Vote Leave campaign threatens to sue ITV for leaving them out of TV debate

ITV will hold a televised debate involving David Cameron and Nigel Farage – but not Boris Johnson or Michael Gove

Oliver Wright
Political Editor
Thursday 12 May 2016 10:51
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Boris Johnson salutes the crowd with a Cornish pasty as he boards the Vote Leave campaign bus in Truro, Cornwall
Boris Johnson salutes the crowd with a Cornish pasty as he boards the Vote Leave campaign bus in Truro, Cornwall

The anti EU campaign group run by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove today accused David Cameron of trying to dodge a public debate with them – and threatened to sue Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster.

In an extraordinary statement Vote Leave expressed fury that ITV had announced that they would be holding a televised debate involving Mr Cameron and the Ukip leader Nigel Farage – but not Mr Gove or Mr Johnson.

They accused Downing Street of trying to dictate the terms of the debate “to give itself every possible advantage” and said ITV had caved into the Number 10’s demands “without even discussing it” with the official leave campaign.

“ITV has allowed the Prime Minister to dictate his own opponent,” said an official spokesman.

“Since the campaign began, ITV has also given twice as much airtime to the IN campaign than to the Leave campaign.

"We think that the Prime Minister ought to debate the representative of the official Leave campaign. In a serious democracy, the Government should not be allowed by a free media to pick its own opponents in the official debates on the most important political decision in decades.

"We are discussing legal possibilities to increase the chances that the public will hear the issues properly discussed before they make such an important vote on the future of their democratic rights.”

The statement then went on to claim that the timing of the announcement was due to the Government's desire to distract attention from the immigration figures that are being released today.

Earlier a Vote Leave source warned that ITV would face “consequences for its future” over the deal.

“ITV has effectively joined the official IN campaign,” said a Vote Leave statement to journalists.

“There will be consequences for its future - the people in No10 won't be there for long.”

ITV's former chairman, Lord Grade, said Vote Leave appeared to be threatening the broadcaster with political repercussions.

"As a former chairman of both the BBC and ITV, I hold the political independence of all broadcasters to be of paramount importance to our democracy,” he said.

"Today's attempt by the referendum Leave campaign to threaten ITV with political repercussions over their TV debate plans is unacceptable, if not shocking.

"I know the public can rely on broadcasters to resist all bullying tactics in the run up to the referendum. If the Leave campaign has any complaint about a breach of statutory obligations to be impartial, they should take their complaint up with the regulator Ofcom."

An ITV spokeswoman said: "ITV has not lied to anyone, nor has there been any kind of 'stitch up'.

"Senior figures from the Vote Leave campaign have been invited to our debate on June 9 and have every opportunity to air their views and opinions on the issues in a two-hour long peak time programme on ITV.

"It was our editorial decision as to who would take part in the June 7 programme; the PM called the referendum, and the country wants to hear from him, and Nigel Farage has been a leading proponent of an exit from the EU for more than 20 years and his party received 3.8 million votes at the election. We invited them both and they accepted.

"We think our viewers will find both programmes useful in providing information ahead of polling day. Our programming will, as always, be fair, balanced and duly impartial."

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