High court rules ITV leaders' debate can go ahead without Lib Dems or SNP

PUBLISHED: 16:32 18 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:56 19 November 2019

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with Lib Dem candidate for St Albans Daisy Cooper  in St Albans whilst on the General Election campaign trail.  Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson with Lib Dem candidate for St Albans Daisy Cooper in St Albans whilst on the General Election campaign trail. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A high court has ruled that ITV's decision to exclude the Liberal Democrats and SNP from their leaders' debate on Tuesday was lawful and that the broadcaster can go ahead with putting the show on as planned.

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ITV had planned to hold a head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn on Tuesday night. The broadcaster's lawyers told a high court that its decision should not be capable of challenge in the courts and that, in any event, there is no basis for alleging any unlawful conduct on its part.

The two leading judges in the case ruling the decision said that the parties' only recourse was to complain to 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."

In a statement after the ruling, the SNP's leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, said: "This election is a chance for people in Scotland to vote to escape Brexit, to protect the NHS and to choose their own future with independence - yet they will not hear that argument in the debate tomorrow night.

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"Instead, they will only hear from the leaders of two parties who both want to pursue Brexit - taking Scotland out of the EU against its will - who want to lock Scotland into the union.

"That means the views of around 50% of Scottish voters who favour independence and around 70% who favour Remain will be completely ignored.

"Nicola Sturgeon was ready, willing and able to take on Johnson and Corbyn in tomorrow night's debate - now it is incumbent on them to commit to the all-party debate on December 1 or tell everyone what they are so scared of."

Lib Dem president Sal Brinton said the rules on television debates had to change.

She said: "Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn should not be allowed to sidestep debating the issue of Brexit with someone who wants to remain, and ITV should not give them the opportunity to do so.

"That is why this is an incredibly disappointing verdict. Not just for the Liberal Democrats but also for democracy in this country, and for every remainer who deserves to have a voice in this debate.

"It is worrying that the Ofcom guidance allows TV executives, not the voters, to decide whether the biggest issues of the day are debated openly in the ITV debate."

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