AFP: British PM and Labour leader spar over Brexit in first election debate20 November 2019 | 01:57 | FOCUS News Agency
The prime-time event, held in Manchester and broadcast on ITV, presented an opportunity for a potentially game-changing moment in an election campaign so far characterised as lacklustre.
But neither candidate appeared to land a knockout blow in the first of several planned televised debates, some also involving other smaller parties' leaders, ahead of the December 12 poll.
Frontrunner Johnson, who took over as the leader of the ruling Conservatives in July, relentlessly tried to keep the focus on his plan to finally take the country out of the European Union, reiterating his campaign mantra to "get Brexit done".
"We certainly will come out on January the 31st as we have a deal that is oven-ready," he said, also vowing to complete a future trading relationship with the bloc by 2021.
But in the testiest clashes of the hour-long debate, Corbyn said his rival's timetable was unrealistic and that Johnson was poised to sell out Britain's cherished National Health Service (NHS) in a future trade deal with the United States.
The veteran socialist accused Johnson of holding "a series of secret meetings with the United States in which they were proposing to open up our NHS markets... to American companies".
"You're going to sell our national health service out to the United States and big pharma," Corbyn said, waving redacted documents he said were accessed under freedom of information laws that detail preliminary UK-US negotiations.
Johnson responded that the accusations were "an absolute invention".
"The single biggest threat to our economy and our ability to fund the NHS is our failure to get Brexit done," he said.
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