UKIP’s leader Paul Nuttall found himself outnumbered by 4-1 on Brexit and other issues in a party leaders’ TV debate that was snubbed by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Mr Nuttall was also isolated on immigration and grammar schools as he battled against the Lib Dems’ Tim Farron, Caroline Lucas of the Greens, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru.
But the UKIP leader didn’t help his cause when on two occasions during the debate he called Leanne Wood “Natalie”, presumably confusing her with former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.
“Who are you calling Natalie?” protested the Welsh Nationalist leader. “Leanne, I’m sorry,” Mr Nuttall replied.
“You’ve done it twice now!” she replied. “Have I?” he said. “I’m sorry about that.”
The two-hour debate, staged by ITV at its studios in Salford, began with a clash on Brexit, then covered the NHS, social care, living standards, education and university tuition fees.
Bizarrely, as the debate got under way, the absent Jeremy Corbyn – who declined ITV’s invitation to take part – tweeted: “Theresa May, why not debate me?”
He added: “The public deserve to see a debate between the only two people who could form the next government.”
In the first opening statement of the debate, the Plaid Cymru leader began by saying: “I have a message for the Prime Minister, who I’m sure is watching tonight.
“You may be too scared to come here tonight, for your U-turns to be highlighted, for your cruel policies to be exposed.
“You want this election to only be about Brexit because that means you avoid talking about the real issues like the NHS, the economy and the cuts you have made to our public services.
“That’s weak leadership – weak and unstable.”
In her opening statement, Ms Sturgeon said: “This election really matters – for all of us across the UK.
“The SNP will always stand up against Tory cuts because they are damaging our public services and pushing more people into poverty.
“We will stand up for jobs – and against an extreme Brexit that will put living standards and jobs at risk.”
But a defiant Mr Nuttall said only his party was “truly committed to the Brexit that people voted for” in last year’s referendum.
He said only his party was committed to cutting immigration and slashing the foreign aid budget “that is costing you, the British taxpayer, around £30m every single day”.
And he added: “Brexit would never have happened if it wasn’t for UKIP!”
Mr Farron, defending his party’s proposal for a second EU referendum, said: “Somebody will sign off that deal, it will either be the politicians or the people. I trust the people.”
Ms Lucas defended the “huge contribution” made by immigrants and – in one of many attacks on the UKIP leader – said: “It’s unfortunate there isn’t a single question to which the answer for Paul Nuttall isn’t immigration.”
After the debate, the Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin said: “Tonight gave a glimpse of the chaos you could get in just three weeks with all the other parties propping up Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.”
But since the absence of the PM and Mr Corbyn gave their opponents a two-hour free hit to attack the Government on prime time TV, perhaps staying away wasn’t such a good idea after all.