British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn prepared to square off Tuesday in the first media-aired debate of this year’s election campaign.
The hour-long encounter offers Corbyn a chance to make up ground in opinion polls, which show his Labour Party trailing Johnson’s Conservatives ahead of the Dec. 12 election.
The debate will feature only two candidates after the High Court in London rejected a legal challenge from two smaller anti-Brexit parties, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, over state media’s decision to exclude their leaders from the debate. The court decided it was a matter of “editorial judgment’’ to limit the format to the leaders of Britain’s two biggest parties.
Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union is the overriding issue in the election. Johnson pushed for the vote more than two years ahead of schedule in an effort to win a majority in the House of Commons that would pass his Brexit divorce deal with the European Union.
More than three years after the U.K. voted to leave the 28-nation bloc, the terms of the country’s departure and the nature of its future relationship with the EU remain unclear. Britain is now scheduled to leave the EU on Jan. 31, but British lawmakers have not yet passed Johnson’s deal.
The election pits Johnson’s Conservatives — with their promise to “get Brexit done” — against the Labour Party, which says it will hold a new referendum on whether to remain in the EU or leave the bloc. Smaller parties in the running include the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit; the Scottish National Party, which seeks Scotland’s independence from the U.K.; and the anti-EU Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage.
All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs.
The debate comes as the party leaders tried to sharpen their messages during a week in which party platforms are being launched.
Labour economy spokesman John McDonnell said that the party would tackle society’s “grotesque levels of inequality.” He criticized the status quo, saying dozens of billionaires are living in the country while other people are lining up at food banks and “dying on our streets.”
The Green Party, meanwhile, released its platform, pledging a net zero carbon target by 2030. Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said the party wanted to introduce a frequent flyer tax and that it was against airport expansions.
“When there’s a war, when we’re facing an existential threat, we don’t hold back, we know that we have to tackle it,’’ he said. “Frankly, if the climate were a bank, we would have bailed it out by now.”