James Cleverly: Kay Burley empty-chairs Tory chairman during Sky News election interview

Party chairman James Cleverly said he was doing a radio interview on a different channel at the time of the outburst

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Wednesday 06 November 2019 10:45 GMT
Kay Burley empty chair interviews James Cleverly after he fails to turn up

Sky News presenter Kay Burley has “empty-chaired” Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly on live TV after he was not present for an interview which she claimed had been promised.

But sources close to Mr Cleverly said that he had not been booked to appear on Sky, and was actually taking part in an interview on TalkRadio at the time of the empty-chair broadcast.

“It is totally false to say he ducked the interview in any way, shape or form,” said the source. “He has done a full round of interviews this morning.

As the Sky camera lingered on the black leather chair opposite Ms Burley, the presenter told viewers: “There is an empty chair here. It was supposed to be filled by the chairman of the Conservative party.

“Where is he? He is probably 15 feet away from from where I am standing just at the moment. I have been in to see him during the break.

“He said he wasn’t due to come and talk to us today, although they had said they would talk to us.”

Ms Burley said that she had intended to ask Mr Cleverly about a series of mishaps and controversies which have overshadowed the first day of the official Conservative campaign for the 12 December general election, including:

- The Daily Telegraph interview in which Boris Johnson compared Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to Stalin;

- Calls for the resignation of Jacob Rees-Mogg for suggesting that Grenfell Tower victims lacked the “common sense” to flee the burning building;

- Allegations that Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns was aware of an aide’s role in collapsing a rape trial;

- Concerns that Mr Johnson’s Brexit plans will create a no-deal cliff-edge at the end of 2020;

- The blocking of Tory plans to use Treasury costings to attack Labour spending plans;

- The prime minister’s refusal to publish a report into Russian interference in the Brexit referendum;

- Mr Johnson’s defence of billionaires against Labour attacks.

The string of setbacks to the Tory campaign were among questions which Mr Cleverly had to face during the course of seven TV and radio interviews with other broadcasters over the course of the breakfast period.

Ms Burley said: “I know that Number 10 Downing Street watch our show. I know the spin doctors at Number 10 Downing Street had absolutely reassured me by text that when politicians were doing the rounds in the morning they would be doing this programme.

“And yet we have an empty chair. Where on earth is he?”

A source near to Mr Cleverly said the Sky action was “strange”, as the Tory chairman had never been booked onto the programme.

And the minister himself tweeted a link to the TalkRadio interview he was doing at the time of Ms Burley’s comments, saying: “This is the radio interview I was booked in to do, and was doing, when Sky News cut to an empty chair. I’m good at multitasking but cannot be in two studios at the same time.”

A list of Mr Cleverly’s broadcast round distributed in Westminster early on Wednesday showed he was due to appear on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, BBC1 Breakfast, LBC’s Nick Ferrari show, BBC Radio 4’s Today, BBC Radio 5 Live, TalkRadio and ITV News in a series of interviews stretching from 7.10 to 8.50.

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