Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn debate ahead of UK election

By Ivana Kottasová and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 2:57 a.m. ET, November 20, 2019
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5:00 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

The debate is over. But who will get the final word?

Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images
Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images

We're wrapping up our live coverage after a scrappy televised debate in which both sides can claim to have taken something from.

Boris Johnson succeeded in making absolutely, undeniably, crystal clear that he has a Brexit deal secured with the EU.

The problem was his repeated "get Brexit done" mantra wore on the audience, and helpfully highlighted for Labour that the Prime Minister is reluctant to talk about much beyond the B-word.

Corbyn, meanwhile, was surprisingly unprepared to tackle Johnson's repeated question about how he would campaign in a second Brexit referendum, which is forming the central tenant of the Conservative post-debate spin.

But he was arguably more successful than Johnson in talking about other domestic issues, and dropped in a few quick retorts to Johnson's claims. The Prime Minister being met with laughter for saying the truth matters, meanwhile, provided an easy present for Labour.

Given that Corbyn entered the debate with far lower expectations, a score draw is possibly a better result for him than for Johnson.

But both sides averted disaster and, as the parties' respective press machines will whirl into the early hours, the final word on this debate may not yet have been spoken.

We'll be back to follow the fallout and prepare for yet more inevitable clashes between the two leaders on Wednesday.

5:00 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Here's how political reporters saw the debate

Observers are reacting on Twitter after the debate. Here's a handful of their thoughts.

The Sunday Times' political editor Tim Shipman said...

Mail on Sunday commentator Dan Hodges added:

For the Financial Times' Seb Payne, Johnson was the slight winner:

But Sky's Beth Rigby disagreed:

Meanwhile, ITV's Robert Peston picked up on the monarchy question:

And the Telegraph's Tim Stanley proposed an alternative format:

4:14 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Each side claims victory after tight debate

Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images
Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images

The verdicts from each party's press teams are in -- and in a shocker, each say their party won the debate.

Labour says "Jeremy won the first half by confronting Boris Johnson with papers from US trade talks highlighting Johnson’s secret plan to sell out our NHS to US corporations ... And in the second half, Boris Johnson disintegrated when faced with the human cost of NHS privatisation and the reality of nine years of austerity."

The Conservatives' Health Secretary Matt Hancock, one of a number of the party's MPs tweeting congratulatory remarks, tweeted: "Boris the clear winner. Has a plan on Brexit. And nailed Corbyn lies on selling the NHS."

The Tories' press account rebranded as "factcheckUK" for the night, tweeting supposed checks of Corbyn's statements. That approach was criticized by some, during a debate in which the Prime Minister was laughed at for saying that truth matters during this election.

4:00 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Both men make final statements

Corbyn and Johnson make their final statements, with the Labour leader encouraging people to register to vote and saying that the electorate should vote for hope by picking Labour on December 12.

Johnson's final remarks make another dig at Corbyn's refusal to say how he'd vote in a second Brexit referendum.

His unashamed mission to mention Brexit in every answer is drawing groans from the audience, and threatens to resemble Theresa May's "strong and stable" mantra that eventually dogged her campaign.

But he succeeded in underlining the differences between his and Corbyn's plans on the matter, and was able to get the last word in before the debate was drawn to a close.

And that's it -- a political slugfest where both sides can probably claim to have got the job done comes to an end.

3:55 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

What would Johnson and Corbyn leave under each other's Christmas tree?

We regret to inform you that it's time for that awful final question -- what do you like about the other candidate?

Except tonight, it has a Christmas twist. An audience member asks what present they would leave under the other's tree.

"I know Mr Johnson likes a good read," Corbyn says, saying he'd leave a copy of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" so he can understand how mean Scrooge was.

Johnson replies that he'd leave "my brilliant Brexit deal" under Corbyn's tree, drawing a laugh from the audience and his opponent.

3:53 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Corbyn and Johnson asked about Prince Andrew

It's the quickfire round! Etchingham says she wants quick answers to a couple of questions, befitting the game show-type set.

"Is the monarchy fit for purpose?," Etchingham asks.

"It needs a bit of improvement," Corbyn says, but Johnson says it is "beyond reproach."

"Is Prince Andrew fit for purpose?"

Corbyn says we should be talking about the victims first and foremost, and Johnson says all our sympathies with Epstein's alleged victims and the law must take its course.

The next question is on climate change, which Johnson calls a "colossal issue for the entire world." But then he says we must "get Brexit done," drawing groans from the audience.

Corbyn calls it "the most massive issue facing the whole world," receiving some heckling form an audience member.

3:43 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

Leaders clash over NHS, while Johnson calls Corbyn's four-day week plan "crackpot"

The debate moves to the NHS, which Corbyn would likely consider his home turf.

He responds to a question about the service with a personal story about a woman he knew, who waited for eight hours to see a doctor before passing away in recent days.

"It's one of the most civilized things about this country," he says of the NHS -- but it is under significant strain.

Johnson says the NHS is one of the most "beautiful" things about Britain and his government would continue to fund it. He claims he will build 40 new hospitals, a figure which has been disputed since he started making it during the summer.

"We can achieve that only if we have a strong economy," he adds.

But Corbyn cites recent figures showing that emergency room performance is at its worst rate ever. "Let's end the privatization within the NHS," he says, raising perhaps the biggest cheer from the audience so far.

"Of course we're not privatizing the NHS," Johnson replies, but he's stumbling over his answer and raising several different points at once.

He calls Labour's plan for a four-day week is "crackpot," but Corbyn says a shorter worker week is a "good thing for their health and wellbeing."

He then takes on that murky claim of 40 new hospitals -- saying it's only six new hospitals.

"Yes it is true we are starting with six," he says, but funding will follow for more. "So where does the 40 come from then?" asks Corbyn.

Then Johnson again brings up Brexit before being cut off by Etchingham. He likely won't be too pleased with his responses to this question.

3:36 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

This could get ugly

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee

This isn't going brilliantly for either man.

Johnson started off strong. Corbyn was unable to give a convincing answer on his Brexit policy for the first 10 minutes, leaving open road for Johnson to look Prime Ministerial and in control.

But as the debate moved on to issues of the Union, anti-Semitism and the toxic debate that currently plagues British politics, both men appeared unconvincing.

The gesture of a handshake, committing to raise the quality of debate, looked empty and ridiculous as Johnson didn't seem to take it seriously and Corbyn followed up by saying that Johnson would have to go a lot further to make up for his previous crimes.

This could be about to get ugly.

3:34 p.m. ET, November 19, 2019

The truth matters, says Johnson -- to laughs from the audience

Johnson, Corbyn and moderator Julie Etchingham at the start of the debate.
Johnson, Corbyn and moderator Julie Etchingham at the start of the debate. Jonathan Hordle//ITV via Getty Images

Another audience members asks how British people can trust either Johnson or Corbyn.

"Trust in politics and in Parliament has been eroded," Johnson says, but the fundamental reason for that is that MPs have voted down a Brexit deal.

"Trust is something that has to be earned," Corbyn says, and politicians need to listen to the people who elected them. "Everybody you meet knows something you don't know," he adds, saying his style of leadership is about listening to people.

Johnson says people should look at what he's promised to do as a politician and what he's delivered -- joining Corbyn in prompting some dreaded laughs from a few in the audience.

He then agrees that the truth matters -- getting yet more dismissive laughs.

Corbyn says the British people deserve to know what the parties' plans will cost, saying his manifesto will be fully costed.

Moderator Julie Etchingham asks if either man will take any personal responsibility for the erosion of trust in politics, bringing up Johnson's supposed lack of trustworthiness and the anti-Semitism scandal in Labour.

Corbyn says he despises anti-Semitism and will stand up to it, but Johnson replies that he was listening "open-mouthed."

Both men are then asked to make a pledge to improve the political debate, and agree to shake hands on stage. Let's see how long that one lasts.