General election: Sajid Javid accused of 'running scared' after TV economy debate put on hold

Lizzy Buchan

Sajid Javid has been accused of “running scared” over a TV election debate with John McDonnell and other party leaders amid a fake news row over election spending pledges.

The chancellor is understood to have concerns over a televised clash on Channel 4 at the weekend, which Labour, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats have already committed to attending.

Debate organisers confirmed that this weekend’s debate had been put on ice after they have failed to reach an agreement with all the parties, prompting an outcry from Mr Javid's opponents.

It comes amid tensions between the broadcaster and No10 after Channel 4's head of news, Dorothy Byrne, described Boris Johnson as a “liar" in a high-profile speech in the summer.

Labour and the Tories are at loggerheads over their economic offers to voters, after the Conservatives claimed Labour's manifesto pledges would rack up a £1.2trn bill over the next parliament.

Mr McDonnell tore into the claims at the weekend, condemning the 35-page dossier as a “ludicrous piece of Tory fake news”, made up of an “incompetent mish-mash of debunked estimates and bad maths”.

The shadow chancellor said: "Sajid Javid is running scared of debating with me and completely understandably, as the Tories are inventing silly figures which Labour would pull apart in a public debate.

“Clearly the Tories can’t even cost their own programme.

“Let me make it completely clear that the figures published by the Tories about Labour’s spending plans are fake news and I reiterate that income tax rates under Labour won’t rise for 95 per cent of people and that only the top 5 per cent would pay more. There will also be no VAT increases under Labour.”

Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, urged the broadcaster to "empty chair" the Tories if they refuse to attend the debate.

"It's frankly embarrassing that the Tory chancellor is doing a chicken run and refusing to defend his party's record," he said.

"Channel 4 should empty chair the Tories if they fail to turn up. The debate must go ahead - it would be a huge disservice to voters if broadcasters allowed the Tories to shut down debate and rig media coverage of the election in their favour."

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, had agreed to take part before the debate was put on hold, a party source said.

The source said: "First they won't put their manifesto to the OBR (Office of Budget Responsibility), and now they won't put their chancellor to the public. It's clear the Tories are running scared."

A Channel 4 spokesperson said: "Plans for a chancellors/economy debate are currently on hold as it was not possible to reach an agreement with all parties.

"If the situation does change, we would certainly explore options on how best to proceed.

"We will be announcing our election plans in due course."

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