The UK's Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took diverging tacks over Brexit negotiations Monday as they faced a tough live TV grilling ahead of June's general election.
Ten days before the snap poll on June 8, the two rivals bizarrely separately faced questions from members of the public before interrogations by Jeremy Paxman, a broadcaster famed for his aggressive interview technique.
May had refused a face-to-face debate with Corbyn, whose opposition party has in recent days narrowed the gap in the opinion polls.
One poll published showed her lead had been cut to 6 percentage points from 9 points a week ago and 18 points two weeks ago with voters reacting badly to the Conservatives' manifesto.
May is facing a fierce backlash for her plans to make elderly voters pay more towards the cost of their old age care, forcing her to perform an extraordinary U-turn by watering down her "dementia tax". The proposal had raised concerns that some seniors might see their houses sold off to pay for their health care, rather than be passed on to their loved ones.
Brexit takes centre stage
While Corbyn insisted he would "make sure there's a deal" with the European Union before Britain leaves the bloc, May said she was "prepared to walk out".
"No deal is better than a bad deal," the 60-year-old prime minister repeatedly said in the Sky News/Channel 4 "Battle for Number 10" broadcast, which quickly started trending on Twitter with many mocking the premier’s catchphrase
"We have to be prepared to walk out," the premier insisted, noting that some people in Europe were "talking about punishing us".
May was laughed at by some members of the audience when interviewer Jeremy Paxman asked whether the EU would see her as a "blowhard who collapses at the first sign of gunfire" after she flip-flopped on her “dementia tax” plans.
Disappointing some Labour supporters, her 68-year-old rival Corbyn said the "reality" of last year's Brexit referendum result had to be respected. The left winger insisted, "We will make sure there's a deal".
"We won't start the negotiations with megaphone diplomacy, threatening Europe with some kind of offshore tax haven on the shores of Europe," he said in a dig at May's efforts to handle Brexit.
Both candidates officially supported staying in the EU before the referendum held last June, which saw 52 percent of British voters opt to leave the bloc.
Formal talks on Britain's withdrawal are due to start on June 19, just 11 days after the general election.
May triggered Article 50 -- the formal procedure for leaving the EU -- in late March, opening a two-year timetable for negotiations before withdrawal.
Security was also high on the agenda on Monday, in the wake of the Manchester suicide bombing a week ago which saw 22 people killed, and led to brief suspension in political campaigning.
May, who was heckled by the audience during the televised questioning, was asked by a serving policeman about "devastating" cuts to police numbers during her six-year tenure as interior minister. Back at a conference in 2015, she had been warned by a top Manchester police officer, that the city’s officers were now only “reactive” due to her cuts.
She responded that the government had to ensure that Britain was "living within our means" given "the economic situation we had inherited".
She said budgets were currently being protected for both counter-terrorism forces and overall policing.
Corbyn: His ‘controversial’ past
Corbyn meanwhile was grilled over his controversial relationship with the Irish Republican Army, nuclear deterrence and whether he would abolish the monarchy, given his republican stance.
"It's not on anybody's agenda, it's certainly not on my agenda and, do you know what, I had a very nice chat with the Queen," he said.
Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party and a leading Brexit
campaigner, said in a surprise tweet that Corbyn came across in the broadcast as being "totally sincere", although he did not agree with him.
"Saying 'no deal is better than a bad deal' 4 times will win May the election. But she is a weathercock who believes in very little," Farage said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2017-05-30