Brexiteers demand a place in TV debate between May and Corbyn

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Leading Tory Eurosceptics are warning that the BBC’s planned leaders’ TV debate will “breach the concept of impartiality” unless it involves a prominent Brexiteer.

The BBC is planning to screen the Brexit showdown between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday evening - two days before the crucial Commons vote on December 11.

Boris Johnson has described Theresa May's Brexit plan  as akin to terms imposed on a nation after a military defeat. Picture: PA

Boris Johnson has described Theresa May's Brexit plan as akin to terms imposed on a nation after a military defeat. Picture: PA

However The Daily Telegraph reported Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab and other former Cabinet ministers have written to BBC chairman Sir David Clementi to complain the views of the 17.4 million people who voted for Brexit would be “nowhere represented” in the discussion.

They noted that both Mrs May and Mr Corbyn voted Remain in the referendum, adding: “They are both wedded to slightly different models of staying in the customs union.”

They said that a senior Brexiteer should be included in the main line-up and not just on a proposed panel.

“This is, after all, not a general election and the Government or the opposition cannot be allowed to play fast and loose with representative democracy,” they said.

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has complained the proposal for a debate between the Conservative and Labour leaders - both of whom now support Brexit - meant the views of Remainers were being excluded.

In a letter to the BBC, ITV and Sky, Sir Vince put himself forward as an advocate for a so-called people’s vote in a second referendum.

“The principal alternative to the Withdrawal Agreement is for the UK to remain as a full and influential member of the European Union,” he said.

“All the evidence suggests that there is now a majority in the country for doing so, and a substantial majority for a people’s vote. Yet neither Jeremy Corbyn nor Theresa May supports this route.”

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In a statement issued over the weekend, the BBC said: “Our proposal is to broadcast a programme which includes both a head-to-head debate between the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition and also an opportunity to hear from a wider range of voices.

“After all, a broad range of views on this issue is held by the public and by Parliamentarians - from those who want a different form of Brexit to those who want another public vote - and we believe that should be reflected in the debate.”

There were growing doubts as to whether the debate would take place at all amid continued wrangling between the Conservatives and Labour over the format.

The latest spat erupted after Mr Corbyn said on Saturday he was prepared to accept Downing Street’s preferred option of the BBC proposal, provided it was a straight head-to-head discussion between the two leaders.

The Labour leader had previously indicated his support for a rival ITV offer based on a simple one-on-one format, in contrast to the BBC plan which also involves the leaders taking questions from a wider panel.

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However a Number 10 spokesman made clear they were determined to stick to the original BBC proposal and accused Mr Corbyn of running scared.

“A week ago, the PM challenged Jeremy Corbyn to a head-to-head debate. He accepted,” the spokesman said.

“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 prime time with the Prime Minister - the public will rightly conclude he’s running scared. So let’s get on with it.”

But Labour hit back, arguing it was the Prime Minister who was trying to avoid the confrontation.

“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,” a spokesman said.

“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.”