Downing Street accuse Jeremy Corbyn of 'running scared' of TV Brexit debate
Plans for a Brexit TV showdown between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn were hanging by a thread last night as Downing Street accused the Labour leader of "running scared".
A Number 10 spokesman said Mr Corbyn had thrown up "confected demands" in order to avoid taking part in the clash.
But Labour hit back by accusing the Prime Minister of "running away from the scrutiny of a real head-to-head debate with Jeremy Corbyn".
The war of words came as five eurosceptic ex-Cabinet ministers piled pressure on the BBC by demanding a prominent pro-Brexit figure take part in the debate, which has been pencilled in for Sunday, 9 December.
Mrs May challenged Mr Corbyn to a one-on-one TV debate ahead of the Commons vote on her Brexit deal, which will take place on 11 December.
But that has sparked a bitter row, with Downing Street preferring a BBC debate in which Mrs May and Mr Corbyn would be quizzed by a panel of other politicians, while Labour wants a straight head-to-head clash on ITV.
The dispute intensified last night as Downing Street traded angry barbs with Labour - leaving an agreement looking increasingly unlikely.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “A week ago, the Prime Minister challenged Jeremy Corbyn to a head to head debate. He accepted.
“Since then, in order to accommodate his confected demands, we’ve moved our preferred day, accommodated the addition of social media questions at Labour’s request, and agreed there should be maximum head to head time, while still including voices from employers and civil society in the debate.
“But if Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t agree to what’s now on the table — a debate on primetime with the Prime Minister — the public will rightly conclude he’s running scared. So let’s get on with it.”
But a Labour Party spokesman shot back: “As she did during the general election campaign, Theresa May is running away from the scrutiny of a real head to head debate with Jeremy Corbyn.
“Why else would she not accept ITV’s offer of a straightforward head to head debate, as Jeremy has done?
“Instead, her team are playing games and prefer the BBC’s offer, which would provide less debating time and risk a confusing mish-mash for the viewing public.”
A broadcast industry source told The Daily Telegraph: “There's less than a week left now until the debate is supposed to happen, and that isn't a lot of time to plan and turn around a one-off TV show.
“Normally three weeks would be a tight turnaround for something like this, so we really can't afford any further delays.”
Meanwhile, Tory big-hitters Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale urged the BBC to allow a pro-Brexit figure to take part in any debate.
In a letter to chair of the broadcaster Sir David Clementi, signed by other prominent Leave figures and seen by the Telegraph, they said refusing an anti-EU figure a platform would “breach the concept of impartiality”.
But the BBC said its proposals for a panel different views on Brexit would allow “opportunity to hear from a wider range of voices”.