BBC Question Time: Leaders get a grilling as audience takes them to task in General Election special

The leaders of the four biggest political parties in the UK faced an intense grilling from an unforgiving Question Time audience on Friday night.

Jeremy Corbyn revealed he would remain “neutral” in a second Brexit referendum under Labour, while Boris Johnson faced questions about his “racist rhetoric” and trustworthiness.

Mr Johnson refused to apologise for language he had used in columns he had written, and also defended austerity policies.

The Labour leader came under fierce scrutiny from voters when he was questioned over fears for businesses, anti-Semitism, misogyny, freedom of speech and Scottish independence.

As they try to tip the balance in the campaign for the December 12 General Election, the leaders of the four main parties were quizzed for half-an-hour apiece.

Boris Johnson defends his rhetoric when asked if he will apologise

But the highest levels of groaning and jeering were reserved for the frontrunners in the Sheffield studio.

Mr Corbyn made his clearest comment to date on how he would act in another referendum, which Labour plans to hold between a new deal and the option to Remain within six months of taking power.

Having been asked how anyone could vote Labour without knowing what outcome he would campaign for, Mr Corbyn said that he would start by negotiating a “credible” Leave deal before he was interrupted by laughing.

“And I will adopt, as prime minister, if I am at the time, a neutral stance so that I can credibly carry out the results of that to bring communities and country together rather than continuing an endless debate about the EU and Brexit,” he continued.

Host Fiona Bruce pressed Mr Corbyn on whether he would not pick a side during another referendum, as she brought his time to a close.

“Yes,” he replied. “First heard here on Question Time.”

The Tory PM was asked to apologise and admit he had personally contributed to “racist rhetoric” during his journalistic work.

Ms Bruce challenged him for comparing veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes”, referring to “watermelon smiles” and “flag-waving piccaninnies” and to “tank-topped bum boys”.

Mr Johnson said: “I have written many millions of words in my life as a journalist and I have… genuinely never intended to cause hurt or pain to anybody and that is my intention.

“What I will say because I think you are referring to a particular article of a year or so ago…”

The audience scoffed after Mr Johnson said: “If you go through all my articles with a fine-tooth comb and take out individual phrases, there is no doubt that you can find things that can be made to seem offensive and of course I understand that.”

Jo Swinson was later mocked for declaring she could be prime minister at the start of the General Election campaign.

Jo Swinson faces awkward first question before ruling out Conservative coalition

The Liberal Democrat leader was asked: “Do you regret starting off the campaign by saying you could be PM and do you now agree how ridiculous that sounded?”

“Start with the easy ones,” Ms Swinson replied before adding that the election was not a binary choice between Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson.

An audience member later asked the Liberal Democrat leader: “Is revoking Article 50 confirming to 17.4 million people that you think they’re stupid and didn’t know what we were voting for?”

Ms Swinson said she simply disagreed with people who voted Leave and did not think they were stupid.

An audience member later challenged the Lib Dem leader about her criticism of Mr Corbyn.

He said: “Jeremy Corbyn has been fighting anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms since before you were born, you’ve got some brass neck!”

Nicola Sturgeon was questioned about Scottish independence and the potential of neglecting Scotland’s interest over Brexit.

An audience member asked: “You argue that you’re so against Brexit and so on, but surely your own independence is another form of Brexit?”


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