The biggest live debate of the UK’s EU referendum
campaign is taking place before 6,000 people at
Rival sides of the debate are facing questions on the
economy, immigration and Britain’s place in the world.
The BBC’s Great Debate represents a final chance for the two
sides to get their points across on primetime TV before polls
open on Thursday.
Panellists include Boris Johnson, for Leave, and his
successor as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, for Remain.
The debate, hosted by David Dimbleby, Mishal Husain and
Emily Maitlis, is live on BBC One.
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Questions have been grouped into three categories: The
economy, immigration and Britain’s place in the world, and
the audience has been split into Leave and Remain sides.
The Leave campaign is represented by Mr Johnson, Labour
MP Gisela Stuart and energy minister Andrea Leadsom, and
for Remain the lineup is Mr Khan, Scottish Conservative
leader Ruth Davidson, and Frances O’Grady, general
secretary of the Trades Union Congress.
The first skirmishes were on trade and the economy, with
Conservative and Labour party colleagues trading blows.
Mr Khan and Mr Johnson clashed as the London mayor
accused his predecessor of changing his mind over the
benefits of the EU to businesses.
Mr Johnson said Remain “keeps talking down our country”
and that the EU held back the UK’s trading progress with the
rest of the world.
Responding to the opening question from a small business
owner, Ms Davidson said she knew people found the EU
“frustrating and fussy”, but said it provided “a level playing
field” for small businesses. She said if the UK leaves, the rest
of the EU would impose tariffs and taxes.
She read out previous quotes on job losses from key Leave
figures including Mr Johnson, who hit back by saying the
Remain campaign was “back to Project Fear”.
He said it was “extraordinary” to suggest tariffs would be
imposed on the UK, saying Germany would be “insane” to
Analysis from Wembley
Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent
An observer here describes it as “Brexfactor”. One of those
lines I wish I’d come up with myself.
This event feels quite un BBC-ish: it’s big, brash and loud.
A panel of six, supplemented by another panel of ten – and a
whopping 6,000 inside the arena. The economy and
immigration have, unsurprisingly, dominated.
And, after a campaign regularly featuring so called ‘blue on
blue’ attacks–Tories taking lumps out of each other, tonight
there has been ‘red on red,’ Labour voices on opposite
sides, Sadiq Khan and Gisela Stuart, openly arguing.
Responding to a question about workers’ rights, Ms
Leadsom, for Leave, said the UK had led the way on workers’
rights, not the EU. “We do not need unelected, bureaucratic
European leaders to tell us what our workers rights can be.”
Ms O’Grady said EU “red tape” really meant “getting rid of
As the debate moved onto immigration, Mr Khan said the
Leave side – which has campaigned hard on immigration –
had not been “project fear”, it had been “project hate”.
Brandishing a Vote Leave leaflet, he accused the rival side of
“lying” and “trying to scare people” by saying Turkey was set
to join the EU.
“Turkey isn’t about to join,” he said.
Ms Stuart said the UK government was trying to “accelerate”
Turkish membership. She also said it was “simply a
statement of fact” that uncontrolled immigration put
pressure on services.
Also on immigration, a man in the audience asked how
many people arriving per year the UK could “reasonably
Ms O’Grady said it was important to “manage” migration but
said she was “fed up” with migrants being blamed for
Ms Leadsom said the Bank of England had said uncontrolled
immigration put “downward pressure” on wages.
The final section focused on sovereignty and the UK’s role in
Ms Leadsom attacked the Brussels “gravy train” which she
says controlled 60% of UK laws and regulations.
She said the UK had been voted down every time it had tried
to object to an EU imposition.
“How is that making our own decisions?” she asks.
Her Tory colleague Ms Davidson said the 60% figure was a
“blatant untruth”. She accused the Leave side of “lying” on
this and other subjects.
Mr Johnson said the home secretary was unable to deport
serious criminals because of EU laws, saying it was
“absolutely amazing how the Remain side have the cheek to
tell us we improve our security by staying in this
But Mr Khan challenged him to name one of the UK’s Nato
allies that supported a vote to leave the EU.
As well as the main panellists there is a smaller stage
featuring campaigners from other political parties, business
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said immigration “goes two
ways”, saying it was an “amazing gift” for Britons to be able
to work and study overseas.
UKIP’s Diane James defended a recent poster from her party
showing a long queue of migrations in Slovenia, saying
similar images had been used in the media to show the
problems with EU free movement.
Also on the second panel are former Sainsbury’s chief
executive Justin King, who backs remaining in the EU, and
founder and chairman of Wetherspoons Tim Martin, who
EU Referendum: The Great Debate is broadcast on Tuesday
21 June from 20:00 – 22:00 BST (19:00 – 21:00 GMT) on BBC
One, on BBC Online and BBC World News. It will be available
to watch afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.
The biggest live debate of the UK’s EU referendum