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Election Live: Party leaders grilled by voters on policies

Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon faced questions from the studio audience in Sheffield.

Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon (PA)
Jeremy Corbyn, Boris Johnson, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon (PA)

By PA Reporters

The leaders of the four largest Westminster parties clashed in another TV set-piece.

The BBC aired a two-hour episode of Question Time in Sheffield, where an audience quizzed Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for 30 minutes each.

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The Leaders’ Special (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

All four had to field difficult questions with Mr Johnson again asked about the importance of truth-telling, Mr Corbyn’s neutral Brexit stance coming under scrutiny, Ms Swinson tackled over the Lib Dems’ former role in coalition with the Tories and Ms Sturgeon tested on how she would pursue a second Scottish independence referendum.

9.02pm

The Prime Minister tweeted promptly after the programme, to repeat his familiar message of getting Brexit done and unleashing Britain’s potential.

9.00pm

Bruce wasted little time after the Prime Minister left the stage in bringing down the curtain on the programme.

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Fiona Bruce took the reins (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

8.55pm

The Prime Minister said that a sound economy was necessary if public services were to be maintained and alleged Labour governments produced what he termed an “economic shambles”.

Persistently questioned on investment in the NHS, he defended the investment in the service and said getting Brexit done was key to this, saying it was “hanging over us” and again deriding politicians for trying to frustrate the 2016 referendum decision.

He hailed his great deal ready with the EU in his final remarks, departing to some cheers from the audience.

8.50pm

Mr Johnson said the party had a strong record on tackling Islamophobia and pointed out the Conservatives had produced two women prime ministers.

He said the Conservatives were trying to encourage women into the workforce.

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Boris Johnson on stage in Sheffield (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

He defended criticism that the party had not met its pledges on recruiting GPs but said he wanted more and to inject more funds into the NHS.

He was told that morale was low in the health service and and replied, saying the party was trying to address doctors’ problems.

8.45pm

Asked about some of his articles and whether they were offensive or racist, Mr Johnson said he had not sought to offend anyone.

Mr Johnson said: “I have written many millions of words in my life as a journalist and I have… genuinely never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody and that is my intention.

“What I will say because I think you are referring to a particular article of a year or so ago…”

Bruce stepped in to say: “To be fair, there’s a few articles. So there’s the Muslims going around looking like letterboxes, which was last year, you referred to tribal warriors with watermelon smiles and flag-waving pickaninnies and then just to get another demographic in, tank-topped bum boys.”

The audience scoffed after Mr Johnson said: “If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course I understand that.”

The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas tweeted to say Mr Johnson’s remarks had fuelled hate crimes and deriding his failure to apologise.

The Question Time audience was made up of around 150 people which, the BBC said, was a roughly equal split between Conservative and Labour supporters with a smaller number for the Liberal Democrats and SNP.

It added that there was a slim majority for people who voted Leave over Remain, except for some who were too young to vote at the last election.

8.40pm

The Prime Minister compared his record on home building favourably to Labour’s and also fielded a question from a single mother about support.

Asked about releasing a report on alleged Russian influence in UK politics, he said he saw no reason to interfere with the normal timetable of releasing such a document.

He derided “Bermuda triangle” conspiracies.

The audience had laughed and groaned when the Prime Minister said MPs were “given every opportunity” to pass his Brexit Bill.

Responding to a question about scrutiny, Mr Johnson said: “On your point about the reasons for having an election, let’s be in no doubt, I didn’t want to have an election. No prime minister wants to have an election on December 12. We had to do it because Parliament is blocking Brexit.”

The audience erupted into groans when Mr Johnson said: “They were given every opportunity to pass it … every opportunity to pass and they passed a law to insist that extended it beyond October 31.”

8.35pm

Mr Johnson said he wanted 2020 to be a big year for the country, repeating his mantra of getting Brexit done and highlighting Tory policies.

He criticised suggestions of second referendums both on Brexit and a possible second Scottish independence vote.

The Prime Minister said he had visited hospitals and schools and said the Conservatives were putting more money into primary and secondary institutions.

He praised his record when her served as mayor of London, highlighting his stance on the living wage.

Chancellor Sajid Javid tweeted his approval, saying: “PM showing we are the workers party: “We have already cut income tax for over 30 million working people. Now a
@Conservatives majority government will go further by cutting National Insurance too.” #BBCQT”

8.30pm

She hailed Lib Dem policies including including on same-sex marriage and then departed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel was among those to criticise Ms Swinson’s stance with a tweet saying only Mr Johnson could deliver Brexit.

Then Mr Johnson took her place on stage, becoming the last of the four leaders to get the opportunity to state his case.

He said: “And I think that the issue of trust in politics is central to this election.

“And fundamental to the corrosion of trust in politics at the moment is the failure of politicians to deliver Brexit.”

Bruce asked Mr Johnson why he thought he was being asked about telling the truth.


8.25pm

Ms Swinson reiterated her opposition to fracking but faced further claims from an audience member that the Lib Dems were a right-wing party, replying that her party was liberal and internationalist but not socialist.

She said sometimes the Lib Dems agreed with Labour but they were a separate party.

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Jo Swinson (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

Asked about her willingness to press the nuclear button if she becomes prime minister, Ms Swinson said it was not the right time to get rid of the nuclear deterrent, saying it kept the country safe.

She said the weapons could be a bargaining chip in negotiations but said she did not want to scrap the weapons.


8.20pm

Ms Swinson said schools needed more funding.

Asked if the party was dividing the Remain vote, she said Mr Johnson would offer a horror Brexit deal if returned to power while Mr Corbyn was also offering a deal but said someone had to offer a Remain option.

She urged voters to prevent Mr Johnson from winning a majority and said the Lib Dems were best placed to stop the Tories in some parts of the country.

One audience member accused Ms Swinson of having a “brass neck” for criticising Mr Corbyn over perceived anti-Semitism in the party but said she trusted the experience of the likes of Luciana Berger, the former Labour MP who is now a Lib Dem.

8.15pm

Pointing out the UK was still in the EU she said the party had already stopped Brexit twice, in March and October.

Ms Swinson said there was no easy answer and acknowledged the divisions on the issue, saying she did not think there was a quick fix.

She said the economy was not working well for people and said leaving the EU would make matters worse and that people would be poorer with less money for the NHS.

On student debt, she said she would not promise to abolish tuition fees, questioning whether it could be delivered and if the sums added up.

8.10pm

Ms Swinson ruled out any new coalition with Tories, citing Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and former EDL activist Tommy Robinson’s support for Brexit as reasons not to consider such a pact.

On the issue of trust, she admitted the party had broken faith in the coalition years with its policy on tuition fees.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at the Octagon (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Asked if the policy of repealing Article 50 had backfired, she defended the policy.

Ms Swinson said: “We are being very straightforward as a party that we want to stop Brexit. You might agree with us, you might disagree with us.

“I don’t think you can accuse us of not being upfront about wanting to stop Brexit. We’ve been crystal clear about that from the very beginning.

“Not for one second do I think that means that you or anybody like you is stupid. I think it means we disagree.”

8.05pm

Ms Swinson said that the world was unpredictable saying that Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election win and Mr Corbyn’s accession to the Labour leadership were not predictable events.

She was then grilled for what an audience member suggested was Lib Dem support for Conservative austerity policies during the coalition government years.

She said the party had learned lessons from its spell in power with the Tories, acknowledging the party had “got stuff wrong”.

Responding to an audience question, Ms Swinson said: “We also had plenty of fights with the Conservatives and we won some of those fights and we lost some of those fights and I am sorry that we did not win more of those fights in coalition.”

Asked about Brexit and Ms Swinson’s party Remainer stance, Ms Swinson said the party was being up front about wanting to stay in the EU.

8.00pm

Pursued on Scotland’s oil reserves, Ms Sturgeon hailed the country’s move towards greener energy sources but said a managed transition was already under way.

She said she would power on with such a transition.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford praised Ms Sturgeon’s performance with a tweet.

Ms Sturgeon then left the stage to be replaced at the podium by Ms Swinson who was immediately asked by an audience member if it was ridiculous that she had suggested she might be prime minister, saying she did not regret the remark saying voters did not have to choose between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn.

She said: “There is still three weeks left in this campaign, and all I would say to anybody that thinks that you can predict the outcome of the election in the middle of the campaign – ask Theresa May how that worked out last time around.”

7.55pm

Ms Sturgeon was quizzed about drugs policy including from an audience member who had experienced their own difficulties.

Asked what she would do in a coalition government, she said she did not envisage such a deal but acknowledged a less formal arrangement could be reached.

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Nicola Sturgeon during the BBC Question Time Leaders’ Special (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

She said she would stand up for decentralisation with some regions of England, advocating a less London-centric approach from Westminster.

She said SNP MPs would not dictate devolved policies such as health to England but said matters that affected the whole NHS including a trade deal would have to be addressed by all parts of the UK.

She added however: “Often the decisions that are taken at Westminster on the health service, for example, have implications for our budget.

“One of the big issues in the next parliament, potentially, for the health service, is trade deals.

“We all have to come together, those of us who don’t want our NHS sold off, to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“We will seek to exercise influence, of course in Scotland’s interests, but where it is appropriate, in the interests of people right across the UK.”

7.50pm

Ms Sturgeon, asked if the 2014 Scottish independence vote had been once in a generation, pointed out to an audience member that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union had changed the circumstances.

Asked about plans to “break up” the UK, Ms Sturgeon criticised investment policies in Scotland and said her grandmother was from the north of England.

She said she wanted Scotland to govern itself but underlined its historic and close ties with its neighbours.

7.45pm

Ms Sturgeon was asked by an audience member to set out what she would do and said she first wanted Scotland’s voters to send a message at the election about what they wanted doing.

She was also asked whether the European Union would admit an independent Scotland to the bloc but Ms Sturgeon rejected suggestions that Scotland would not be allowed to do join.

She said Spain, which has faced a secession bid from Catalonia, would support the process if it was constitutional and said Brexit had changed attitudes in the EU to Scottish independence.

7.40pm

Ms Sturgeon said that her party had shown the way with progressive policies and said she wanted the whole of the UK to stay in the European Union.

She said Scotland, which voted strongly to Remain, had been treated with contempt in Westminster and she reiterated that she considered Brexit to be a mistake.

She accused Brexiteers of messing things up.

7.35pm

Ms Sturgeon wasted no time in saying that a second independence referendum would be high on her wishlist but that she would also be seeking guarantees on policies to end austerity.

She suggested Mr Corbyn might be more willing to negotiate after the election rather than before it.

Ms Sturgeon said that in return for her party’s support any Labour government would need to respect the right of the Scottish people to “choose their own future”.

Ms Sturgeon doubted Mr Corbyn’s current stance on not sanctioning another independence referendum in the early years of a Labour government.

She said: “Do you think he’s going to walk away from the chance to end austerity, to protect the NHS, stop Universal Credit, simply because he wants for a couple of years to prevent Scotland having the right to self-determination?

“I’m not sure he’s going to compromise the chance to have a Labour government for that issue.”

7.30pm

As Mr Corbyn’s segment came to an end, he said he was seeking an outright win for Labour and not contemplating a deal with other parties.

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Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (Jeff Overs/BBC/PA)

He had been questioned about a potential deal with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament but ended his pitch by saying he was offering hope and again confirming his policy not to take sides in a new Brexit vote.

Closing the Corbyn segment of the debate, Bruce asked: “And just to be clear, in a yes or no answer, you are telling us tonight that you will… remain neutral on the issue of whether or not we should remain within the EU?”

Mr Corbyn replied: “Yes,” adding: “First heard here on Question Time.”

Mr Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds joined in the mockery of Mr Corbyn with her own tweet.

Labour’s Ian Lavery praised his leader’s performance.

Leaving the stage, Mr Corbyn was replaced on stage by Ms Sturgeon.

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was another not to be impressed by Mr Corbyn’s performance, scorning his stance of neutrality.

7.25pm

Mr Corbyn said his party’s tax policy would not affect 95% of the population, but would be targeted.

Asked whether Scotland’s people would be allowed another vote on their future, Mr Corbyn said he did not see a new independence referendum as a priority but vowed to invest in the country. Further questioned by Bruce, he said it would not be allowed in the first part of a Labour-led government.

7.20pm

On climate change, Mr Corbyn said his party’s green policies would create jobs, citing a tidal lagoon project in Swansea.

He said the party would invest in transport and social infrastructure for the whole country.

7.15pm

Asked to say if he would campaign for Remain or Leave in any referendum on Brexit, Mr Corbyn faced jeers when he said he would adopt a neutral stance and carry out the instruction of the people.

He said his policy would bring the country back together again after another audience member said the country had already made its decision.

Mr Corbyn said he would adopt a “neutral stance” if he were prime minister during a second referendum.

An audience member asked: “Will you campaign to remain or leave the EU if elected. Why would anyone vote Labour without knowing the answer to that question?”

Mr Corbyn replied: “One, we will negotiate a credible Leave deal with the European Union,” at which point the audience started laughing.

He continued: “I’m trying to answer the gentleman’s question. Secondly, we will put that alongside Remain in a referendum.

“My role and the role of our government will be to ensure that that referendum is held in a fair atmosphere and we will abide by the result of it.

“And I will adopt, as prime minister, if I am at the time, a neutral stance so that I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring communities and country together rather than continuing an endless debate about the EU and Brexit.”

Another audience member praised Mr Corbyn’s stance, comparing it with the policy of former Labour PM Harold Wilson.

Conservative Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab quickly mocked Mr Corbyn’s position with a tweet.

7.10pm

Asked about the treatment by some party members of a then Labour MP Ruth Smeeth and anti-Semitism, Mr Corbyn defended the party’s record on freedom of speech and said the party had acted on cases of racist abuse.

Responding to an audience member who said that “freedom would be completely eroded” if Mr Corbyn got the keys to Number 10, the Labour leader said: “I absolutely defend the right of free speech.

“Freedoms and rights in a democracy are very, very important.

“I have spent my life getting into hot water for defending people because I believed their human rights should not be violated and that’s the kind of government that I intend to lead.”

A member of the audience asked: “I look at a video of Ruth Smeeth online where she was in a press conference with you and Ruth Smeeth, a Jewish MP, was heckled out of that press conference… and there you are at the end of the press conference chatting happily to that same heckler. I don’t buy this nice old grandpa, I see that video and that tells me all I need to know.”

Responding, Mr Corbyn said: “Nobody should suffer any abuse in public life or privately,” adding: “Many women Labour MPs, Ruth Smeeth included and others have suffered the most unbelievable levels of abuse.

“And it was a Labour MP Jo Cox who was murdered because she stood up in public life. I simply say to you that bad behaviour, misogynism, racism in any form is absolutely not acceptable in any form whatsoever in my party or in society.”


7.05pm

Mr Corbyn was quick to defend policies described by one audience member as socialist and vowed to take back into public ownership railways and water companies and highlighted plans for a national broadband service.

He said businesses should have nothing to fear from a government led by him.

Mr Corbyn was asked if “businesses should be frightened of an incoming Labour government”.

He replied: “No, they should not be frightened of an incoming Labour government because our country’s economy relies on many small and medium-sized enterprises that are the motor of our economy.”

He added: “The biggest businesses will be asked to pay a little bit more in corporation tax but it will be lower than it was in 2010 and indeed lower the average of most industrial countries.”

7.00pm

Fiona Bruce, standing at the podium, introduced the programme in front of the TV audience with Mr Corbyn becoming the first leader to take his seat before making opening remarks.

6.50pm

Mr Corbyn struck a determined tone as he arrived at the venue.

6.45pm

Labour candidate for Hemsworth Jon Trickett posted footage of Jeremy Corbyn supporters gathered outside the Octagon in Sheffield ahead of the programme.

6.30pm

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “excited” ahead of the event, while Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson was pulling no punches.

Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon did her homework on the way.

PA

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