Fraser Nelson, James Forsyth and Isabel Hardman review the ITV debate:
Welcome to Coffee House’s coverage of ITV’s EU referendum debate. Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Gisela Stewart made the case for Brexit, and Nicola Sturgeon, Angela Eagle and Amber Rudd argued for Britain to stay in the EU. Here’s our commentary from the debate, as well as all the audio and video highlights.
Here’s Isabel Hardman’s summary of the various speeches:
- Boris Johnson: 7/10 – stayed calm under non stop personal onslaught. Still didn’t offer much of a detailed sense of what Brexit would look like.
- Gisela Stuart: 5/10 – struggled particularly on women’s rights and lacked oomph but helped the campaign with her repeated assertions that she is an immigrant which makes the ‘Little England’ line particularly hard to stick.
- Andrea Leadsom 8/10 – the most upbeat and serious of the Leave bunch. Also the most tedious on the ‘as a mother’ theme.
- Nicola Sturgeon: 6/10 – bouncy and aggressive as ever but she seemed rather too preoccupied with Scottish independence.
- Amber Rudd: 7/10 – the serious bad cop in this routine. Her riskiest line was the personal attack on Boris at the end which, if nothing else, will make healing the Tory party after this vote even more difficult.
- Angela Eagle: 6/10 – good attempts to turn the Labour vote out but her dry wit was lost in this forum.
Audio of closing speeches:
James Forsyth: Well, the In campaign saved their most personal jibe against Boris until last—and it was the Tory who delivered it. Amber Rudd said mockingly, ‘Boris is the life and soul of the party. But he’s not the man you want driving you home at the end of the night.’ This was a not-so subtle reference to Boris’s private life. Personally, my sense was that it went a little far, it was just too personal for a political debate. But the In campaign clearly wanted to use tonight to go after Boris’s credibility and trustworthiness. My gut reaction is that he survived the onslaught. But, I suspect, we’ll have to wait a little while to see what effect—if any—it has had.
Isabel Hardman: The ‘as a mother’ theme has developed quite splendidly during this debate. We went from purely ‘as a mother’, through to ‘as a mother, with a daughter’, to Andrea Leadsom telling us that she hopes to have grandchildren one day, followed by Gisela Stuart stating that she is (already) a grandmother.
Katy Balls: Breaking: we’re not in the European Union. That’s according to Angela Eagle anyway. The Labour politician has produced the first real gaffe of the night, claiming that Britain is not in the EU. She then corrected herself going on to say that we are not in the eurozone. However, the damage was already done as Johnson won over the crowd — joshing that this revelation was ‘fantastic’ news. Taxi for Angela.
Isabel Hardman: This has been Get Boris night. But the former Mayor has survived and stayed calm. He clearly took care not to talk over any of his opponents for fear of being labelled sexist. Now he looks tired after two hours of being attacked.
Lara Prendergast There’s another blonde bombshell here, too, that Boris might want to beware of. Amber Rudd can stand up to him, which is impressive. Imagine if she joined a leadership race…
Katy Balls: Although Boris Johnson’s leadership ambitions have occupied a lot of tonight’s debate, there’s another speaker who appears to harbour hopes of making their way into No.10. When Boris pointed out that Labour were yet to have a female leader, Eagle responded with a smile: ‘Boris, beware of the blonde bombshell’. Watch out Jeremy.
Lara Prendergast: Ok, Angela Eagle, we get the point. You’ve been told to talk about the bus and Boris. But we’ve heard it three times now. Eagle is by far the weakest member of the team, yet she’s a Labour frontbencher. Her performance has been pretty embarrassing, especially when compared to the gumption shown by both Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom.
Fraser Nelson: ‘I don’t believe there is a bigger supporter of countries being independent than I am’ says Nicola Sturgeon. Really? Britain is already independent; she just wants to partition it. Just how independent Britain within in the EU is, of course, another question. When Gisela Stuart said that 23 June is about ‘defending democracy’ was she any less keen on sovereignty? ‘A man on an island on his own is sovereign’ said Amber Rudd. ‘Being sovereign means having influence outside the United Kingdom,’ says Rudd. But we’re more outvoted than any other country, says Boris. Andrea Leadsom gives a hard example: Britain can’t get rid of VAT on fuel. So we’re not sovereign on issues like that.
Gisela Stuart went further, referring to the EU as ‘a sclerotic creature that had a noble idea in the 1950s that now supremacy of its laws.’ Boris won a rare round of applause by saying how it was ‘curious to hear this from Nicola – she’s obviously keener to be ruled by Brussels than she is by Westminster politicians.’ The EU is trying to replace the UK in the IMF and other bodies: take the convention on international trade in endangered species, he says. The UK used to have a strong voice, the EU has now supplanted us. A problem for those Brits, he says, who care about endangered animals. I wonder, tonight, if he feels like one of them.
Isabel Hardman: We are drawing to the end of a week of debates, interviews and question and answer sessions. If there’s one lesson from this particular programme, it’s that it should have been an hour long. Now it feels like a rather dull grudge match.
Lara Prendergast: Onto feminism. As Andrea Leadsom says, Britain led the charge on women’s rights way before we entered the EU. It’s true – and there will be plenty of women watching who know this. A strong female line-up does at least give credence to both sides’ arguments though: there are feminist arguments for the EU – and against it. Britain gave women the vote in 1918; Switzerland, not a member of the EU, only gave women the vote in 1971.
Katy Balls: No matter how well the Remain side put forward their case for staying in the EU, the ghost of Stuart Rose is never far away to rain on the parade. When Angela Eagle told Boris to get that NHS ‘lie’ off the Vote Leave bus, he asked her about the hapless Britain Stronger in Europe chairman’s claim that wages would actually rise if we leave the EU. While she ignored his point, Rose is the gift that keeps on giving for the Out side.
James Forsyth: If Boris Johnson was in any doubt about how much the In campaign and his Tory opponents want to kill him, he won’t be now. The first hour of this debate has been dominated by a string of personal attacks on him. Every one of the In’s debaters has had several pops at him. But Boris has kept his calm well and I wonder whether the audience will begin to tire of the In side constantly playing the man not the ball.
Fraser Nelson: Amber Rudd is doing very well tonight – fiery, eloquent and will emerge from this with her stature enhanced. Very well briefed (maybe because she actually believes this stuff, so does her own reading) and oozing energy. She has actually eclipsed Nicola Sturgeon, who (I suspect) fancied herself as tonight’s star. We’re only halfway through this (gulp!) but if I had to hand this evening to anyone, I’d hand it to Rudd.
Isabel Hardman: How does Leave deal with the line that Amber Rudd just deployed about 9 out of 10 economists? Gisela Stuart’s strategy was to look down the barrel of the camera and say that the most important expert was the voter. This might work in a campaign that has patronised voters a great deal with warnings along the lines of ‘vote Remain or the puppy gets it’. But she is now getting hammered by the Remain team for a lack of detail about the model for Brexit. And voters would surely need that detail to be able to make an expert judgement.
Katy Balls: Although Julie Etchingham excellently chaired ITV’s general election debate, she faces a more difficult challenge tonight. Forget the female-heavy line-up, three of the speakers’ names begin with the letter A: Andrea, Angela and Amber. No wonder Etchingham is getting confused; she just addressed Andrea Leadsom as ‘Angela’.
Fraser Nelson: Angela Eagle is pointing her finger at Boris over £350 million ’emblazoned on his campaign bus’ – and it becomes that their gameplan is to gang up on him. Get Boris! Everyone’s at it. Nicola Sturgeon then follows up with the second punch, using the same phrase (’emblazoned’). Andrea Leadsom expresses it perfectly: it’s a gross figure, the same way as people talk about a £30,000 salary rather than their net pay after tax. Amber Rudd chips in saying she’ll repaint the bus with a rainbow on one end and a pot of gold. Boris eventually counters (‘that is cold, hard cash’) – you have the feeling he wanted Andrea or Gisela to step in, but they didn’t.
James Forsyth: Against what I suspect the viewers might have expected, it is the Remain side who are full of passion—anger even—while the Leave side are coming across as calmer. It is also the Remain side who are really getting personal; each of them have already had a pop at Boris.
Isabel Hardman: The Leave bunch have much more impressive message discipline. Each member is putting the phrase ‘take back control’ into every single answer. This might get dull by the end but it sure means voters will remember it.
Isabel Hardman: We seem to be being set up for a school gate clash in this debate. Both Amber Rudd and Andrea Leadsom have deployed the phrase ‘as a mother’ in their opening statements. Some (including me) may find this tedious, but there is polling evidence that suggests voters do warm to female politicians who have children. Which is an uncomfortable truth that both campaigns have clearly decided to accept in a debate about the future.
Fraser Nelson: Three million jobs are ‘linked’ to our trade with Europe, says Angela Eagle. Maybe, but more EU jobs are ‘linked’ to their trade with us. Good that she has got an ‘In’ badge: apart from Boris and Sturgeon, the rest have such a low profile that most viewers would not recognise them. As Boris is talking about immigration, you could see Nicola Sturgeon waiting to get stuck into him: I suspect she only turned up for the chance to sink her teeth into his ankles.
Amber Rudd: ‘The only number that Boris is interested in is No10’ – this is part of the ‘Get Boris’ strategy that I write about in the Daily Telegraph tomorrow. To portray his own motive as being cynical.
Gisela Stuart’s answer to the immigration question was superb, and is worth quoting in full: ‘I’m an immigrant. But when I came I had to have a skill they were looking for. One that was needed. It took five years before I had the unlimited right to work and stay here. Today we have free movement of people in an area that includes a Eurozone with massive unemployment rates. With no control. What will happen is that our ability to plan for schools, housing and hospitals is limited. We can take control and that control is that if we leave the EU and introduce an Australian-Style points system and you, the voter, would have control.’
James Forsyth: Immigration is the first question and Angela Eagle gives a rather unconvincing answer, before Boris Johnson gives his points system answer. Amber Rudd then immediately goes personal, saying that she ‘suspects the only number Boris is interested in is Number 10.’ This makes it clear that she is going to go for him, and has no qualms about Blue on Blue attacks. But I wonder if it was too early for such a personal jibe.
Lara Prendergast: It’s a very female-heavy debate tonight. Five women to one man. And two mentions of motherhood already… How will Boris cope?
Audio from the opening speeches:
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