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December 7, 2019

UK PM faces flak for ducking TV grilling


Sat, Dec 07, 2019

LONDON: Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fire on Friday for avoiding a set-piece television interview and faced accusations of misleading Britain about his Brexit deal, as he prepared to face a final general election debate with his main challenger.

Four other major party leaders have already subjected themselves to an uncomfortable grilling from Andrew Neil, who is one of the BBC´s top political interviewers.

But the prime minister has so far declined to do so, with less than a week to go until Britons go to the polls to elect a new parliament for the third time in four years.

The Conservative party leader brushed off fresh questions about the issue as he toured the southeast of England before the second and last TV showdown with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn at 2030 GMT.

"I´m the only prime minister to have done not one but, by tonight, two head-to-head debates," Johnson told reporters at a poster launch in Kent.

"I´ve done 118 sit-down interviews with journalists... We can´t do everyone," he added.

Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil said Johnson faced questions of trust, and it was his job to "scrutinise and hold to account those who would govern us".

"We´ve always proceeded in good faith that the leaders would participate. And in every election they have. All of them. Until this one," he said.

- 'Cold, hard evidence' -

Corbyn meanwhile claimed he had obtained leaked documents proving Johnson was "deliberately misleading the people" about his Brexit divorce deal.

He said finance ministry papers suggested there would be customs declarations and security checks between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland, contrary to what he had said.

"This is the cold, hard evidence that categorically shows the impact Johnson´s damaging Brexit deal will have on large parts of our country," the veteran socialist said.

"This drives a coach and horses through Boris Johnson´s claim that there will be no border in the Irish Sea," he added, suggesting the Tories could be withholding more details.

Corbyn is proposing to renegotiate a softer form of Brexit and then put it against staying in the EU in a second referendum

He has previously accused Johnson of cooking up a secret deal with US President Donald Trump to sell off the state-run National Health Service.

Both Trump and Johnson deny the claim.

The Conservatives claimed the Treasury paper was an "immediate assessment, not a detailed analysis of the deal" and was not used for decision-making purposes.

Party co-chairman James Cleverly said Corbyn´s leaked documents "don´t back up his wild conspiracy theories".

But in a blow to Johnson, a senior British diplomat in the US quit on Friday, criticising the government over Brexit.

Alexandra Hall said she could no longer "peddle half-truths" on behalf of political leaders she did not "trust", according to CNN, which obtained a copy of her resignation letter.

- Major intervention -

Johnson called the snap election to try to get a parliamentary majority which would enable him to secure backing for his deal for Britain to leave the EU.

Voting takes place next Thursday. The Britain Elects poll aggregator puts the Conservatives on 42 percent, Labour on 33 percent and the Liberal Democrats on 13 percent.

The Greens and the arch-eurosceptic Brexit Party were both on three percent.

Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major meanwhile intervened in the campaign Friday by calling for people to vote tactically to help ensure a second referendum on Brexit.

Major, a Conservative who was in power from 1990 to 1997, and Labour´s Blair, who ousted him and was in Downing Street until 2007, addressed a rally for another poll in London.

Both want Britain to remain in the EU.

Major gave his backing to several candidates thrown out of the Conservative ranks for rebelling over Brexit.

"Let me make one thing crystal clear, none of them left the Conservative Party, the Conservative Party left them," he said via video-link.

"Were I resident in their constituency I would vote for them."

Blair urged voters not to deliver Johnson the majority he craves to push through his Brexit deal.

"He does not deserve it," the ex-Labour leader said.

"I know this election is horrible," Blair added, noting he would be voting for his old party but that people should back "the best candidates" to stop Brexit.