Boris Johnson’s debate stand-in asked: ‘What’s he scared of?’

Rishi Sunak on Good Morning Britain. Photograph: ITV.

Rishi Sunak on Good Morning Britain. Photograph: ITV. - Credit: Archant

A Conservative candidate who is set to replace Boris Johnson in an upcoming seven-way debate was asked why the PM is not showing up.

Chief secretary to the treasury, Rishi Sunak, was asked on Good Morning Britain (GMB) why the prime minister is so shy of debates that Sunak is being drafted into one on November 29 instead.

GMG host Ben Shephard also asked Sunak about why the prime minister has pulled out of the Channel Four debate scheduled for Sunday night.

"Why has he done that? What's he scared of?" asked Shephard.

"It's not about being scared, it's about making sure that he's in all the right formats to engage with people," said Sunak.

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"I bet you that by the end of this election campaign everyone will have debate fatigue," he continued, pointing out the various debate opportunities that are upcoming.

"So was it just an issue that the Tory party had with Channel 4 then?" asked Shephard.

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"No, of course, we are everywhere, we are talking on every platform," said Sunak, adding that "it's not just about being on telly".

The move has echoes of the 2017 election, when then-prime minister Theresa May was roundly criticised for not joining a debate and sending Amber Rudd instead.

Asked when Johnson might be coming on GMB, Sunak complained: "Every time I'm on this show, rather than asking me about our agenda for the British people, everyone asks me about when someone else is coming."

"Well why doesn't Boris Johnson come on? If Boris Johnson came on, we wouldn't have to keep talking about the fact that he hasn't come on when he's promised to come on," said host Charlotte Hawkins.

Sunak was also grilled on the release date of the Conservative party manifesto, which is widely reported to be out Sunday, although there has been no offical confirmation from the party.

MORE: Spoof website gets very sweary about the Tory manifesto"When are we going to get the Tory party manifesto? Is it coming on Sunday, are we going to get it before the election happens?"

Sunak gave a nervous laugh as he responded: "Of course you'll get it before the election happens and you'll actually get it very shortly, or it'll certainly be by next week."

But when he was pressed on when this might be, he tried to pivot back to his criticisms of the Labour manifesto - but instead was pressed further on his own.d. "So you don't know - you're chief secretary to the treasury and you don't know what day your own manifesto's coming out?" asked host Ben Shephard.

Sunak confirmed that "of course" he knows the date. "We're spending all this time this morning talking about process. Who's talking about it, when are they talking about it, as opposed to talking about the actual issues," he added.

"We can't talk about them because you haven't released the manifesto," Shephard pointed out.

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