Leaders' TV debate could be cancelled if judges rule Lib Dems and SNP should be included

PUBLISHED: 14:59 18 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:57 19 November 2019

An advertising van showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, where the Liberal Democrat party are challenging ITV over the broadcaster's exclusion of their leader Jo Swinson from a televised debate. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire

An advertising van showing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, London, where the Liberal Democrat party are challenging ITV over the broadcaster's exclusion of their leader Jo Swinson from a televised debate. Photo: Isabel Infantes/PA Wire

A high court has heard how the views of voters who want to remain in the EU will be 'ignored' by leaving the Liberal Democrat and SNP leaders out of its televised election debate.

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Judges are appealing two separate legal challenges from the Lib Dems and SNP over their exclusion. Lord Justice Davis has said that if the parties win, the ITV debate would not go ahead.

Beginning the hearing, the Lib Dems told the court "Brexit is the dominant issue" but the ITV debate will be "between two people who believe in leaving the EU".

"The voice of Remain will be excluded," the Lib Dems added.

Lord Justice Davis was told "this is a national news broadcaster… it can move very, very fast. It's not uncommon for a TV company to make adjustments at the last minute."

A head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is due to air on Tuesday night. ITV lawyers told the court the debate - and an interview with Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson due to follow it - will be pulled from its schedule altogether if the two judges hearing the case find ITV has breached its duties under the Broadcasting Code.

Guy Vassall-Adams QC said the broadcaster's decision not to include the Lib Dems was unlawful because it "breaches the duty of impartiality and the requirement to give due weight to a wide range of significant views".

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He told the court: "The dominant issue of this election campaign is Brexit, which is on any view a matter of major political controversy and current public policy.

"In the first national TV debate of the campaign it is essential that a wide, balanced range of views on Brexit is represented.

SNP lawyers have 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.

Philip Coppel QC said: "Prior to 2010 it may have been the case that a debate between the Labour and the Conservative leaders would cover the full range of significant views in a general election.

"That was, arguably, a time when those parties encompassed the spectrum of mainstream political opinion.

"That is no longer the case. In the current, pluralistic political landscape it is simply not possible for a debate which only includes two parties to include 'all significant views'."

ITV lawyers contend its decision is not capable of challenge in the courts and that, in any event, there is no basis for alleging any unlawful conduct on its part.

A decision is expected to be made after 4pm on Monday.

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