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July 11, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:03am

BBC Question Time Tory leadership special ‘unlikely to go ahead’ over audience row

By James Walker

A BBC Question Time debate between Conservative leadership candidates Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson is “unlikely to go ahead”, the broadcaster has said.

The special edition of the politics and current affairs panel show was planned for Tuesday 16 July, but the BBC has now said it has “not so far been able to reach agreement on the format”.

Press Gazette understands that one candidate’s concerns about the make-up of the audience was the main barrier to an agreement being reached.

The candidate’s concerns follow criticism of the BBC’s Tory leadership debate show which aired earlier last month, hosted by Emily Maitlis.

It saw candidates quizzed by an Imam who it later emerged had tweeted about politicians “on the Zionist’s payroll” and had shared a picture in support of “relocating” Israel to the United States.

Another member of the public who asked a question of the candidates was found to be a former Labour staffer.

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is hosting a conference on media freedom this week, tweeted that he was not the candidate blocking the Question Time special planned for next week.

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Earlier this month he described the public broadcaster’s plan to host the debate six days before voting in the Tory leadership election closed as an “absolute joke”.

BBC presenter Andrew Neil is still set to quiz both candidates in a BBC One special airing this Friday at 7pm.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We’ve already hosted a leadership debate and Andrew Neil’s interviews on Friday will ensure both candidates are given forensic examination on prime-time BBC One.

“While the BBC is keen to host a Question Time special as well, we have not so far been able to reach agreement on the format and it now looks unlikely we’ll be able to go ahead with this additional programme.”

A head-to-head debate between Hunt and Johnson hosted by ITV on Tuesday night drew in 4.3m viewers on average, with a peak of 4.7m – just behind soap drama Emmerdale.

Picture: Reuters/Peter Powell/Pool

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