Brexit Bulletin: What to Watch For in Tonight’s Debate

Thomas Penny

Days to Brexit deadline: 73

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Today on the campaign trail: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will make political history in tonight’s TV debate.

What’s happening? The two men battling for the job of U.K. prime minister will go head-to-head tonight in the first TV debate of the general election campaign — the first ever to include only the two main party leaders.

Can Johnson deliver a knock-out punch? The prime minister sparred with a boxing trainer ahead of tonight’s bout, but he may be more vulnerable than his opponent. So far his handlers have carefully controlled his media appearances, and for many voters this will be the first time they’ve seen him so exposed. With a double-digit poll lead, Johnson has the most to lose if he fails to engage with the audience, in the studio and at home.

How could Corbyn win? This is a big opportunity for the Labour leader to land some punches in an election that has, so far, been drifting away from his party. Corbyn will need to blend his radical policy platform with attacks on his opponent to turn it around. When Johnson was Mayor of London, Labour demonstrated that he gets rattled when he’s pressed on detail, so Corbyn may go for forensic attacks on his record.

Johnson has repeatedly accused Corbyn of “dither and delay” over Brexit and just this morning published an open letter calling for clarity. He will double down tonight, accusing Corbyn of being soft on crime and a threat to prosperity with his socialist vision for the economy. Johnson’s challenge will be to look prime ministerial while keeping control over his desire to make people laugh.

Corbyn will highlight the threat to the National Health Service from Johnson’s Brexit deal, which he says makes the state-run health care system vulnerable to takeover by U.S. corporations. He will be able to counter Johnson by pointing out that the Conservatives have been in power for nine years.

Johnson has been twice sacked for lying. Corbyn will look to exploit the lack of trust in the prime minister. His challenge is that he’s not the surprise insurgent that he was in 2017, and he will need to convince voters that he offers something new, positive and realistic.

Who will win? We wouldn’t like to predict, but bookmaker Paddy Power makes Corbyn the 4/5 favorite to emerge on top. Pollster YouGov will publish a snap poll after the debate.

Today’s Must-Reads

Election spending pledges come too late for many parts of the U.K., where a decade of austerity economics has taken a brutal toll, Andrew Atkinson and Lucy Meakin report. Veteran Tory-backing journalist Peter Oborne says in the Guardian that he has “never encountered a senior British politician who lies and fabricates so regularly, so shamelessly and so systematically as Boris Johnson.” “An inflexible Brussels is damaging its own interests over Brexit,” Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe, writes in the Financial Times.

Brexit in Brief

On the Markets | The pound was slightly down at $1.2930 at 4 p.m. in London, with traders treading water ahead of the debate. Meanwhile, HSBC’s global head of foreign exchange strategy said sterling could swing either way depending on the result fo the election.

Subdued Optimism | British manufacturing improved slightly in November, according to the Confederation of British Industry, though the sector remains subdued amid ongoing political uncertainty at home and slowing global growth.

Bare Bones | The EU’s trade chief Sabine Weyand — previously number two on the Brexit negotiating team — sees a “bare bones” trade agreement, at best, if the U.K. sticks to its plan to seek a deal by the end of 2020, according to the Sun. We reported in October on how the next Brexit deadline is a major threat for Boris Johnson.

Fly on the Wall | The BBC will air a behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling Boris Johnson’s first months as prime minister, his battles over Brexit and the election campaign, Press Gazette reports. Presented by political editor Laura Kuenssberg, it will be the BBC’s second Brexit-themed documentary of 2019.

Data Probe | The Brexit Party is being investigated by the Information Commissioner’s Office following complaints it failed to hand over personal data it holds on voters, Sky News reports. The Brexit Party told Sky there was a “coordinated attempt” by campaigners to flood it with requests for data during the European Parliament elections earlier this year.

Rebels on the Ground | Two high-profile ex-Conservative MPs are on the campaign trail bidding for re-election as anti-Brexit independents.

Meltdown | One million commemorative Brexit coins minted with the old Oct. 31 exit date will be melted down.  Bloomberg first reported the meltdown at the mint in October.

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To contact the author of this story: Thomas Penny in London at tpenny@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Adam Blenford at ablenford@bloomberg.net, Lisa Fleisher

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