General election 2019: Parties clash over Brexit in TV debate

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media captionITV debate: Parties tackle question of no-deal Brexit

Leading figures from the UK's political parties have clashed on Brexit, the NHS and terror legislation in the latest televised general election debate.

Labour's Richard Burgon declined to say during the ITV programme which way he would vote in the EU referendum his party is promising, if it wins power.

Tory Rishi Sunak was pushed to rule out a no-deal Brexit if the Conservatives won, but did not give a direct answer.

The UK goes to the polls on 12 December.

Labour's shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon defended Jeremy Corbyn's decision to remain neutral in the event of a second referendum, saying the Labour leader was "determined to bring the country together and heal divisions, not try to exploit them for votes".

Brexit clashes

Pressed by presenter Julie Etchingham on whether he would vote to stay in the EU or leave in another referendum, he said: "I want to speak to my local Labour Party members after a Labour government comes back with that deal and then we'll decide how we approach that."

media captionLabour's Richard Burgon on Brexit: 'It would be for the people to decide'

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said being neutral showed Mr Corbyn was a "bystander not a leader", but Mr Burgon said her party's policy of cancelling Brexit was "not very liberal, not very democratic".

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who also wants another referendum, added it was "dreadful" that the Conservatives want "Brexit at any cost" and Labour "can't even decide what side they're on".

She pushed Conservative minister Mr Sunak to rule out a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year if the Conservatives failed to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

The chief secretary to the Treasury insisted "we already have a deal", prompting Ms Sturgeon to say that that was a withdrawal deal, not a trade deal.

image copyrightAmy Bramall/ITV via Getty Images)
image captionJulie Etchingham hosted the debate

Mr Sunak said a trade deal was "in the future", adding that "we can only get to that future" by respecting the result of the EU referendum and leaving.

The UK would continue to abide by EU rules under the terms of Boris Johnson's EU deal until 31 December 2020, by which time he says a permanent trading relationship will be agreed with Brussels.

But his opponents say that raises the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of next year, if an agreement is not reached by then.

Green party co-leader Sian Berry said the best way to finish off the Brexit process was "more democracy" by having a "people's vote".

Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price and Ms Swinson said Brexit should be cancelled altogether.

Mr Price said the economic effect of leaving the EU would divide the rich from the poor and "will not be the answer to our problems".

But Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said a second referendum would cause "even more division and acrimony".

His party has pledged to leave the EU and move to World Trade Organisation trading rules if a free trade agreement cannot be struck by the end of next year.

Trump 'hatred'

In a particularly spiky exchange, Ms Swinson attempted to use Mr Farage's defence of US President Donald Trump against him.

The Brexit Party leader acknowledged that some of Mr Trump's comments about grabbing women were "wrong" .

"It was crass and it was crude and it was wrong - men say dreadful things sometimes," he said.

"If all of us were called out for what we did on a night out after a drink...", he said, before being interrupted by the Lib Dem leader.

"Is that what you do on a night out after a drink?" she asked.

Mr Farage replied: "He is president of the USA and that relationship matters. You are so anti-American you are prepared to put your hatred of Trump above our national interest. That is a great mistake."

media captionFarage on Trump: 'Men say dreadful things sometimes'

Scotland's first minister Ms Sturgeon accused Mr Johnson of modelling himself on Mr Trump.

But Mr Sunak said the UK's relationship with the US was "incredibly important for keeping us safe" and was "not something to turn your nose up at".

Terror attack

There were also heated exchanges over the the release from prison of Usman Khan, who went on commit the London Bridge terror attack.

Mr Sunak said the Conservatives wanted "tougher sentences" and he defended Mr Johnson against claims he had politicised the attack, saying it was "incumbent" on the prime minister in an election "to explain to people how they will keep them safe".

Mr Burgon said he was "very uncomfortable with the way the discussion from the Conservatives moves straight from a tragedy to reheating pre-packaged political lines smearing the Labour Party".

"I think our democracy, regardless of our parties, should be better than that".

Mr Farage said: "I think these people should never ever be let out prison unless we are absolutely convinced they do not have the jihadi virus. But political correctness stops us from doing that."


Mr Sunak accused Labour of making "baseless allegations" that the Conservatives would sell the NHS, as part of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

He told Mr Burgon: "The real risk to the NHS are your reckless plans for the economy, Richard, which will mean there isn't money to invest, and silly plans like the four-day week."

But the Labour shadow minister replied: "It is not Labour's policy to have a four-day week in the National Health Service."

Challenging the comment, Mr Sunak said: "John McDonnell stood there and said very clearly that it would apply to everyone. Are you now saying that he was wrong?"

Mr Burgon replied: "No, I'm reiterating what he said before which is the idea of people working a four-day week at some point in the future - in maybe 10 years - is something which could be considered."

Shadow chancellor Mr McDonnell said last month that Labour's plans for a 32-hour working week will apply to all employees, including those in the NHS, and will be implemented over a decade.

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