Boris Johnson has indicated he will take part in the Tory leadership TV debate hosted by the BBC, but looks set to snub Channel 4’s televised hustings despite the risk of being “empty-chaired”.
Johnson came top in the first round of voting among Conservative MPs yesterday with 113 votes, more than double nearest rival Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who won 43 votes.
All six final candidates have been invited to appear on the Channel 4 debate, hosted by Krishnan Guru-Murthy in front of a live studio audience, which airs at 6.30pm on Sunday.
But Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s World at One today that having a lot of candidates in a debate “can be slightly cacophonous”.
He signalled his preference to take part in the BBC’s debate which will be hosted by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis and airs on BBC One at 8pm next Tuesday, just two hours after the Conservative members are asked to cast their second ballots for their next leader, further narrowing the field.
Guru-Murthy said on Twitter that the BBC debate would be “very different, with fewer rivals” and that Johnson would not face his “biggest critic” in Rory Stewart or Brexiteer rival Dominc Raab, both of whom are expected to be knocked out in the next round of voting.
Johnson told the BBC: “I think it is important that we have a sensible, grown-up debate and my own observation is that I think in the past when you’ve had loads of candidates it can be slightly cacophonous and I think the public have had a quite a lot of blue on blue action frankly over the last three years.
“We don’t necessarily need a lot more of that, and so what I think the best solution would be, would be to have a debate on what we all have to offer the country, our programme to take Britain forwards, my programme to unite the country and the best time to do that I think would be after the second ballot on Tuesday and the best forum is the proposed BBC debate.
“I think that’s a good idea.”
If he is a no-show for the Channel 4 debate, Johnson looks set to be represented by an empty lectern.
A Channel 4 spokesperson told Press Gazette: “We are disappointed that Mr Johnson will not be taking part in the debate to face members of the public for full scrutiny alongside the other candidates. There will be a lectern available if he changes his mind.”
Channel 4 director of programmes Ian Katz added: “The next British prime minister will be chosen by 330 MPs and 120,000 Tory party members – just 0.2 per cent of the population – so it’s vital that they are properly tested before the wider electorate.
“There has been a dismaying trend in recent years towards major politicians avoiding taking part in televised debates, but we’re hopeful that this will mark a return to healthy public scrutiny of candidates for our highest office.”
Picture: Reuters/Henry Nicholls