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It's Johnson V Corbyn in the first leaders' debate as Lib Dems and SNP lose court case

The debate will take place on ITV at 8pm tommorrow.

The Lib Dems' Debate Her billboard outside the Royal Courts of Justice.
The Lib Dems' Debate Her billboard outside the Royal Courts of Justice.
Image: Isabel Infantes/PA Images

Updated Nov 18th 2019, 5:23 PM

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS and the SNP have lost a UK High Court challenge against ITV over its decision to exclude their party leaders from a televised election debate.

A head-to-head debate between Conservative and Labour leaders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is due to air on tomorrow night at 8pm.

No other party leaders are involved in the debate but will be interviewed in a separate programme afterwards.

The Lib Dems and the SNP contested the broadcaster’s decision at a hearing in London today, arguing it was unlawful because it breached impartiality rules.

But two leading judges ruled the decision was not open to challenge in the courts and that the parties’ only recourse was to complain to media watchdog Ofcom.

Lord Justice Davis, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said that, even if the court did have jurisdiction to deal with the case, the format of the debates was a matter of “editorial judgment” and there was “no arguable breach of the Broadcasting Code”.

He added: “The clear conclusion of both members of this court is that, viewed overall, these claims are not realistically arguable.

It follows that the television debate scheduled for tomorrow evening between the leader of the Conservative Party and the leader of the Labour Party may lawfully go ahead.

ITV lawyers had told the court that the debate would have been pulled from its schedule altogether if the judges had found ITV breached its duties under the code.

Lawyers for the Lib Dems had argued that Brexit is the “dominant” issue of the general election and that “the voice of Remain has been excluded” by ITV’s failure to include leader Jo Swinson in the leaders’ debate.

Lawyers for the SNP said the party represents a range of views which would not be represented in a debate between Labour and the Conservatives, including on Brexit and Scottish independence.

ITV had also argued that it will be broadcasting another programme after tomorrow’s debate called the ITV Election Interviews that will feature interviews with the other party leaders.

ITV is also planning a separate a seven-way election debate on Sunday 1 December that will feature those four parties as well as the Brexit Party, Greens and Plaid Cymru. 

Tomorrow’s programme at 8pm is being billed as Johnson V Corbyn: The ITV Debate and is part of a series of TV debates by UK broadcasters.

The Lib Dems have already sent a legal leader to the BBC over one of its debate programmes that is scheduled to include Johnson and Corbyn only.  

That debate is scheduled to take place on 6 December with the Lib Dems arguing that holding a debate involving only Johnson and Corbyn means no Remain voice will be present.

“Most voters see Brexit as the single biggest issue for the UK, their single biggest concern and the central issue for this election,” the Lib Dems letter to the BBC states. 

The BBC’s approach is fundamentally disrespectful to the many millions of people who strongly support remaining in the EU. It ignores their concerns, their right to be heard and to be represented.

The BBC is also holding several other debates ahead of polling day on 12 December.  

Next week, the BBC’s Question Time programme will have an election featuring the Conservative Party, Labour, SNP and Lib Dem leaders.

There’ll also be a seven-way debate on 29 December and another Question Time featuring an audience made up of people under 30. 

BBC Northern Ireland is producing a Leaders’ Debate involving the main party leaders in Northern Ireland on Tuesday 10 December. 

Sky News is holding a debate involving Johnson, Corbyn and Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson on 28 November. 

The decision not to include the Lib Dems in tomorrow’s debate led to Swinson previously saying that sexism was also at play in the decision

The party has been running a social media #DebateHer campaign and last week  launched a legal challenge that sought to have Swinson included. 

“The TV debates offer the only chance for people to see how leaders compare to each other directly, in a neutral, equal and balanced format,” party president Sal Brinton said outside the Royal Courts of Justice

“For many people, this is the moment they decide how they will vote.”

The SNP had similarly attacked the decision not to include them with the SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford saying that “it’s about fairness for every voter and viewer across the country”.

- With reporting by Press Association

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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