Televised leaders' debate on Brexit deal collapses as ITV scraps plan for head-to-head

Charles Hymas
Theresa May goes head to head with Jeremy Corbyn in the weekly Prime Minister's Questions - AFP or licensors

A television debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn appeared dead in the water last night after ITV joined BBC in scrapping a plan to broadcast it.

ITV withdrew after days of rows between Labour and Conservatives over its format which would have pitched the two leaders against each other in a head-to-head on Sunday night, two days before the crucial Commons vote on her Brexit deal.

The BBC, which was favoured by Number 10, pulled out of the running two days ago after offering to host a Sunday night programme featuring other voices as well as the two party leaders. Labour had favoured ITV’s one-on-one debate.

Jeremy Corbyn speaks during Prime Minister's Questions Credit: PA

A spokeswoman for the commercial network  said: "ITV invited the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition to appear in an ITV programme this Sunday evening, and we have been clear that it is up to those invited to decide whether they want to accept the invitation.

"ITV is developing its plans for covering the build-up and reaction to the crucial Commons vote next Tuesday, and a range of voices and opinions will be represented on the subject of Brexit in our output."

The decision means the only programme due to go ahead on Sunday is on Channel 4, featuring neither Mrs May or Mr Corbyn but "four high-profile politicians", one backing the Prime Minister's deal, one behind a softer Brexit, one for a harder Brexit and one supporting a People's Vote.

Labour accused Mrs May of “running scared.” A spokesman said: “Jeremy Corbyn said he would relish the opportunity to debate her, and that remains the case. Labour believed the head-to-head offer from ITV was the most straight-forward format.

"A head-to-head would give viewers the greatest clarity and allow both speakers to get into detail. Her team tried to confuse people with a convoluted format.”

Mrs May originally challenged the Labour leader to a televised debate last week after she launched her campaign to encourage MPs to back her Brexit deal in the Commons vote on Tuesday.

She accepted the offer of the BBC, who had wanted to include "a range of voices" in the programme, including members of other political parties, as well as a head-to-head between the leaders.

But Labour said the proposed format was a "mish-mash, with a lopsided panel of other politicians and public figures" taking part. The party instead favoured ITV's offer of a straight head-to-head debate, which has now been withdrawn.