THERESA May has been accused of running scared from a debate with Nicola Sturgeon after the Prime Minister steadfastly refused to take part in any televised debates ahead of the election.
ITV has unveiled plans for a debate, and the BBC is likely to follow suit. Both have made clear that if May does not turn up then she will likely be “empty chaired”.
“We won’t be doing television debates,” May said when appearing on the Today programme yesterday morning.
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“I believe in campaigns where politicians actually get out and about and meet with voters,” she added.
A Number 10 source told the BBC that there would be no change in the Prime Minister’s position.
The SNP’s Angus Robertson said May’s unwillingness to debate showed a lack of belief in her arguments.
“If the Prime Minister is so confident of her hard-Brexit, pro-austerity, anti-immigration case why won’t she debate opposition leaders?
“Most people in the country know that the Prime Minister wants an early General Election because the Labour Party is in such an awful state.
“Let’s have the debates. It’s what democracy needs and what the British people deserve.”
LibDem leader Tim Farron added: “The Prime Minister’s attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt.
“The British people deserve to see their potential leaders talking about the future of our country.”
ITV is the first broadcaster to confirm a debate. No details have been released about the format or date, but Julie Etchingham is expected to host, as she did in 2015.
David Dimbleby, who hosted the BBC leaders’ debates in both 2010 and 2015, said a refusal to take part in TV showdowns with her rivals could be “rather perilous” for May.
“I don’t think other parties will refuse to take part in debates, and I wonder whether Number 10 will stick with that, because it may look a bit odd if other parties are facing audiences and making their case,” he said.
The BBC’s head of newsgathering Jonathan Munro told The Telegraph that he did “not want to get in a position where any party leader stops us doing a programme that we think is in the public interest”.
Munro added: “There is a proven track record over two elections and two referendums that debates reach huge audiences including a lot of young people who don’t watch conventional political coverage in great numbers.”
Meanwhile, Scottish LibDem chief Willie Rennie has called for a televised Scottish leaders’ debate.
He said Scottish people had “the right to hear from their political leaders”.
Both Scots Tory boss Ruth Davidson and Labour leader Kezia Dugdale have said they would be willing to take part.