ITV confirmed it would hold a televised leaders debate, as it did at the last two general elections, while the BBC said it would refuse to let the government stop it producing a programme in the public interest.
May had ruled out appearing in TV debates popularised by her predecessor, David Cameron, after announcing a snap election yesterday.
“We won’t be doing television debates,” she said on Wednesday. “I believe in campaigns where politicians actually get out and about and meet with voters.”
Later, reports suggested Downing Street was eyeing other TV formats other than a head-to-head debate.
Jeremy Corbyn has already ridiculed the PM for refusing to take part, saying it was “what democracy needs and the British people deserve”.
While Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accused May of running “scared”, adding: “The British people deserve to hear party leaders set out their plans and debate them publicly.”
May has even faced calls from some of her own MPs to debate Corbyn and other party leaders in the format that has been a custom since 2010.
Despite her refusal, the BBC’s Head of Newsgathering, Jonathan Munro, told the Telegraph that he had “heard what the Prime Minister has said” but did “not want to get in a position where any party leader stops us doing a programme that we think is in the public interest”.
Munro said: “There is a proven track record over two elections and two referendums that debates reach huge audiences including a lot of young people who don’t watch conventional political coverage in great numbers.
”In 2010 and 2015 the number of young and first time voters going to the polls was up on previous elections.
“We believe there was a relationship between that and the audience the debates pulled in. It helps engagement with hard to reach audiences.”
ITV, another of the broadcasters who held debates in 2010 and 2015, also confirmed plans were already in place for a repeat programme this year.
“ITV will hold a Leaders’ debate as we did in 2010 and 2015,” a spokesperson for the channel said.
“We will announce more details in due course.”
The first time party leaders clashed in live TV debates was 2010, when David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg sparred.
They were repeated in 2015, when Ed Miliband replaced Brown. 7 million people watched the programme.
Author: Aubrey Allegretti