Johnson hits back at Labour claims NHS will be sold to US firms

By Gwyn Wright
November 19 2019, 22.55

Boris Johnson repeatedly sought to fend off Labour claims his party will privatise the NHS in tonight’s ITV Leaders’ debate.

Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn spent 30 minutes clashing over Brexit before duelling it out over the NHS in a debate widely seen as a dead heat.

Brandishing what he claims were redacted minutes of a secret meeting, Corbyn said: “We know Mr Johnson has done a series of secret meetings with the US in which they were proposing to open up our NHS to American companies.”

The prime minister immediately countered adding: “Our NHS will never be for sale.

“This is an absolute invention. It is completely untrue. There are no circumstances whatever in which this Government or any Conservative government will put the NHS on the table in any trade negotiation.”

He claimed £34billion is being invested – though a campaign pledge to build 40 hospitals has been criticised after it emerged funding was only in place for six.

The prime minister vowed a policy on social care would feature in his forthcoming manifesto and said no one should have to sell their home to pay for care.

Both leaders said austerity was over and pledged to boost spending.

The leaders clashed over Labour plans for a four-day week, but Johnson claimed a further delay to Brexit was the biggest threat to the economy.

He said: “If we go on with more deadlock and division next year, if we fail to get Brexit done, then the economy will suffer.

“Mr Corbyn, you’ve heard tonight, cannot answer the fundamental questions. Is he for Remain or Leave and what price would he pay to secure Nicola Sturgeon’s support to enter Number 10?

“If he can’t answer those questions tonight, I don’t think he’s fit to lead our country.”

Johnson was asked by moderator Julie Etchingham whether he has found a magic money tree, a comment made by his predecessor Theresa May, and Corbyn was asked whether he had found more than one of them. Johnson retorted his rival has a ‘money forest’ – one of his better lines of the night.

Johnson claimed his government is investing in public services because he has the economic headroom to do so after nine years of spending restraint.

He claimed Labour plans for borrowing would ‘push up interest rates for every household in this country’.

Corbyn described the election as a ‘turning point in the way we are going to manage the economy in the future’, adding Britain was now ‘a society of billionaires and the very poor’.

He pledged a £10 living wage, an end to zero-hour contracts and new manufacturing jobs.

Corbyn said a Labour government would increase corporation tax to similar levels as in 2010 to a fund an end to tuition fees – levels which Johnson claimed would be the highest in Europe.

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