LONDON — Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced tough questions and a skeptical audience in a live TV event Monday night ahead of next week’s parliamentary elections.
It was not a debate, but did air policy and stylistic differences between the two foes. They did not appear together but were questioned separately by members of the audience and by aggressive interviewer Jeremy Paxman.
The June 8 election pits May, the Conservative Party leader who opposed Brexit before the referendum last June but now favours it, against Corbyn, who has alienated many longtime Labour supporters with his hard-left views.
The “Battle for Number 10” show broadcast on Sky News and Channel 4 brought the two prime contenders together in the same studio at the same time, but they did not appear together at any point. Voters are not likely to get a true debate before the vote.
Facing harsh questioning from Paxman, one of Britain’s best known TV journalists, May defended her about-face on Brexit. She rebuffed his repeated attempts to get her to say whether she now thinks leaving the European Union is a good idea, saying only that the British voters have decided and that she is determined to get the best deal possible.
“We are doing the right thing in making a success of Brexit,” she said, vowing to maintain her reputation as a “bloody difficult woman” during talks with European Union leaders if her party wins the election and keeps power.
But Paxman set the tone by saying that if he were an EU negotiator who had observed all her recent flip flops, he would think of her as a “blowhard who collapses at the first sound of gunfire.”
May often found herself on the defensive as audience members grilled her on cuts to the police, National Health Service and education, and a so-called “dementia tax” that might make it harder for elderly Britons to pass on their property to their heirs.
At one point a heckler yelled, “You’ve clearly failed.”
Corbyn did not enjoy smooth sailing either, with Paxman making numerous accusations and typically cutting Corbyn off before he could reply. Paxman challenged Corbyn’s refusal to denounce the Irish Republican Army and his having met with Hamas officials and suggested the Labour leader would seek to abolish the monarchy if his party triumphed.
Corbyn said getting rid of Britain’s constitutional monarchy is “certainly not on my agenda.”
He said he was fighting the election for “social justice” and to reduce poverty, not to change the law regarding the monarch.