ITV to host leaders' debate amid calls for Theresa May to be 'empty chaired' if she doesn't attend

ITV has confirmed it will host a leaders’ debate during the general election campaign, despite Theresa May’s insistence that she will not take part.

May faced taunts of “frit” from Labour backbenchers at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, as leader Jeremy Corbyn accused her of running scared of scrutiny on her record.

The Prime Minister confirmed on Wednesday that she will not face Corbyn and other party leaders in live TV debates in the run-up to the 8 June poll, insisting that campaigning should be about getting “out and about” meeting voters.

There have been calls for TV broadcasters to “empty chair” May in election-time leaders’ debates if she refuses to take part.

But she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We won’t be doing television debates.”

May added: “I believe in campaigns where politicians actually get out and about and meet with voters.

“That’s what I have always believed in, it’s what I still believe and I still do it – as Prime Minister, as a constituency MP, I still go out and knock on doors in my constituency.

“That’s what I believe in doing, that’s what I’m going to be doing around this campaign.”

Within hours of the Prime Minister announcing her snap election, Labour leader Corbyn threw down the gauntlet calling on May to agree to televised debates, which he said were “what democracy needs and what the British people deserve”.

And at PMQs in the Commons today, he told her: “She says it’s about leadership, yet is refusing to defend her record in television debates and it’s not hard to see why.

“The Prime Minister says we have a stronger economy, yet she can’t explain why people’s wages are lower today than they were 10 years ago or why more households are in debt, six million people earning less than the minimum wage, child poverty is up, pensioner poverty is up.

“Why are so many people getting poorer?”

The Scottish National Party’s leader in the Commons, Angus Robertson, also challenged May over the TV debates, asking: “If the Prime Minister is so confident of her hard-Brexit, pro-austerity, anti-immigration case, why won’t she debate opposition leaders?”

ITV confirmed that it will stage a leaders’ debate as it did in 2010 and 2015.

No details of format or date have yet been released, but it is expected that Julie Etchingham will host the programme, as she did in 2015, when seven leaders including David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg took part in a two-hour showdown.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has accused May of “bottling” and said broadcasters had a “moral duty” to go ahead with the showdowns even if she fails to take part.

Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood – whose profile received a major boost from her involvement in two of the 2015 broadcasts – said: “Theresa May should be empty chaired if she doesn’t show up to any planned TV debates.”

SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon argued that TV debates should go ahead without May.

Sturgeon tweeted: “If PM doesnt have the confidence to debate her plans on TV with other leaders, broadcasters should empty chair her and go ahead anyway.”

Picture: BBC

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