Vote Leave has warned Britain’s largest commercial broadcaster to expect “consequences” after it announced a question-and-answer style event on the EU Referendum which will see the Prime Minister go head to head against UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage.
Continuing to vent its fury at the line-up, Vote Leave also warned “the people in No. 10 won’t be there for long.”
In an extraordinary statement, the campaign accused ITV of “lying” over Mr Farage’s involvement as they had been due to meet with ITV today to discuss Michael Gove or Boris Johnson as potential contenders.
Mr Cameron is said to be keen to avoid debating Conservative figures, prompting Vote Leave to allege that ITV had “secretly [stitched] up a deal with Downing Street.”
And they questioned the neutrality of the broadcaster, accusing it of joining the official ‘In’ campaign, and it’s political editor, Robert Peston, of backing the euro – an accusation he has denied.
So, & I can hardly believe I need to say this, I never campaigned for the euro & ITV is wholly impartial in EU referendum debate
— Robert Peston (@Peston) May 11, 2016
This morning a spokesman for the organisation refused to withdraw the threats, yet wouldn’t explain what exactly the consequences would be.
The row broke out last night following an announcement by ITV that it had scheduled an hour long head-to-head event on the EU referendum to take place three weeks before the vote on 23 June. Mr Farage will kick off proceedings, and will be given half hour to make the case for leaving the EU during a question and answer session in front of an audience of 200.
Mr Cameron will then have the opportunity to make the opposing case following the same format.
There is concern over the proposed format as it allows the Prime Minister to duck debating Mr Farage directly; viewers will also be left with the Prime Minister’s Remain arguments freshest in their minds, with Mr Farage given no opportunity for rebuttal.
Problem with ITV’s format is that it’s a Q&A, not head-to-head. So we won’t get forensic debate, & Cameron can just do his Oprah impression
— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) May 12, 2016
But the officially designated leave campaign, Vote Leave, has instead decided to complain about Mr. Farage’s involvement.
“They [Downing Steet] are fixing the debates to shut out the official campaign,” they asserted, in a bizarre statement issued to media outlets this morning.
“ITV is led by people like Robert Peston who campaigned for Britain to join the euro. ITV has lied to us in private while secretly stitching up a deal with Cameron to stop Boris Johnson or Michael Gove debating the issues properly.
“ITV has effectively joined the official IN campaign and there will be consequences for its future – the people in No10 won’t be there for long.”
Vote Leave have a history of antagonism towards the UKIP leader, repeatedly refusing to join forces with his Brexit campaign, Leave.eu in a bid to secure the common goal of seeing Britain disengage from the EU.
Surreal: Vote Leave threaten to sue ITV over the Farage/Cameron debate June 7th. https://t.co/cM16KF3lNt. But the public want to hear Nigel.
— Roger Helmer (@RogerHelmerMEP) May 12, 2016
A spokesman for Mr Farage has called on Vote Leave to now “put their egos to one side”, and rally behind the UKIP leader’s appearance as a means to realising that goal.
“Once again sadly we see Vote Leave seeking to exclude Nigel Farage and UKIP from this referendum campaign,” he said.
“It is deeply disappointing that rather than rallying behind Nigel Farage for what will be the biggest one-on-one debate of the referendum campaign, Vote Leave are instead threatening court action to stop Nigel from taking on the Prime Minister.
“All on the Leave side must put their egos to one side and support Nigel as he prepares to take on the Prime Minister in what will undoubtedly be the defining moment of the referendum campaign.”
Industry figures have pointed out that UKIP won four million votes in the 2015 general election; one source told the Daily Mail: “ITV thinks viewers have a right to hear what the Ukip leader has to say on the referendum.”
ITV have also announced plans for separate debate to be held on 9 June in which Vote Leave figures including Boris Johnson have been invited to participate.
Michael Jermey, ITV’s director of news and current affairs, said: “People will be able to hear leading politicians on both sides of the debate put forward their arguments in the same place and in the same programme.
“Across the two programmes there’ll be an opportunity for different shades of opinion from both camps to express their arguments.”