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Theresa May denies refusing to debate Jeremy Corbyn because she is 'frightened' of losing on live TV

'Debates where the politicians are squabbling amongst themselves don’t do anything for the process of electioneering'

Theresa May has denied she is refusing to debate Jeremy Corbyn because she is “frightened” of her weaknesses being exposed on live television.

The Prime Minister faced a barrage of questions about her refusal to go head-to-head with the Labour leader – after he suddenly announced he would attend tonight’s election showdown.

Ms May claimed it was “more important” for her to spend time on the campaign trail, “taking questions from members of the public who are going to be voting on 8 June”.

Asked why - if “you are so strong and Jeremy Corbyn is so weak, as you said" - she was sending Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, to stand in for her in the TV spotlight, she laughed at length.

Then, quizzed if it was because she was “frightened” to face Mr Corbyn, she told an audience in Bath: “No. Jeremy Corbyn seems to be paying far more attention to how many appearances on television he’s doing.

“He ought to be paying a little more attention to thinking about Brexit negotiations. That’s what I’m doing, to make sure we get the best possible deal for Britain.”

Tonight’s debate will be on BBC, prompting the Prime Minister to add: “I feel sorry for ITV – why didn’t he do their debate?”

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Asked a third time, why she was “snubbing” TV voters, the Prime Minister insisted: “I’ve not been off the television screens, I’ve been doing things in the television. – predominantly taking questions from the voters and listening to voters.

“I think the debates where the politicians are squabbling amongst themselves don’t do anything for the process of electioneering,”

She was also accused of dodging the debate because the viewers “won’t like what they see – and they will think that’s what it will like in the Brexit negotiations”.

The questions came after Mr Corbyn threw down the gauntlet to the Prime Minister, claiming it was “ridiculous” he could not debate her before election day and accusing her of “weakness”.

In a statement he said: “I will be taking part in tonight's debate because I believe we must give people the chance to hear and engage with the leaders of the main parties before they vote.

“I have never been afraid of a debate in my life. Labour’s campaign has been about taking our policies to people across the country and listening to the concerns of voters.

“The Tories have been conducting a stage-managed arms-length campaign and have treated the public with contempt. Refusing to join me in Cambridge tonight would be another sign of Theresa May’s weakness, not strength.”

Mr Corbyn had originally indicated he would not take part in any head-to-head contest with other leaders if Ms May did not.

But, with his party gaining on the Tories, the move to challenge Ms May over tonight's BBC 1 debate, to be broadcast at 7.30pm, marks a more confident Labour campaign.

It comes after a seat-by-seat prediction by YouGov for The Times suggested Britain could be on course for a hung parliament in nine days’ time, with the Conservatives falling 16 seats short of an overall majority.

At the event in Bath, the Prime Minister also faced tough questions from workers at an aeronautical plant, including about why there was a “crisis” in the NHS.

Other workers quizzed her on rising homelessness, cuts to school funding and the likely higher cost of exporting to the EU after Britain leaves the single market.