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BBC cancels plans for Sunday night Brexit debate

BBC cancels plans for Sunday night Brexit debate

The BBC has cancelled plans for a Sunday night televised Brexit debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn after Labour objected to the format. The move, which will allow viewers to watch the scheduled final episode of David Attenborough’s Dynasties programme on BBC One, still leaves open the possibility of a similar debate on ITV…

The BBC has cancelled plans for a Sunday night televised Brexit debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn after Labour objected to the format.

The move, which will allow viewers to watch the scheduled final episode of David Attenborough’s Dynasties programme on BBC One, still leaves open the possibility of a similar debate on ITV this weekend.

The prime minister proposed the debate on her deal with the EU last week, prompting days of discussions between political parties and the broadcasters over who would host the programme.

Labour backed a proposal by ITV, which consisted of a simple head-to-head format hosted by Julie Etchingham, while Downing Street preferred the BBC’s offer of a debate featuring a panel of experts and representatives of smaller parties.

Until now, none of the broadcasters or political parties were willing to compromise, prompting the farcical situation where the ITV and BBC were planning for a live television show scheduled to take place in five days at the same timeslot, with no idea whether either of the main guests would turn up.

The public broadcaster has confirmed it has withdrawn from the process but ITV is still interested in hosting the debate, meaning the prime minister has the difficult decision of either accepting her rival’s preferred format or appearing to run away from a debate that she proposed.

“We are disappointed that we could not reach an agreement on the BBC’s proposal for a debate on Brexit,” a BBC spokesperson said. “We have been clear throughout the whole of this process that as well as a substantive head-to-head debate, any programme we broadcast would need to include other voices, including other political parties, to reflect the wide range of views the public and parliamentarians hold about Brexit.

“The final proposal we put to both of the main parties was for a head-to-head debate between the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, followed by a discussion between eight panellists, including politicians, with a wide range of views on Brexit, and ending with further head-to-head debate and closing statements.

“We believe ours was a fair and appropriate format for those taking part and, crucially, for our audiences around the country, and it is a shame we will not be able to bring them this programme.”

The BBC instead pledged to produce other programmes on the issue, including a special edition of the One Show on Wednesday night featuring the presenters of its popular Brexitcast podcast.

Earlier in the day, Labour said it was not willing to take part in the BBC format but stressed the party was keen for the ITV debate to proceed as planned.

“The public has a right to a genuine head-to-head debate on the prime minister’s worst-of-all-worlds deal,” a spokesperson said. “If the prime minister turns down the opportunity of a genuine head-to-head debate, it will be clear she is once again dodging a TV debate with the leader of the opposition on the future of our country.”

If the ITV debate goes ahead it is likely to take place at 7pm on Sunday night. This would disappoint viewers looking forward to a special celebrity edition of the The Chase gameshow featuring the athlete Jonnie Peacock and TV doctor Pixie McKenna, which is scheduled for that time slot.

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