JUDY WOODRUFF: Britain goes to the polls tomorrow
in what’s billed as the most important general election since the end of World War II, and
Brexit is at the heart of the election. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson
needs a clear majority in Parliament to force through a deal, which will enable Britain
to leave the European Union at the end of next month. But, as special correspondent Malcolm Brabant
reports, doubts about Johnson’s character and that of his main opponent, Jeremy Corbyn,
are troubling British voters. MALCOLM BRABANT: Never one to shy away from
an eye-catching stunt, Boris Johnson rammed home his core pledge. He’s appealing for a parliamentary majority
to honor the 2016 referendum on European membership, which narrowly favored leaving the E.U. Against expectations, in the fall, Johnson
reached a deal with the European Union. It’s designed to avoid a chaotic Brexit, but
he fears the election tomorrow may not yield the numbers needed to push the agreement through. BORIS JOHNSON, British Prime Minister: We
have just got to get Brexit done. And, you know, you’re asking me to contemplate
something pretty appalling, in my view. I don’t see any alternative but a working
majority to deliver it. MALCOLM BRABANT: Johnson’s chief opponent,
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn, is promising the most radical socialist program for generations. Corbyn insists Johnson can’t get Brexit done. JEREMY CORBYN, Leader, Labor Party: That claim
is a fraud on the British people. His sellout deal will be just the beginning
of years of drawn-out, bogged-down negotiations and broken promises. MALCOLM BRABANT: If Johnson is to succeed,
his party must win districts like Canterbury, southeast of London. For nearly 200 years, this was a Conservative
stronghold. But in the referendum, the district voted
to remain in the E.U. and, at the last election two years ago, the fortress fell to the Labor
Party. Attorney Anna Firth is fighting to wrestle
back control of Canterbury. ANNA FIRTH, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate:
What most people, the vast majority, are saying to me on the doorstep is, whether they voted
leave or remain, they just want us to move on. They want the gridlock to be finished, they
want the agony to be finished, they want some resolution. MALCOLM BRABANT: The incumbent is Labor’s
Rosie Duffield, who believes Brexit would be disastrous. ROSIE DUFFIELD, British Parliament Member:
We’re right next to Europe. We’re closer to Europe than we are some English
cities. And we’re dependent on our relationship with
Europe, for our tourist trade, for the university, for our research programs, all kinds of things. And it’s really important for me to keep fighting
for that. MALCOLM BRABANT: Duffield is benefiting from
the breakdown of traditional tribal allegiances. Lifelong Conservative Joe Egerton has switched
sides. He complains the party no longer represents
a more benevolent, tolerant conservatism. JOE EGERTON, Former Conservative Campaigner:
The Conservative Party today has become the Brexit party. It is not the party I joined. It is a strongly anti-European party. MALCOLM BRABANT: Opinion polls have consistently
given Boris Johnson’s Conservatives a significant lead. But Johnson is not being complacent. In the last few days, Johnson has been fishing
for votes in traditional Labor Party constituencies that are now in play because they favor Brexit. He’s promising to upgrade public services
to win over people who would never normally vote Conservative. BORIS JOHNSON: We have a vision of a United
Kingdom. Jeremy Corbyn would divide our kingdom. And I can tell you this: We can do all of
this as one-nation Conservatives, whilst not putting up your taxes. MALCOLM BRABANT: Jeremy Corbyn’s key emotional
weapon is Britain’s free National Health Service. Its stresses were emphasized this week with
a story about a 4-year-old boy being treated on a hospital floor. Despite repeated denials, Corbyn has accused
the Conservatives of plotting to sell off the Health Service to American big pharma
companies. JEREMY CORBYN: Boris Johnson really wants
a no-deal Brexit straight into the arms of Donald Trump and a trade deal with them. And it’s very clear to me that trade deal
with the United States, that trade deal would put all of our public services at risk. MALCOLM BRABANT: Political analysts like Jo
Phillips believe this is the most crucial election since World War II. JO PHILLIPS, Political Analyst: I think trust
is the biggest single issue in this election, above and beyond Brexit. It’s one of the most divisive and better elections,
I think, that we have ever seen in this country. MALCOLM BRABANT: In a series of campaign videos,
Labor is tugging at the heartstrings. WOMAN: There’s so much poverty and suffering. And our society’s crumbling. MALCOLM BRABANT: Labor is planning to re-nationalize
Britain’s railways, along with utilities like water and power. It’s promising to bridge the gap between prosperous
and poor by extracting more tax from society’s upper echelons. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies has dismissed
the Christmas gifts of both Labor and Conservative as not credible. JO PHILLIPS: Jeremy Corbyn comes across as
a rather avuncular, pleasant, elderly gentleman you could trust with your life. JEREMY CORBYN: “Jeremy Corbyn isn’t some kind
of kindly magic grandpa. Quite the opposite in fact.” Wow. JO PHILLIPS: Unfortunately, I think we know
that the people who are pulling his puppet strings are extremely hard-left militants. Boris Johnson is a showman. That’s why he’s attractive to very many people. He’s got a good turn of phrase. He’s very jolly. He’s very rambunctious. He doesn’t want to be held to account. MALCOLM BRABANT: Unlike every other political
leader, Johnson refused to submit to a grilling from one of British television’s toughest
interviewers. Johnson’s bid for a majority is threatened
by Britain’s former Attorney General Dominic Grieve. He was among 21 Conservative lawmakers purged
from the party for rebelling over Brexit. At his riverside constituency, Grieve is relying
on voters like this academic, who was unwilling to give his surname. ANGUS, Voter: You only have to go back through
Mr. Johnson’s, how shall I put it, very colorful career, and you will find that I’d sooner
trust Al Capone. DOMINIC GRIEVE, British Parliamentary Candidate:
I’m afraid I find him completely untrustworthy. He has a long and very detailed record of
telling outright lies whenever it suits him. MALCOLM BRABANT: Jeremy Corbyn is also distrusted. He’s been accused of sympathizing with terrorist
groups such as the IRA and Hamas. Britain’s chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has
condemned Corbyn as unfit for high office. The Labor Party is being investigated by Britain’s
Equality and Human Rights Commission over allegations of institutional anti-Semitism. One complainant from the Jewish Labor movement
reportedly listed 22 examples of abuse at a party meeting, where he was called a child
killer, Zio scum and a Tory Jew. In Johnson’s district West of London, one
voice encapsulated the national air of fatigue. LYNNE O’LEARY, Voter: I just feel that it’s
probably one of the worst times ever in British politics. And we’re at a situation where everybody just
seems to be fighting for themselves, instead of sort of working collectively to do the
best thing for the country. MALCOLM BRABANT: Britain’s voters are undoubtedly
punch-drunk from politics and three-and-a-half years of waiting for Brexit. The big question is whether, despite his flaws,
they will back Johnson sufficiently to deliver a knockout blow. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant
in Southern England.