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Lib Dems launch High Court challenge over ITV leaders’ debate

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson (Aaron Chown/PA)
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson (Aaron Chown/PA)

The Liberal Democrats have launched a High Court challenge against ITV over the broadcaster’s exclusion of Jo Swinson from a televised debate.

ITV is hosting a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on November 19 which will not include any other party leaders.

Lib Dem representatives lodged papers at the court in London on Monday and said it was “vital for our democracy” to have both sides of the Brexit debate included in TV debates during the election campaign.

Speaking outside the Royal Courts of Justice, party president Sal Brinton said: “General elections are about people’s democratic choices.

“The TV debates offer the only chance for people to see how leaders compare to each other directly, in a neutral, equal and balanced format.

“For many people, this is the moment they decide how they will vote.

“Right now, most voters see Brexit as the single biggest issue for the country and the central issue for this election.

“And people know more about where they stand on Brexit than which party they will vote for.

“So it is vital for our democracy to have both sides of the Brexit debate represented at the top table of the leaders’ debates.”

Ms Brinton added: “ITV’s current proposal fundamentally disrespects the many millions of people who strongly support remaining in the European Union.

“It ignores their concerns, their right to question and to be represented.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson will take part in the head-to-head debate (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Both Johnson and Corbyn want Britain to leave. ITV’s proposal has no place for Remain at the top table, despite this being the strongly held view of many millions of both voters and viewers.

“In an independent YouGov poll, the British public, by two to one, think ITV should have invited Jo Swinson to take part.

“The Liberal Democrats, on behalf of all those who want our democracy to remain fair and balanced, are legally challenging ITV to do the right, fair and balanced thing.

“We need to preserve the health of our democracy, for this generation and the next.”

The BBC has also announced plans to host a head-to-head debate between the Labour and Conservative party leaders.

Asked whether the party will also take action against the BBC over its exclusion of Ms Swinson, Ms Brinton said it was “too early to say”.

She added: “It is the broadcasters’ duty to provide a fair and neutral debate which reflects the views of the country.”

General election 2019 poll of polls
(PA Graphics)

Ms Brinton also responded to a question about whether the SNP should be included by saying that Nicola Sturgeon would not be in the next Westminster government and that the issue is with UK-wide parties being represented in the debates.

The SNP said it is considering its own legal action over the TV debates.

The party’s business convener Kirsten Oswald said: “It is utterly outrageous for any broadcaster to include a minor party like the Liberal Democrats and to exclude the SNP – who secured nearly three times as many seats at the last election, and whose current support suggests will continue to be the third largest party in Westminster.

“We have made that clear to Sky, whose proposed debate is a democratic disgrace, and to ITV, and we are considering our next steps.

“In all of this, one thing that is clear is the utter hypocrisy of the Lib Dems, who are happy to see a larger female-led party of Remain excluded in their own self-interest as part of a typical Westminster stitch-up.”

Meanwhile, after reports that Sajid Javid will refuse to take part in a Channel 4 debate on Sunday, shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “I immediately proposed a TV debate with Sajid Javid as part of the election process.

“However, it now appears that for all his bluster and bravado he’s doing all he possibly can to wriggle out of any debate.

“If he doesn’t sign up, I suggest that the broadcasters empty chair him.”

The Tory Party did not respond to requests for comment, but Mr Javid told Channel 4 News: “I understand that there’s discussions going on. I’m not going to pre-empt those, but it’s always good to have a robust discussion, and I’m happy to discuss with John McDonnell any time.”

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