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Tories say Labour leader 'running scared' over TV debate with PM

By Gavin Cordon

Downing Street has accused Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of "running scared" of a Brexit TV showdown with Theresa May amid continued wrangling between the two sides over the format.

No 10 confirmed there is still no agreement on the debate, due to be screened on Sunday - two days before the crunch Commons vote on the Prime Minister's Brexit deal. The latest spat erupted after Mr Corbyn said on Saturday that he was prepared to accept Downing Street's preferred option of the BBC, provided it was a straight head-to-head discussion between the two leaders.

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

However a No 10 spokesman made clear they are determined to stick to the original BBC plan.

"A week ago, the Prime Minister 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 is the Prime Minister who is 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," the party 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."

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has complained the proposal for a debate between the Conservative and Labour leaders meant other views are 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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