TV broadcasters considering 'empty chair' for Theresa May after she refuses to take part in leaders' debate

ITV and BBC do not rule out leaving vacant chair in PM's place if she maintains her refusal not take part in shows ahead of vote

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Broadcasters are considering plans to “empty chair” Theresa May if she does not take part in televised leaders’ debate ahead of the general election in June.

ITV and the BBC have said they are planning to hold a debate for the leadership candidates, and each has refused to rule out the possibility of leaving a vacant chair in the place of the PM if she refuses to take part.

The Prime Minister has been accused by opposition leaders of "running scared” after she announced that she would not be doing television debates following her calling of a general election on 8 June.

An ITV spokesman told The Independent that the broadcaster would “hold a leaders’ debate as we did in 2010 and 2015”, despite Ms May's refusal, and said he could not rule out the possibility of placing an empty seat in her place, saying only: "We will announce more details in due course."

BBC head of news gathering Jonathan Munro said the BBC was "working hard" to ensure that there were leaders’ debates on the TV in the run-up to the election, saying they were "overwhelmingly in the public interest”. When later asked if Ms May would be "empty chaired", a spokesperson also refused to rule out the possibility, saying the full plans would be announced in early May.

There has been support for such an outcome among opposition leaders. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “I expect the broadcasters to do the right thing, don’t let the Conservatives call the shots. If the Prime Minister won’t attend – empty chair her.”

Labour meanwhile tweeted: “If Theresa May doesn't want live debates, then empty seat her. A seat would have more to debate after today's dire performance.”

Public support for potential plans to empty chair the Prime Minister also appears to be high, with swathes of people tweeting in support of it and a petition on website Unlock Democracy titled “Empty chair Theresa May if she doesn’t turn up to election debates” gaining momentum.

One Twitter user, Harry Jones, wrote: “If May doesn't want to take part then she should fully expect a note in her empty seat reading ‘Can't be bothered’," while another, Archie Simpson, tweeted: “Hope there is a seat at the debates for Theresa May. If she doesn't turn up, keep the empty seat on the debate set!”

It comes as a poll suggested an overwhelming majority of Britons believe there should be televised debates between party leaders during the general election campaign. A Sky News poll suggested 64 per cent of Britons believe there should be televised debates between party leaders during the general election campaign.

A string of MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, attacked Ms May during a Commons session over her refusal to take part in the events.

SNP leader in Westminster Angus Robertson asked: “Can the Prime Minister tell the people why she is running scared of a televised debate with Nicola Sturgeon?”

Ms May has said that instead of taking part in the debate she will be ”out there campaigning, in every part of the United Kingdom".

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