Friday 18 September, 2020

Johnson under pressure ahead of final UK election TV debate

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits on a train in London, December 6, 2019, on the campaign trail ahead of the general election on December 12. (Peter Nicholls/Pool via AP)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson sits on a train in London, December 6, 2019, on the campaign trail ahead of the general election on December 12. (Peter Nicholls/Pool via AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing to take on opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the last head-to-head debate before a general election in six days — and facing allegations that he’s shirking tough questions about his character and record.

Friday’s televised showdown comes amid an ongoing controversy over Johnson's decision to avoid an in-depth interview with Andrew Neil, a BBC journalist known for his forensic questioning. Four other party leaders, including Corbyn, endured such a grilling, and Neil has accused Johnson of "running scared.''

Neil issued a challenge to Johnson on national television Thursday, saying political leaders in the last two UK elections had agreed to be interviewed by him — “All of them. Until this one.”

He said Johnson needed to answer questions about trust, “and why at so many times in his career, in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove, a Johnson ally, urged voters to call 10 Downing Street and ask whether Johnson would agree to the interview.

He recited the number on LBC radio, and said “if you ring the prime minister’s diary secretary, he will know, or she will know, what the prime minister is going to do.”

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs next Thursday. Opinion polls put Johnson’s Conservatives ahead, and the party is keen to avoid any slip-ups that could endanger that lead.

Johnson pushed for the December vote, which is taking place more than two years early, in hopes of winning a majority and breaking Britain's political impasse over Brexit. He says that if the Conservatives win a majority, he will get Parliament to ratify his Brexit divorce deal and take the UK out of the EU by the current January 31 deadline.

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