The BBC has pulled out of holding a Brexit debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.
Both the broadcaster and ITV offered to air a debate between the two leaders on Sunday – two days ahead of Parliament’s vote on the proposed Brexit agreement.
But the BBC confirmed it “could not reach an agreement” on its proposal.
Earlier, Labour said the PM was “running away from the scrutiny” of a head-to-head with Mr Corbyn by accepting the BBC’s format over ITV’s.
The BBC wanted to include “a range of voices” as part of a panel debate, as well as a head-to-head between the leaders.
Several other parties have said they should be included in the debate – including the SNP, Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Greens.
ITV says “invitations remain open” to both leaders to hold a debate on the channel this Sunday.
The news about the BBC debate came as MPs geared up to begin five days of debate in Parliament over the withdrawal agreement.
What have the channels said?
The BBC confirmed last Thursday that the prime minister had accepted its offer to take part in a debate on Sunday night and it was waiting to hear from the Labour Party.
Mr Corbyn then told ITV’s This Morning that he preferred ITV’s offer – partly because it would not clash with the final of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! on the same evening.
On Saturday, the BBC released a further statement, saying its proposal included both a head-to-head debate and “an opportunity to hear from a wider range of voices”.
And in a statement on Monday night, ITV said “invitations remained open” to both leaders for its straight head-to-head debate – it confirmed this was still the case after the BBC said it was pulling out.
In a statement on Tuesday, the BBC said its proposed format included:
- A head-to-head debate between the leaders
- A discussion between eight panellists with a wide range of views on Brexit – including other politicians
- A further head-to-head debate
- Closing statements from each leader
“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,” said the statement.
“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.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Labour criticised Mrs May and her team for choosing their “preferred broadcaster” for the debate.
The party’s spokesman called the BBC’s proposal “a mish-mash, with a lop-sided panel of other politicians and public figures”, and said the channel should instead offer a one-on-one debate, as ITV and Sky had.
She added: “I am going to be explaining why I think this deal is the right deal for the UK – and yes, I am ready to debate it with Jeremy Corbyn. Because I have got a plan. He hasn’t got a plan.”
The BBC has contacted both the Labour and Conservative Party for comment.