The Liberal Democrats are taking ITV to court over their decision to host a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on 19 November.
Although Jo Swinson and other party leaders were not invited to participate in the debate, there is to be a ‘live interview-based programme’ after the event which would include representatives from the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party and the Green party.
The debate will be hosted by Julie Etchingham and will take place in Greater Manchester.
Swinson made two arguments against her non-inclusion. Firstly, by contrasting the clarity of the Liberal Democrat position on Brexit with a perceived ambiguity in Labour’s stance, she described the current Johnson-Corbyn debate as “Leave versus Leave – with no voice for Remain”.
She also suggested that the scheduled debate between two men was a blow for gender equality: “I am delighted to lead a party that has 50-50 men and women MPs. It is why we are determined that the debates that take place – the TV debates – about who will be the next prime minister of our country cannot and should not exclude the only woman leader who is able to be the next prime minister.”
The party president Sal Brinton filed for a judicial review on behalf of the party. Her criticism of the decision focused on the lack of a proper representative of Remain, and suggested that the head-to-head debate “disrespects” Remainers.
On 6 December, the BBC will also be hosting a debate which features only Johnson and Corbyn. This debate, to take place in Southampton, was described by Swinson as “shocking”. She will however be given a chance to convey her anti-Brexit message on the Question Time Leaders’ Special on 22 November, in which Swinson, Johnson, Corbyn, Sturgeon will each answer questions from the audience for a 30 minute period. There will also be a BBC debate between representatives of the seven main parties on 29 November.
Leaders from other parties have also complained about the ITV and BBC head-to-head debates. Ian Blackford of the SNP argued that they “short-changed voters in Scotland”, while Nigel Farage called for his own “civilised head-to-head debate [with Johnson] on what this EU treaty means”.
The BBC has not received a legal challenge from the Liberal Democrats over its Southampton debate, but Brinton has not ruled one out.