linked."

Johnson referred to the London Bridge attack, and said it was "extraordinary and wrong" that the attacker was given automatic early release after an earlier conviction for terrorist-related activity.

Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

The prime minister was asked about Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, notably candidates who have retweeted Islamophobic comments, as well as support for far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

"All those candidates have either apologized or are subject to investigation," he said.

Accusations of anti-Semitism have plagued the Labour Party in recent years and Corbyn said emphatically: "Anti-Semitism is wrong and totally unacceptable."

"We have suspended or expelled members when we have found them guilty of anti-Semitic behavior," he added.

"I do not ever use racist language in any form to describe anybody in this world," he concluded, in another swipe at his opposite number, who has been criticized for remarks about Muslim women, as well as other minorities.

Summing up

In his closing statement, the Labour leader said: "It was a radical Labour government that created the NHS."

"Today we must be ambitious on the same scale — the future really is ours to make together," Corbyn said. "On Thursday we can choose hope and vote for real change."

Johnson summed up by saying: "We can get Brexit done, get out of neutral and get a Parliament that works for you."

"Let's get it done, let's move on and vote Conservative on Thursday."

Led by Donkeys billboards

Each evening at 1830 UTC, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

Skip next section Explore more
Skip next section Related topics