Corbyn: It's a shame PM has not joined in head-to-head debate

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Jeremy Corbyn has hit out at Theresa May for refusing to debate with him on television, saying it was a "shame" that she had decided not to take part in a head-to-head showdown.

The Labour leader followed the Prime Minister onto a BBC Question Time special, but the two did not face each other in a debate.

Mr Corbyn was challenged about his approach to Brexit and said the UK would not "necessarily" be poorer as a result of leaving the European Union.

The Labour leader said: "I'm very sorry this is not a debate, this is a series of questions. I think it's a shame the Prime Minister hasn't taken part in a debate." 

On Brexit, Mr Corbyn defended his team's ability to handle the negotiations, with immediate legislation to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK and work to "guarantee trade access to the European markets and protection for the conditions we have achieved through EU membership".

He said the "great team of very experienced people" included Sir Keir Starmer, one of the "leading lawyers" in the country.

"I think I can trust Keir Starmer with negotiations more than some other people who are undertaking those negotiations," he said.

Challenged about shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner's assertion that the UK would "absolutely be poorer" after Brexit, Mr Corbyn said: "I don't think we necessarily would be poorer.

"I hope that we would retain the trade access and I hope also that we will have a Labour government that will be investing in a growing economy in this country and challenging the terrible levels of inequality that exist in this country at the same time."

 

Leaving the EU would mean "there is no longer a legislative authority over UK law within the EU or parliamentary consent for it".

There would be an "independent and separate relationship with the EU" after Brexit, he said.

Mr Corbyn hit out at US President Donald Trump over his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change deal - and Mrs May's decision not to sign a letter with other EU leaders condemning the move.

"I utterly deplore Donald Trump's decision," he said. "I would sign a letter with any other leader that would deplore that, straightaway."

The Labour leader insisted he would not strike a deal with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and was working for a majority Labour government.

"We are fighting this election to win and we are mounting a fantastic campaign in order to get that message across of how different our society and our politics could be," he said.

"We are contesting all the constituencies. We are not looking to do deals with anybody, we are not forming a coalition government. I want to form a Labour government with a majority to carry out this amazing programme which can give so much hope and opportunity to so many people."

 

 

Mr Corbyn was challenged by small businessman Steve Rudd, who said he did not know if he would be able to expand his company and create jobs with the prospect of rises in personal tax and corporation tax if Labour wins power.

"My choice and the choice for my clients is a Conservative government or a Labour government and ...  there is a 9% difference between what the Conservatives are proposing for corporation tax on larger businesses and what Labour is proposing," said accountant Mr Rudd.

Mr Corbyn said that under his plans, some small businesses would face no rise in corporation tax rates.

But he defended Labour's plans to ask for a total of £48 billion in additional taxes, to be paid by big business and the top 5% of earners.

"We are asking the very biggest corporations to pay a bit more, but I tell you what - I think it's worth it," said the Labour leader.

"It's worth it so that any young person can go to university and not leave with debt. It's worth it to make sure school headteachers don't have to collect at the school gate in order to pay the teachers' salaries.

"I think it's worth it for a better society in which everyone can achieve something."

And addressing Mr Rudd directly, Mr Corbyn said: "All of your clients, I'm sure, require workers, they require skilled workers, at various times.

"If we as a society don't look at the problems throughout our school and education system and invest in it properly, where are the skilled workers going to come from tomorrow?"

He added: "It's a question of whether the community gets together to support everybody or we just let the rich get richer and the rest suffer."

Asked how he would react if Britain was under imminent threat from nuclear weapons, Mr Corbyn said: "I would do everything I can to ensure that any threat is actually dealt with earlier on by negotiations and by talks, so that we do adhere to our obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

"I think the idea of anyone ever using a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world is utterly appalling and terrible.

"It would result in the destruction of the lives and communities and environment for millions of people. And so I would be actively engaged to ensure that danger did not come about."

Audience member Jack Rouse was loudly applauded as he asked Mr Corbyn: "Is Labour's manifesto a realistic wish list or is it just a letter to Santa Claus?"

The Labour leader responded: "I urge you to read it. I think it is a serious and realistic document that addresses the issues that many people in this country face and we've been brave enough to put it out there with all the policies that are in it."

Listing manifesto proposals to pump more resources into education and mental health care, Mr Corbyn said: "We have to respect the needs of people and challenge all of us to say that if we want to live in a society that genuinely cares for all, we've got to be prepared to deal with issues of inequality and pay for it. And I'm prepared to do that."

But Mr Rouse responded: "It's a question of funding it. I'm thinking that last time Labour was in government they left a note at the Chancellor's office saying 'We've no money left'."

Mr Corbyn said that seven years of austerity had left public sector workers under a pay cap, hit public services, caused a housing crisis, while the very richest had got richer and received tax giveaways from the Government.

"It's time to rebalance it," he said. "Our manifesto is a serious, well thought-out document, that I believe is getting a lot of support and people are getting very excited at the idea of how we can do things differently."