THERESA May was accused of running scared after dodging the first television debate with the leaders of rival parties in the General Election campaign.

Both the Prime Minister and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn turned down the invitation to take part in the ITV Leaders’ Debate in Salford.

Nicola Sturgeon, LibDem chief Tim Farron, Ukip’s Paul Nuttall, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Green co-leader Caroline Lucas showed up for the prime time two hour programme on Thursday night.

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The First Minister has called for an SNP win at the election in Scotland to be used as a mandate for the Scottish Government to have a place at the Brexit negotiating table.

During the debate she said only the SNP can provide a strong opposition to a Tory government in Westminster committed to an “extreme” Brexit.

She added: “The next few years will determine the kind of country we become. We need strong opposition holding a Tory government to account, keeping them in check and standing up for the values we hold dear: values of social justice, tolerance and community.”

The leaders clashed over Brexit, migration and social care with Nuttall frequently under attack from the other leaders, all of whom continue to support EU membership.

During the debate chaired by Julie Etchingham there were frequent warnings from Sturgeon, Farron, Lucas and Wood about the dire consequences of a hard Brexit on UK jobs, the economy and on the NHS.

Wood challenged May over her decision to miss the debate, using her opening statement to say: “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.”

Lucas used her opening statement to insist the UK can cope with the serious challenges it faces.

“Never in my lifetime has our future felt so uncertain. Brexit, climate change, an NHS in crisis,” she said. “But when people come together and reach for a bigger future, we have shown we can change the course of history.”

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall said only his party is “truly committed to the Brexit that people voted for” in last year’s referendum.

Farron said he is determined to stop the return of a “heartless Conservative government”.