Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn have locked horns over Brexit and the NHS in the first television election debate of the campaign.
Immediately after the debate, Johnson edged a snap YouGov poll by 51% to 49%. However, the study for Sky News found that Corbyn was considered more trustworthy (by 45% to 40%) and more in touch with ordinary people (by 59% to 25%).
But Johnson was regarded as both more prime ministerial (54% to 29%) and more likeable (54% to 37%).
The pair clashed at length over Brexit, with Johnson vowing to “end this national misery” and claiming that Labour offered “only division and deadlock”. Corbyn countered that Labour would “get Brexit sorted by giving you, the people, the final say”.
Corbyn was laughed at when he repeatedly refused to be drawn on which side he would campaign for during a second referendum. Johnson also provoked derision and mirth when he said the truth matters to him.
The two party leaders also tackled questions about the NHS, the future of Scotland, the environment and the Royal Family.
At the end of the broadcast, leaders were asked what present they would give each other for Christmas. Corbyn said he would get the Johnson a copy of Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens “and then he can understand how nasty Scrooge was”.
Johnson said he would gift the Labour leader “a copy of my brilliant Brexit deal” or “some damson jam”.
The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said it was not clear if either men had won or lost the debate, despite “a lot of huffing and puffing” and “over eager attempts to land and repeat their stock lines”.
“No one really landed any telling blows, with the whole show descending into second-rate light entertainment,” says The Guardian’s John Crace, adding that the debate was something of a “non-event”.
The Times says that Johnson “talked over” the host too often, adding that Corbyn’s performance “felt lower energy than 2017”. The Sun feels that the debate “turned into a scrappy, uninformative contest with too many interruptions, like a badly refereed boxing match”.
If it felt as though neither leader seized the moment, that may be because, as Beth Rigby of Sky News said, “voters don’t want either of these leaders for Christmas.”
Indeed, The Independent’s Tom Peck said: “The audience won the leaders’ debate – because they didn’t believe a word of it.”
The view of many was summed up by The Times which says, “a questioner who said that Britain was looking on ‘in despair’ was cheered”.
For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world – and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda – try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today