Row breaks out between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit deal TV debate

Posted On: 
29th November 2018

A row has erupted between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May over a head-to-head debate on Brexit planned for primetime TV.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May
PA Images

Downing Street is backing the BBC's bid to screen the clash on Sunday, 9 December, at 8pm - just two days before the crunch Commons vote on the Brexit deal the Prime Minister has struck with the EU.

But the Labour leader is pushing for the debate to be aired on ITV at the earlier time of 7pm due to fears the proposed schedule could clash with final of 'I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here'.

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Number 10 sources said they had initially been pushing for it to take place on 7 December, but had agreed to push it back 48 hours at Labour's request.

But Mr Corbyn told ITV's This Morning programme that he still wanted that broadcaster to host the debate, rather than their bitter BBC rivals.

He said: “The ITV offer seemed a sensible one. It reaches a wide audience and the timing looked good to me because it is not inconveniencing people who may wish to watch other things later in the evening.

“One should always have respect for the viewers and also we want to get the widest possible audience.”

He said he was “indeed” gearing his proposals around 'I’m A Celebrity' fans, who will want to tune into the season finale on at 9pm, adding: “Maybe I want to watch it myself as well.”

Labour believes the ITV slot would reach a bigger and more diverse audience, and is angry about the BBC format, which will include a panel of Brexit figures rather than the simple head-to-head proposed by ITV.

A source suggested the Labour leadership felt bounced into the plan - possibly as part of a stich up between No 10 director of communications Robbie Gibb and his former employer the BBC.

PoliticsHome understands negotiations betweeen Downing Street, the Labour leadership and the broadcasters is ongoing.

Mrs May proposed the clash as part of a last-ditch campaign to sell her Brexit deal to the public ahead of the so-called ‘meaningful vote’ for MPs in the Commons on 11 December.

She is all-but certain to be defeated in parliament however - since every opposition party and almost 100 Tory MPs have refused to support the blueprint she agreed with Brussels.


Meanwhile, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said it would be an “absolute travesty of democracy” if a party campaigning to remain in the EU was not represented in the debate.

Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, who has also demanded the right to take part in the clash, said: "May is running scared of the real opposition. A debate shouldn’t take place between two cosy Brexiters.

"The public demand the full facts and figures on the cost of Brexit. They also deserve to hear all the options. A People's Vote, including the option to remain, is the only real alternative. I will make that case anytime, anywhere."

The BBC said: "Like everyone else, we've just heard the Prime Minister has accepted the BBC’s offer to take part in a debate on the Brexit deal on Sunday 9 December.

"We’re delighted she’s agreed and hope to hear soon from the Labour party. We have been discussing debate formats with both parties and will announce further details soon."