Liberal Democrats and SNP lose High Court bid to force ITV to include them in election debates

Posted On: 
18th November 2019

The SNP and Liberal Democrats have failed in a legal bid to force ITV to include them in a televised election debate.

Both Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon had hoped the legal challenge would see them included in the TV clash
Credit: 
PA

Senior judges at the High Court ruled the decision to exclude Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon from the prime time clash on Tuesday night was lawful because there was "no arguable breach" of the broadcast code.

ITV had warned it would pull the debate, which will feature Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, if the case had gone against them.

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The Liberal Democrats had claimed the "voice of Remain" would be excluded if Ms Swinson was not allowed to participate, while the SNP accused the broadcaster of taking a "deliberate decision that contravenes the broadcasting code" by not including Ms Sturgeon.

But their arguments were thrown out by two leading judges, who said the head-to-head debate between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn could lawfully go ahead.

Announcing the ruling, Lord Justice Davis said: "The clear conclusion of both members of this court is that, viewed overall, these claims are not realistically arguable.

"It follows that the television debate scheduled for tomorrow evening between the leader of the Conservative Party and the leader of the Labour Party may lawfully go ahead."

Speaking after the ruling, the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said Scottish voters were being treated like "second-class citizens".

"This election is a chance for people in Scotland to vote to escape Brexit, to protect the NHS and to choose their own future with independence – yet they will not hear that argument in the debate tomorrow night," he said.

He added: "What is now clear is that the UK broadcasting system is similarly incapable. Indeed the result of the decision to exclude the SNP is to discriminate against Scottish voters and to effectively treat them as second-class citizens. 

"That is, quite simply, a democratic disgrace, and the fact that election law and broadcasting codes allow such gross unfairness is unacceptable."

Liberal Democrat President Sal Brinton added: "The Liberal Democrat's position, and that of our leader is unique.

"Jo Swinson is the only leader of a national party fighting to stop Brexit. Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn should not be allowed to side-step debating the issue of Brexit with someone who wants to Remain, and ITV should not give them the opportunity to do so.

"That's why this is an incredibly disappointing verdict. Not just for Liberal Democrats but also for democracy in this country and for every Remainer who deserves to have a voice in this debate."

Meanwhile, Lib Dem education spokesperson Layla Moran tweeted: "It is outrageous that the Remain voice is missing from the ITV debate.

"It's simply wrong of broadcasters to present a binary choice and pre-empy the decision of the people in a general election."