Emily Maitlis: Tory leadership debate presenter defended by fellow broadcasters and viewers after being accused of 'losing control'

James Morris

Broadcasters and political campaigners have leapt to the defence of Tory leadership debate host Emily Maitlis after she was accused of losing control over the candidates.

Hundreds of viewers criticised BBC presenter Ms Maitlis after the five candidates repeateldy shouted over each other during the one-hour debate.

She was also criticised for interrupting candidates herself, most notably Boris Johnson.

But fellow presenter Kay Burley, from Sky News, insisted on Twitter: “Anyone who thinks they could have done a better job than @maitlis tonight has never ringmastered live TV.”

Emily Maitlis, left, has been criticised for her handling of the live BBC debate (BBC/EPA)

Ms Burley’s Sky colleague Beth Rigby, the channel’s political editor, added she did a “grand job calling them to order”.

And Channel 4 presenter Cathy Newman said the candidates – Mr Johnson, Jeremy Hunt, Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Rory Stewart – were “basically just ignoring the only woman present”.

Former Women’s Equality Party leader Sophie Walker said: “If we have to have one of the people in this picture as our next Prime Minister can it be Emily Maitlis please?”

And People’s Vote campaigner Femi Oluwole suggested the presenter’s interruptions were borne out of the candidates not directly answering her questions: “Boris Johnson refused to answer Emily Maitlis' several attempts at asking him whether those earning £79,000 would benefit from Johnson's planned tax cuts.”

In Tuesday’s debate, Mr Johnson came under fire from his leadership rivals for promising to reject a delay to Brexit.

Mr Johnson warned of the “catastrophic loss of confidence in politics” that would come if the government failed to exit the European Union by the current October 31 deadline.

The former foreign secretary said the public are "getting thoroughly fed up" with delays to the process.

The frontrunner in the battle to become Prime Minister said: "We have already kicked the can down the road twice and I think the British people are getting thoroughly fed up."

He added: "Unless we get out on October 31, I think that we will all start to pay a really serious price."

Mr Stewart said it would not be possible to negotiate a new deal by October 31, leaving the existing Withdrawal Agreement as the only way out of the EU.

"I would say to all these people on the platform who voted for the deal: take the shock of the European election, let's get on with it, let's vote it through, let's get it done,” he told the programme.

Mr Stewart said he would rule out a no-deal Brexit entirely. He said: "In the end, we're in a room with a door and the door is called Parliament, and I am the only person here trying to find the key to the door.

"Everybody else is staring at the wall shouting 'believe in Britain'."

Home secretary Mr Javid agreed with Mr Johnson that it was "fundamental" to get out of the EU by the October deadline and honour the result of the referendum. He said: "We have failed to act on those instructions and it is fundamental that it has to be by October 31."

"We have got to learn from our mistakes. One of the mistakes we have made so far is by having this flexible deadline. If you don't have a deadline, you don't concentrate minds, and that also includes the minds of our European friends."

But Mr Hunt and Mr Gove said a delay beyond October 31 may be necessary if a deal was within reach.

Mr Hunt said he would walk away without a deal if there was no prospect of agreement by October 31. But "if we were nearly there, then I would take a bit longer,” he added.

Mr Gove, a leading campaigner in the 2016 referendum, said he would be prepared to allow "extra time" if a deal was close. He said he was "upset" and "angry" that Brexit had not yet happened. "Because I started this, I will finish it," he added.