General election 2019: Lib Dems and SNP in court over TV debate exclusion


Jo Swinson and Ian Blackford

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The High Court will later consider separate legal challenges from the Lib Dems and SNP over their exclusion from ITV’s general election debate.

ITV’s head-to-head between Conservative leader Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is on Tuesday.

The SNP and Lib Dems say it is unfair not to invite them to take part.

The Lib Dems have also sent a legal letter to the BBC over its decision not to include their leader Jo Swinson in a debate on 6 December.

The SNP said it expected the High Court to decide on Monday whether the two legal challenges should be heard together and a ruling is expected later in the day.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, said: “This challenge is not just about the SNP, it’s about fairness for every voter and viewer across the country who have a right to see the real choice at this election on that debate stage.

“By excluding key parties from the debate, viewers are being deprived of the opportunity to make their own decisions, and voters in Scotland are not seeing their voting patterns reflected at all.

“People in Scotland voted Remain in 2016 and overwhelmingly backed the SNP as their party of choice in the European elections.”

He added that it was “simply false to tell viewers in Scotland that that is their choice when we know Scotland has repeatedly rejected both in recent elections and the SNP could well hold the balance of power on 13 December”.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show “we may be in a minority government situation” after the general election so it would be “right” to hear the views of smaller parties.

The Lib Dems say it is wrong to exclude “a voice of Remain” – and the only female candidate for prime minister – from the head-to-head debates.

When ITV announced its plans, the channel said it would hold a live interview-based programme alongside the leaders’ head-to-head to allow other parties to comment, as well as another multi-party debate ahead of the 12 December poll.

The Liberal Democrats have also criticised the BBC’s plan for a live head-to-head between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn on Friday, 6 December, because Jo Swinson is not taking part.

The party’s lawyers have also sent a letter to the BBC’s director general Tony Hall, saying the exclusion of Ms Swinson is “clearly unlawful”.

“It also means that viewers will be denied the opportunity to hear the fresh and distinct perspective that the Liberal Democrats bring on the dominant issue of this election, namely Brexit,” the letter said.

The BBC declined to comment on the letter.

The broadcaster will host the live head-to-head debate between Mr Johnson and Mr Corbyn in Southampton on 6 December, and will also broadcast a seven-way podium debate between senior figures from the UK’s major political parties on 29 November, live from Cardiff.

And BBC Scotland will stage a televised debate between the SNP, Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats on 10 December, although the Scottish Greens have criticised the decision not to include them.


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