- Opposition leaders do battle in the first televised debate of the 2017 general election.
- 4 million viewers tuned in to the 2015 debate.
- The Prime Minister Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have declined to take part.
- Follow our live blog for all the main clashes, reaction and controversy from the debate and ‘spin room’ in Manchester.
MANCHESTER — The first televised debate of the 2017 UK general election takes place in Manchester tonight, where the main opposition leaders will do battle on ITV from 20:00 GMT.
The prime minister Theresa May has refused to take part in any debate with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Corbyn has refused to take part in any debate that doesn’t include May. This means that only the smaller parties will be taking part.
The following party leaders will be on stage tonight:
- Tim Farron: Liberal Democrats
- Nicola Sturgeon: SNP
- Paul Nuttall: UKIP
- Caroline Lucas: Green Party
- Leanne Wood: Plaid Cymru.
20:49 — Major gaffe from Nuttall
The UKIP leader has used the name Natalie to address both Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood.
Obviously, neither are called Natalie.
20:47 — Wood laughs at UKIP’s immigration policy
The Plaid Cymru people in the green room just burst into laughter after their leader Wood laughed at Nuttall’s suggestion that net migration to the UK should be zero.
She has delivered some fine lines, too.
“There is always money for foreign wars and refurbishing the palace of Westminster but never for our public services,” she tells the ITV audience.
20:37 — “Is our health service the best funded in the world? Don’t kid yourself.”
We’ve moved on from Brexit and now we are on the NHS.
Audience member and former nurse Shirley says she is concerned with the current state of the NHS.
Wood says we should be prepared to raise tax in order to fund health care going forward.
Nuttall says he’d take money from the foreign aid budget and used it to train thousands more spent doctors and nurses plus added funding for social care.
“Are our health care workers the best in the world? You bet they are. Is our health service the best funded in the world? Don’t kid yourself,” Farron says, passionately.
Lucas says as prime minister she would scrap the Trident nuclear deterrent system and use the money saved to fund the National Health Service.
20:31 — Analysis from BI UK Political Editor Adam Bienkov
“Paul Nuttall looking rather ganged-up on in the middle of four Remain-supporting leaders. But while he may not be enjoying this it’s a great opportunity for him as the only Brexit-supporting person on stage to win back some of the voters, which all the polls show have bled away from UKIP in recent weeks and months.
“He’s never going to be a great debater but UKIP could pick up some votes tonight, if only by default.”
20:28 — Nuttall: “we are letting too many people come to Britain”
The UKIP leader says a city with the population the size of Newcastle is arriving in Britain net every year.
“The best way of dealing with it is an Australian-style points system,” he says.
SNP leader Sturgeon says struggling public services is the result of austerity, not migrants.
20:25 — A tough start for Nuttall
The UKIP leader says he never said Britain could be like Norway after Brexit.
20:23 — Nuttall clashes with Farron and Wood over the single market
UKIP leader Nuttall claims Brits voted to leave the single market on June 23.
“People knew what they were voting for,” he says.
Wood and Farron disagree. Farron points out that countries like Norway enjoy full access to the single market without being members of the European Union.
20:21 — Farron: “the free movement of people is massively advantageous”
Farron says Theresa May is delivering the Brexit Nigel Farage wants and is putting Britain at risk of economic disaster but ending the free movement of EU citizens in and out of the country.
“It is massively advantageous to business, to tourism and to our industries,” he said.
“We shouldn’t demonise people for coming here for short-term political benefit.”
20:20 — Sturgeon: Nuttall is May’s spokesperson
“Theresa May may not have the guts to be here tonight but her spokesman in Paul Nuttall has the bottle to stand in her place,” says SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.
Sturgeon, who wants a second referendum on Scottish independence, gets a round of applause for saying May should guarantee the EU nationals living in Britain and UK nationals living abroad as soon as possible.
20:15 — Caroline Lucas: “Labour has left the field”
Green Party leader Caroline Lucas says Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour has not only failed to show for tonight’s debate but has failed to show up to oppose “extreme Brexit” in the House of Commons.
20:13 — “Gibraltar has had more attention that Wales has had”
Plaid Cymru leader Wood has made a barnstorming start. She says Theresa May has ignored Wales when it comes to Brexit and accuses the prime minister of giving Gibraltar more attention than Cardiff.
20:08 — Wood goes after May
It only took five minutes for the first attack on Theresa May for her no show.
In her opening remarks, Plaid’s Leanne Wood said:
“You may be too scared to come here tonight. For your u-turns to be highlighted and your cruel policies to be exposed…. That’s weak leadership. Weak and unstable. Those here tonight will show that real leadership is standing up for what you believe in — not hiding from it.”
20:04: HERE WE GO!
… and we’re off
19:58 — Will the real Jeremy Corbyn please stand up?
The Labour leader isn’t in Salford tonight — but his famous lookalike is.
The debate will get underway imminently.
19:38 — “It feels like GCSE results day”
The absence of Prime Minister May and Labour leader Corbyn presents a golden opportunity for the rest of Britain’s party leaders to impress — perhaps none more so than Lib Dem leader Tim Farron.
There has been lots of talk of a Lib Dem resurgence heading into this election but so far there has been no sign of a revival in the opinion polls. The Business Insider / GfK poll published this week put the anti-Brexit party on 7%.
The Lib Dem spinners in the room are nervous. “It feels like GCSE results day,” one tells me.
19:30 — Kick off is 30 minutes away
Business Insider Political Reporter Adam Payne here. I’ve arrived in Media City, Salford ahead of the leaders’ debate.
19:25 — What can we expect?
The debate is due to start at 20:00 GMT and will last a whopping two hours. The five leaders will get just one break during that time for adverts. Otherwise, it will be a non-stop battle which will be hosted by ITV’s Julie Etchingham. Will they last the distance? Will the audience? We’ll be live blogging the whole event and the aftermath live from Media City in Manchester.