Election 2017: Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn face being empty chaired by ITV in leaders debate

The broadcaster will push ahead with a debate on 18 May at 8pm

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Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn both face being empty chaired after ITV said it would go ahead with a live television general election debate.

The broadcaster announced it will run a live event on 18 May with the leaders of seven parties invited to take part.

But The Independent understands ITV will broadcast the debate despite both Ms May and Mr Corbyn having indicated that they will not participate.

Conservative leader Ms May was first to say she would avoid any TV debates, with the Labour leader later following suit arguing they would be pointless without the Prime Minister.

ITV’s director of news and current affairs Michael Jermey said: “ITV will be offering our viewers a wide range of programmes on this snap election. Listening to voters and helping them put their questions direct to the politicians will be at the heart of what we’ll do. 

“We have a strong record on organising debate programmes and giving viewers the chance to put their questions straight to the politicians.

“The ITV Leaders’ Debate moderated by Julie Etchingham and the debates in the nations will give viewers an opportunity to get answers.” 

The leaders of the seven parties that were invited to the 2015 ITV Leaders’ Debate – the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – have all been invited to the 2017 event.

The event will air at 8pm. Leaders will have the opportunity to make short statements at the beginning and conclusion of the debate.

They will also answer questions asked directly by members of a studio audience, before the floor is opened up to a period of free flowing debate.

A poll by BMG Research for The Independent revealed more than half of people, some 54 per cent, want the live contests to go ahead.

But Ms May has said she will not take part, though Tory sources have confirmed her aides are in talks with the BBC with the possibility of a different kind of live event in which she does not go head-to-head with other leaders.

Asked recently whether Mr Corbyn would attend a broadcast which did not involve Ms May, his spokesman recently said: “I don’t think having a debate among opposition parties in any way meets the objective of giving the British people a chance of seeing what the real choices are in this election campaign.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “We expect our hard Brexit opponents – Labour, UKIP and the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to all take part and make their opposing case. Otherwise, we expect ITV to empty chair them.

“Tim [Farron] believes, in politics, you must have the courage of your convictions. Let’s see if May and Corbyn feel the same.”

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