BORIS Johnson last night used the first head-to-head TV debate of the General Election campaign to denounce the SNP ’s demand for an independence referendum.

The Prime Minister insisted “we didn’t need” a new vote on the Union and accused Labour of “doing a deal” with Nicola Sturgeon to have one. He also suggested that if Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t rule one out, he shouldn’t be Prime Minister.

Responding to a question on whether the Union was worth sacrificing for Brexit, Johnson told viewers: “In order to secure power and the keys to Number 10, [Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party] are going to do a deal and they probably have done with Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP for a Sturgeon/Corbyn coalition ... and the price of that ... would be to do a deal on a second independence referendum on the Union with Scotland.”

Johnson went on to say Scots had voted to stay in the Union in 2014 and that failing to rule out a second independence vote suggested Corbyn shouldn’t be PM.

“I don’t think we need we need one, I’ve ruled it out. We had one in 2014 and the people of Scotland voted very substantially to stay,” he added.

Johnson pressed Corbyn on how he would campaign in a second EU referendum, adding: “What price would he pay to secure Nicola Sturgeon’s support? If he can’t answer those questions I don’t think he is fit to lead our country.”

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During the hour-long debate in Salford, Corbyn said the trade deal negotiations Johnson would embark on with the US would take “seven years” despite the Prime Minister claiming they would take months.

“You’ve already indicated that you will allow our National Health Service to be put at risk by a trade deal with the United States,” Corbyn added. “So you are not going to get it done in a few months – and you know that perfectly well.”

A further question was about personal integrity and whether voters could trust the two men.

Corbyn said he listened to people, reached a consensus and stressed the importance of being honest with the public.

Johnson said people should look at his track record, pointing to his work as London mayor and his securing of a Brexit deal with the EU.

Julie Etchingham hosted last night’s debate following equivalent events before the 2015 and 2017 General Elections.

The programme was conducted in front of a live studio audience of about 200 people. The two leaders stood behind podiums, Corbyn on the left side of the screen and Johnson on the right.

They each had one minute for their opening statements and 45 seconds for their closing statements, with Corbyn speaking first in both cases after lots were drawn.

Nicola Sturgeon was excluded from the debate, prompting the SNP to make a legal challenge to ITV. However, her party and the LibDems, who also raised legal action against the broadcaster over the exclusion of leader Jo Swinson, lost their battles at the High Court on Monday.

Separate interviews with Sturgeon, Swinson, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage and Green Party leader of England and Wales Sian Berry were broadcast on ITV after the main debate.