Boris Johnson faced barbs over his trustworthiness, controversial newspaper columns and his funding plans for the NHS tonight as he ran the gauntlet of the Question Time audience.
The Prime Minister’s appearance on the BBC‘s flagship election special began with an immediate challenge over how important it is to ‘tell the truth’.
Amid jeers from the crowd, Mr Johnson insisted that the main threat to public trust was the failure to honour the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum.
‘I think it is absolutely vital,’ he said. ‘And I think that the issue of trust in politics is central to this election. ‘And fundamental to the corrosion of trust in politics at the moment is the failure of politicians to deliver Brexit.’
Mr Johnson was also challenged over delays to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 referendum. He dismissed claims it had been deliberately held back to avoid embarrassment as ‘Bermuda Triangle stuff’.
‘The people of this country voted to Leave,’ he said.
Earlier, Jeremy Corbyn faced a brutal onslaught from the audience on Question Time tonight as he desperately struggled to convince voters he is fit to be PM.
The Labour leader looked shocked as he was booed on the flagship BBC show when he tried to explain his party’s convoluted position on Brexit.
The Prime Minister’s appearance on the BBC’s flagship show began with an immediate challenge over how important it is to ‘tell the truth’
The Question Time election special in Sheffield this evening was hosted by Fiona Bruce
For the first time Mr Corbyn made clear the public will never know whether he personally wants to Leave or Remain – admitting he intends to stay ‘neutral’ in a second referendum rather than backing the new package he wants to negotiate with the EU.
Mr Johnson said Mr Corbyn’s Brexit stance appeared to have ‘mutated’.
The Prime Minister then said: ‘He is now going to be neutral on the deal that he proposes to do.
‘I don’t see how he can do a deal when he is going to be neutral or indifferent about the deal that he wants to do.
‘Never mind that. I do not think whatever deal Mr Corbyn proposes, I don’t think it is sensible for this great country of ours to spend next year in yet more delectable disputations about the EU and then another referendum on Scotland.
‘How can that be right for our country?’
The Question Time audience was made up of around 150 people which, the BBC said, was a roughly equal split between Conservative and Labour supporters with a smaller number for the Liberal Democrats and SNP.
It added that there was a slim majority for people who voted Leave over Remain, except for some who were too young to vote at the last election.
It is the second major TV showdown of the campaign so far – after the pair went head-to-head in an ITV special earlier this week.
That clash was generally seen as a draw, with Mr Johnson hammering his opponent over his muddled Brexit stance, while the Labour leader got in his key attack lines on the NHS.
This time they will be interrogated separately for 30 minutes by members of the public in the audience, with host Fiona Bruce trying to keep order.
Despite focus groups conducted for polling expert Lord Ashcroft in constituencies in the north of England last night suggested voters are highly sceptical of populist giveaways such as free broadband for everyone.
Worryingly for Mr Corbyn polling in the constituency of Great Grimsby this week found that the Brexit Party has been siphoning off Labour votes – apparently supporting Nigel Farage’s repeated claim that he will not split the Eurosceptic vote.
During a devastating 30-minute mauling, Mr Corbyn reeled as he was confronted by more voters over ‘misogynism’ and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. One man told him that he was not the ‘nice old grandpa’ he seemed.
‘Why do female escort in Washington DC MPs need bodyguards at party conference?’ they said.
The veteran was also asked whether business should be ‘frightened’ of a left-wing government, as a member of the audience said: ‘Your reckless socialist ideas are genuinely terrifying for me and my family.’
He was challenged over whether he would bow to Nicola Sturgeon’s demand for another Scottish independence referendum – which she has warned would be a red line for propping him up in power if there is a hung Parliament.
Jeremy Corbyn faced a battle to convince voters he is fit to be PM tonight as he was grilled on Question Time
Mr Corbyn also reeled as he was confronted by more voters on the flagship BBC show over ‘misogynism’ and anti-Semitism in the Labour Party
He eventually muttered that a new ballot should not take place ‘in the early part of the new Parliament’, but made clear it would happen.
He also floundered as he defended the party’s pledge to nationalise chunks of BT and offer free broadband to everyone in the country – which experts say would cost £100billion.
He initially claimed that South Korea had a similar system and everyone received free broadband, before admitting that many people there still paid for the DC escort service.
Mr Corbyn is desperately trying to overhaul the Tory advantage in the polls, which has been running at up to 17 points and consistently in double figures.