Brexit: Downing Street accuses Corbyn of 'running scared' as TV debate row rumbles on

Labour hits back, accusing prime minister of 'playing games' over event format

Tom Embury-Dennis
Sunday 02 December 2018 23:31
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Jeremy Corbyn says he'd prefer Brexit debate to be on ITV to accommodate 'I'm A Cebebrity' final

Downing Street has accused Jeremy Corbyn of “running scared” from a Brexit TV debate, as the ongoing row over what the event will look like rumbles on.

No 10 has confirmed there is still no agreement with Labour over the debate, which is due to be screened next Sunday – two days before the crunch Commons vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

The Labour leader's office later hit back, accusing Ms May of playing games and pushing for less debating time.

The row erupted last week when public statements by the two parties focused on whether the BBC – Downing Street’s preferred option – or ITV, Mr Corbyn's choice, would reach a wider audience.

On Saturday, Mr Corbyn said he was prepared to accept the debate being aired on the BBC provided it was a straight head-to-head with Ms May.

Mr Corbyn had previously indicated his support for the rival ITV debate based on a simple one-on-one format, in contrast to the BBC offer which also involves the leaders taking questions from a wider panel.

Sir Keir Starmer: It's 'inevitable' Labour will table a motion of no confidence in government if May’s Brexit deal is voted down

A No 10 spokesman made clear that Ms May was determined to stick to the original BBC plan.

"A week ago, the PM challenged Jeremy Corbyn to a head-to-head debate. He accepted," the spokesman said.

"Since then, in order to accommodate his confected demands, we've moved our preferred day, accommodated the addition of social media questions at Labour's request, and agreed there should be maximum head-to-head time, while still including voices from employers and civil society in the debate.

"But if Jeremy Corbyn doesn't agree to what's now on the table – a debate on prime time with the prime minister – the public will rightly conclude he's running scared. So let's get on with it."

Labour hit back, arguing that it was the prime minister trying to avoid the confrontation.

"As she did during the general election campaign, Theresa May is running away from the scrutiny of a real head-to-head debate with Jeremy Corbyn," a spokesman said.

"Why else would she not accept ITV's offer of a straightforward head-to-head debate, as Jeremy has done?

"Instead, her team are playing games and prefer the BBC's offer, which would provide less debating time and risk a confusing mish-mash for the viewing public."

The row comes after it was revealed a majority of the public believe any Brexit debate should also include proponents of both a fresh referendum and a no-deal scenario; both Ms May and Mr Corbyn support a form of soft Brexit.

The survey by pollsters YouGov found 53 per cent believed an advocate of a public vote with the option of remaining in the EU should be involved in the debate, compared with 25 per cent who disagreed and 22 per cent who did not know.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said other views would be excluded if the debate went ahead featuring just the Tory and Labour leaders.

In a letter to the BBC, ITV and Sky, Sir Vince put himself forward as an advocate for a second referendum.

"The principal alternative to the withdrawal agreement is for the UK to remain as a full and influential member of the European Union," he said.

"All the evidence suggests that there is now a majority in the country for doing so, and a substantial majority for a people's vote. Yet neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Theresa May supports this route."

On Monday, The Independent will hand in a petition to Downing Street, signed by over a million individuals who are demanding a Final Say on Ms May’s Brexit deal.

Additional reporting by PA

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