Andrew Neil goads Boris Johnson over his refusal to face general election grilling
Andrew Neil has hit out at Boris Johnson over his refusal to be interviewed by him ahead of the general election.
The BBC's chief political interrogator said there were questions of "trust" which the Prime Minister should answer before voters go to the polls on 12 December.
Mr Neil has interviewed Nicola Sturgeon, Jeremy Corbyn, Jo Swinson and Nigel Farage during the election campaign.
But Mr Johnson has repeatedly turned down the chance to face a half-hour grilling by the feared political journalist.
In a three-minute monologue immediately after interviewing Brexit Party leader Mr Farage, Mr Neil said: "The Prime Minister of our nation will at times have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. So we're surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me."
Tory chiefs have previously insisted that they are "in discussions" with the BBC about scheduling an interview with Mr Neil.
But the broadcaster said: "We have been asking him for weeks now to give us a date, a time, a venue. As of now, none has been forthcoming.
"No broadcaster can compel a politician to be interviewed. But leader interviews have been a key part of the BBC's prime tiime election coverage for decades. We do them on your behalf to scrutinise and hold to account those who would govern us - that is democracy.
"We've always proceeded in good faith that the leaders would participate. In every election, they have. All of them, until this one.
"It is not too late. We have an interview prepared - oven ready as Mr Johnson likes to say. The theme running through our questions is trust, and why that so many times through his career in politics and journalism, critics and sometimes even those close to him have deemed him to be untrustworthy."
Mr Neil said he wanted to probe Mr Johnson's claim that the Tories would deliver 50,000 more nurses, even though that number includes nearly 20,000 who already work for the NHS.
He added: "He vows that the NHS will not be on the table in any trade talks with America, but he vowed to the DUP - his unionist allies in Northern Ireland - that there would never be a border down the Irish Sea. That is as important to the DUP as the NHS is to the rest of us. It is a vow his Brexit deal would seem to break.
"Now he tells us he's always been an opponent of austerity. We would want to see evidence of that, and we would want to know why an opponent of austerity would bake so much of it into their future spending plans.
"We would ask why, as with the proposed increase in police numbers, so many of his promises only take us back to the future - back to where we were before austerity began.
"Social care is an area of growing concern. On the steps of Downing Street in July he said he had prepared a plan for social care. We'd ask him why that plan is not in his manifesto.
"Questions of trust. Questions we'd like to put to Mr Johnson so you can hear his replies. But we can't because he won't sit down with us. There is no law, no Supreme Court ruling, that can force Mr Johnson to participate in a BBC leaders' interview.
"But the Prime Minister of our nation will at times have to stand up to President Trump, President Putin, President Xi of China. So we're surely not expecting too much that he spend half an hour standing up to me."
Mr Neil threw down his challenge just minutes after Andrew Gwynne, Labour's election co-ordinator, wrote to BBC director general Tony Hall accusing the corporation of bias in its election coverage.
He said: "Despite our concerns about Andrew Neil’s well-known Conservative political leanings, we agreed to Jeremy Corbyn’s participation on the clear understanding that Boris Johnson had agreed the same terms: namely, a four-programme debates package, including a Neil interview, designed with legal oversight to ensure fairness, balance and impartiality across the campaign period.
"Instead, the BBC allowed the Conservative leader to pick and choose a platform through which he believed he could present himself more favourably and without the same degree of accountability.
"This clearly broke the agreement the Labour Party made with the BBC in good faith."
Meanwhile, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said: "Boris Johnson must stop ducking scrutiny. His cowardly behaviour shows why he simply isn’t fit to be Prime Minister."
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