03/05/2017 13:33 BST | Updated 03/05/2017 13:35 BST

ITV Challenges Theresa May And Jeremy Corbyn To Take Part In Live TV Election Debate

But will go ahead without them if they say no.

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Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will be invited to take part in a live TV election debate hosted by ITV.

But the broadcaster said the debate would go ahead even if the leaders of the two main parties refused to take part.

The prime minister has ruled out joining any head-to-head debates. The Labour leader has said he wants to be involved in a debate, but only if May is also on the stage.

ITV today announced its Leaders’ Debate will air on Thursday May 18th at 8pm, and will be moderated by Julie Etchingham.

The Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens will all be asked to take part.

At the start of the election campaign, May said “we wont be doing the TV debates” and instead said she would focus on meeting the voters.

However as the campaign has progressed, the prime minister has been criticised for avoiding scrutiny by speaking to halls filled with just Tory activists.

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Ed Miliband taking part in a TV election debatein 2015

Corbyn has said May should debate him. However his spokesman has said there is no point in a debate that does not include the prime minister.

“I don’t think that having a debate among opposition parties in any way meets the objective of giving the British people a chance to see what the real choices are in this election campaign,” the spokesman said.

ITV said its 2015 Leaders’ Debate attracted a peak audience of 7.4 million people. 

The broadcaster’s Director of News and Current Affairs, Michael Jermey said today: “ITV will be offering our viewers a wide range of programmes on this snap election. Listening to voters and helping them put their questions direct to the politicians will be at the heart of what we’ll do.

“We have a strong record on organising debate programmes and giving viewers the chance to put their questions straight to the politicians. The ITV Leaders’ Debate moderated by Julie Etchingham and the debates in the nations will give viewers an opportunity to get answers.”

ITV will also host a Wales Election Debate programme on Wednesday May 17th at 8pm, with five party leaders in Wales. In Northern Ireland, UTV will broadcast a 60 minute debate at 9pm on Wednesday May 24th. 

STV’s Scotland Debates programme will air on Wednesday May 24th in ITV Border Scotland and will include the leaders of the four main political parties in Scotland - the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson of the Scottish Conservatives, Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie.