POLITICS

EU Referendum TV Debates: Cameron Avoids Tories, And Farage Angers 'Vote Leave' Campaign

Vote Leave source to ITV: "There will be consequences."

11/05/2016 23:43 | Updated 12 May 2016
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The live TV election debates have prompted an extraordinary row and ITV being threatened with "consequences" as the broadcaster and Sky News revealed plans for a series of EU referendum dust-ups.

Schedules announced on Wednesday evening suggest David Cameron could avoid a face-to-face clash with a Tory heavyweight offering the opposing 'Out' case, while Nigel Farage is set for a prime-time slot despite not being part of the official 'Leave' campaign.

Chris Ratcliffe via Getty Images
Nigel Farage

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, the Out campaign's cheerleader in chief, is not involved at all as yet.

On June 7, Cameron will appear on an ITV debate on the same programme as Ukip's Nigel Farage

But the two men will never be on screen together, instead facing separate 30-minute grillings by ITV anchor, Julie Etchingham.

A week earlier, on June 2, Cameron will also take part in a Sky News programme. 

He will be interviewed by Faisal Islam, the channel’s Political Editor, before taking part in an audience question-and-answer session moderated by Kay Burley.

Another programme featuring Michael Gove, the chairman of the official Vote Leave campaign, which will follow an identical format.

Vote Leave sources were briefing journalists they were threatening legal action over the ITV's decision - and accused the corporation of being part of the official 'In' campaign.

The extraordinary statement prompted Robert Peston, ITV's Political Editor, to make clear his impartiality.

Robert Oxley, the chief spokesman for the Vote Leave campaign, said ITV had "given in" to Downing Street.

"No.10 should not be allowed to pick its opponents in the referendum debate, that's not how democracy works," he said.

Oxley said Vote Leave did not think Farage was the best person to win over undecided voters in the referendum. "It should be for the official campaigns which people they put up," he said. "We know No.10 does not want to debate the Vote leave Campaign."

HuffPost UK understands prominent members of the Vote Leave, including Johnson, have been invited to take part in a two-hour ITV debate on June 9, which is yet to be confirmed.

ITV sources defended the Farage decision on the basis Ukip polled 3.9m votes a year ago and finished third in the general election, and the channel thinks "viewers have right to hear" what he has to say.

When he announced his position on 'Brexit' in February, Johnson said he "won't do is take part in loads of TV debates with other members of my party".

The Cameron v Farage event appears similar to the Paxman-led interviews and QandAs last year, which prompted Ed Miliband to argue "hell yes, I'm tough enough".

The BBC has yet to finalise it own plans, though repots suggest a major event at Wembley Arena could take place two days before the vote on June 23.

Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News and Current Affairs, said: "The referendum is an enormously important event for the future of Britain. We know our viewers want to make an informed decision and these live programmes will give people a chance to directly compare the Remain and Leave cases.

"People will be able to hear leading politicians on both sides of the debate put forward their arguments in the same place and in the same programme.

“An equal opportunity will be given for the Leave and Remain cases to be heard. Across the two programmes there'll be an opportunity for different shades of opinion from both camps to express their arguments."

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