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Boris Johnson accused of ‘running scared’ from Andrew Neil and TV debates

The Prime Minister is not taking part in a Channel 4 debate on the climate crisis, or a BBC leaders debate.

The BBC’s seven-way election debate will take place on November 29 (Jonathan Brady/PA)
The BBC’s seven-way election debate will take place on November 29 (Jonathan Brady/PA)

By Sophie Morris, PA Political Staff

Boris Johnson has been accused of “running scared” from a grilling by interviewer Andrew Neil, as it was disclosed he will also miss two TV debates.

The Prime Minister will not attend the BBC’s seven-way election debate on Friday, and has not yet been pinned down for a half hour grilling by Mr Neil, the corporation said.

Mr Johnson is also set to snub the first election leaders’ debate focusing on the climate crisis, which will be broadcast on Channel 4 on Thursday.

The BBC has announced two further one-on-one interviews, in which Jo Swinson and Nigel Farage will take the hot seat alongside Mr Neil, and announced Friday’s debate line-up – with Mr Johnson featuring in neither.

Facing questions on whether Mr Johnson is avoiding the broadcasting veteran, the BBC said they are in “ongoing discussions” with the Prime Minister’s team but “haven’t yet been able to fix a date”.

It comes after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a brutal questioning from Mr Neil on allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, in which he refused four times to apologise to the Jewish community.

Neither Mr Johnson nor Mr Corbyn will attend the BBC’s seven-way election debate on Friday, the corporation said, with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak replacing Mr Johnson, and shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey subbing in for Mr Corbyn.

Liberal Democrat leader Ms Swinson will be in the hot seat to face a televised half hour grilling from Mr Neil on Wednesday December 4, with Brexit Party leader Mr Farage taking his turn on Thursday December 5.

These follow the BBC’s half-hour interviews with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Corbyn earlier this week, with three million people tuning in on Tuesday night to see the Labour leader face questions.

Responding to the lack of a date for Mr Johnson to be questioned by Mr Neil, Ian Lavery, Labour Party chairman, said: “Boris Johnson backed out of a head-to-head debate with Jeremy Corbyn on Sunday, he is refusing to take part in the party leaders’ climate crisis debate tomorrow and now this.

“He’s running scared because every time he is confronted with the impact of nine years of austerity, the cost of living crisis, and over his plans to sell out our NHS, the more he is exposed.”

A Tory source said: “Discussions are ongoing.”

Meanwhile, on the issue of whether a Conservative minister could attend the Channel 4 debate instead of Mr Johnson, a spokeswoman for Channel 4 News said: “Channel 4 News is hosting the world’s first leaders’ debate. Michael Gove is not the party leader. The invitation to Boris Johnson remains open.”

Although neither Mr Corbyn nor Mr Johnson will feature in the BBC’s seven-way debate on Friday, Jo Swinson and Nicola Sturgeon will both appear.

Also due to take part are leader of Plaid Cymru Adam Price, former leader of the Green Party and Green candidate for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas, and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice.

The debate will take place on BBC One at 7.30pm, with Today programme presenter and former BBC political editor Nick Robinson hosting.

The BBC said the debate will be broadcast live from Cardiff and the format will see each of the panellists make short opening statements, which will then be followed by questions and debate.

At the end of the debate, all of the representatives will have the opportunity to make short closing statements.

Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn have already taken part in a head-to-head debate on ITV and a Question Time leaders’ special on the BBC last week.

Some 6.7 million people tuned into the first two-way leaders’ debate on ITV on November 19.

A peak audience of 4.6 million watched Mr Johnson, Mr Corbyn, Ms Swinson and Ms Sturgeon face a barrage of hostile questioning on the BBC’s Question Time special on November 22.

PA

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