Boris Johnson was challenged over his trustworthiness in the first ever TV head-to-head clash for No 10.
The Tory leader and Jeremy Corbyn traded blows over Brexit , the NHS and austerity at the live studio showdown in Salford.
Mr Johnson also confirmed that a plan for the social care crisis would be in the Tory manifesto – even though Theresa May ’s proposal derailed her campaign in 2017.
But audience members in last night's ITV election debate burst out laughing as Mr Johnson said the truth matters.
The Tory leader was even hit by an inaudible heckle as he made the bold claim in-front of a live studio audience.
Asked by host Julie Etchingham “does truth matter”, he replied: “I think it does”.
A ripple of laughter went through the audience – and someone shouted out at the PM, who was twice sacked from previous jobs for lying and has been accused by a former chief of staff of "betraying" everybody who has ever trusted him.
An audience member at the ITV debate, Fahad Sayood, had said that he was in “utter despair” about the state of British politics.
He claimed that under Mr Johnson’s leadership the level of debate had become “toxic and degraded” with “appalling” levels of abuse.
“How can the nation trust you to bring us back together?” he asked.
An unsettled Mr Johnson agreed that trust in politics had plummeted – but blamed it on Parliament blocking his Brexit Plan.
“The most fundamental reason for this is.. Parliament has repeatedly refused to honour that promise and respect the views of the public. “The way to restore trust in Parliament is to get Brexit done and move forward”.
The PM faced criticism in September for his dismissive response to MPs fearing for their lives over the Brexit divide.
But Mr Corbyn was applauded when he said: “Trust is something that has to be earned”.
And he added: “Whether you want to Remain or Leave, your issues are the same. Bring people together, don’t divide them.”
Host Julie Etchingham persuaded the two leaders to shake hands in agreement on improving the tone of political debate.
In a sign of the continued Brexit deadlock, a snap YouGov poll revealed 51% of viewers believed Mr Johnson had won the debate, while 49% percent said Mr Corbyn came out top.
A second YouGov snap poll on which party leader came across as more trustworthy put Mr Corbyn on 45%, with Mr Johnson trailing on 40%.
YouGov’s Chris Curtis said: “The public is divided on who won the debate, with most Labour voters thinking Jeremy Corbyn won, most Conservative voters thinking Boris Johnson won, and very few people changing their minds.
“But given the Conservatives went into this debate in the lead, they will hope the lack of a knockout blow means they can maintain this until voting day.”
The prime-time ITV slot, watched by millions of voters, was a key moment for the Labour leader to try to reassure the electorate that his policies would make the country a better place.
Mr Corbyn is currently lagging behind in the polls and the hour-long debate gave him the chance to project his vision straight into the nation’s sitting-rooms.
But viewer Kath Sherlock, from Bradford, asked for reassurance that the country wouldn’t be talking about Brexit forever.
Seven minutes into the clash, host Ms Etchingham urged the pair to confront each other over their Brexit plans.
Mr Johnson, in a bid to unite the Leave vote, insisted the choice was between his “oven-ready deal” and “more dither and delay” from Labour.
Turning to the Labour leader, Mr Johnson demanded: “Are you going to campaign for Leave or Remain?”
Mr Corbyn insisted: “I want to bring people together, therefore there will be a referendum.”
He said his “priority was obviously to get it sorted” and that Labour’s plans would “give you, the people, a final say”.
And he claimed it was “nonsense” that the PM’s deal was going to deliver Brexit by the end of January – as he still had to negotiate a trade deal with the EU which could take years.
“You’re not going to get it done in a few months and you know that perfectly well,” he added
Mr Corbyn accused the PM of conducting “secret meetings” with US officials about the NHS and a future trade deal.
But the flustered Tory leader hit back and said there were “no circumstances whatever” in which he would put the NHS on the table.
The Labour leader dismissed as “nonsense” claims he would agree a pact with the SNP after the election, which would trigger a second Scottish independence referendum in 2020.
He added: “If the SNP choose to put the Conservative Government back into office with its austerity programme that’s their choice.”
The Labour leader’s team believe that this week, including the launch of the Labour manifesto on Thursday, could be a decisive moment when public opinion starts to shift in their favour.
At this stage in 2017 Labour was further behind in the polls, but by election day had closed the gap significantly, enough to deprive Theresa May of her majority.
Mr Corbyn was on comfortable territory for the second half of the debate – during which focused on the devastation caused by almost a decade of Tory austerity.
The leaders clashed over the NHS, which Mr Corbyn warned was “suffering under the most incredible pressure”, school funding and the inequality gap between billionaires and the poor. He added: “Let’s end the privatisation within the NHS.”
They were also quizzed about the fallout from the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, and the American paedophile’s links to Prince Andrew, who denies any wrongdoing.
Asked if the monarchy was “fit for purpose”, Mr Corbyn smiled and said it “needs a bit of improvement”.
But the PM – who misled the Queen over the reasons for suspening Parliament, declared: “The institution of the monarchy is beyond reproach.”
Both stressed the need to remember Epstein’s victims, with Mr Corbyn adding there were “very, very serious questions that need to answered and nobody should be above the law”.
In his first public comments on the affair, the PM added: “The law must certainly take its course.”
When they were confronted by lighter questions, Mr Johnson said the foreign leader he most admired was the EU’s 27 leaders, while Mr Corbyn opted for United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
Asked what Christmas presents they would give each other, the PM said a copy of his Brexit deal and a jar of damson jam would be appropriate gifts for the Labour leader.
Mr Corbyn said he would give his counterpart a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Last night was the first time a sitting PM has agreed to a one-on-one debate with the leader of the Opposition, and Mr Johnson‘s advisers acknowledged beforehand that it was a major risk.
The PM, who was criticised for his reluctance to debate directly with his rivals in the Tory leadership election, sought to avoid any misstep which handed ammunition to his opponents.
The pair have only clashed at PMQs three times, even though Mr Johnson has been in power since July.
Mr Corbyn was upbeat when he arrived at ITV’s studios in Salford, saying he was “not in the slightest” bit nervous and he hoped it would be a “respectful and informative” debate.
He added: “I’ve eaten a caesar salad and had a couple of cups of tea and read a bit and talked a bit with my team. It’s been very pleasant”.
Mr Johnson was said to have snuck in the back door to avoid protesters.
Both men have been prepping for the debate with their top teams for days.
The Tory leader is being coached for the live showdown by Brett O’Donnell, an American Republican guru he worked with during the Brexit referendum.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove has reprised his role as the Tory leader’s opponent by acting as Mr Corbyn during rehearsals.
Mr Corbyn, however, has rejected outside help and has stuck with the same team of advisors who prepare him for PMQs every week.
A young Labour aide who insiders say does “a mean impression of Boris” has again being playing the role of the PM.
Before last night’s debate got underway, the PM was urged to take part in a separate TV showdown dedicated to climate change.
Mr Johnson has refused to commit to taking part in the debate – despite every other major party leader signing up.
More than 185,000 voters have supported a petition, organised by climate charity Possible, demanding the clash, which is backed by the Women’s Institute, National Trust and the National Education Union.
Possible director Max Wakefield said: “This must be our first climate election, and the public are telling politicians they’re ready for it. It’s time for all parties to recognise this is the fight of our lives, and debate how to go about the urgent changes we must make to win it.
“Opposition parties are ready to join the world’s first leaders TV climate and nature debate to ensure that happens – and it’s surely time the Prime Minister joined them.”
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