Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has made a last-minute decision to attend Thursday night’s BBC leaders’ debate, despite Prime Minister Theresa May boycotting the live TV grilling.
Corbyn had previously said he would not take part in any debate if the Tory leader refused to participate, but in a shock move during a rally in Reading on Thursday morning, Corbyn said he would join other party leaders in the Cambridge debate airing at 19:30 BST.
In a Labour statement, the party leader said he would attend the debate as it is right that voters hear his policies, before condemning the Tory leader’s failure to do the same.
“The Tories have been conducting a stage-managed arm’s length campaign and have treated the public with contempt.
“Refusing to join me in Cambridge tonight would be another sign of Theresa May’s weakness, not strength,” he said.
Up to 3.3 million viewers tuned in to watch ‘May v Corbyn Live: The Battle for Number 10’ on Sky News and Channel 4 on Monday evening, where the leaders were interviewed separately by veteran broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and a studio audience.
However, May has turned down Corbyn’s latest invitation and said it is “more important” for her to remain on with the campaign trail and “take questions from members of the public who are going to be voting on 8 June.”
Scottish National Party (SNP) strategist Ross Colquhoun, however, pointed out that the number of people May could engage with physically is barely anything compared to those she could reach through a televised debate.
During a Q&A at a factory in Bath, May was asked by journalists if she was “frightened” about facing Corbyn in a head-to-head debate, to which she replied: “No. Jeremy Corbyn seems to be paying far more attention to how many appearances on television he’s doing.”
“He ought to be paying a little more attention to thinking about Brexit negotiations.
“That’s what I’m doing, to make sure we get the best possible deal for Britain,” she said.
Tory Home Secretary Amber Rudd will stand in for May at the seven-way debate, which will feature Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon.
Asked by a reporter, “if you are so strong and Jeremy Corbyn is so weak, as you said, why have you sent Amber Rudd to take on his arguments at the debate tonight?” the Tory leader simply laughed at length.
A Tory spokesman had previously said the public could decide whether to vote for May or run a “risk” with Corbyn and a “coalition of chaos.”
Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has praised the Labour chief for his decision to attend the debate.
But he also took a swipe at May’s “strong and stable” stance.
Corbyn doing the right thing by joining TV leaders’ debate tonight. Yet more questions for Mrs May. Strong and stable seems a long time ago.
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) 31 May 2017
The Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire mocked the PM.
If Theresa May was deliberately trying to lose she couldn’t do a better job
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) 31 May 2017
Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas, the party’s only MP and who will also take part in the debate, applauded Corbyn for his decision, while asking May whether she too would finally emerge from her “hiding place.”
The news comes as the most recent YouGov poll predicts a hung parliament, as the Conservatives are forecast to lose up to 20 seats while Labour stands to gain an extra 28 constituencies, meaning the Tories will be left 16 seats short of an overall majority.