Candidates for the Conservative Party leadership contest will take part in TV debates on the BBC and Sky News, it was announced today.
The BBC’s debate will be moderated by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis and is at the heart of the corporation’s scheduled news coverage set to air next month.
The corporation has said it will cover the contest, the winner of which will become the next UK Prime Minister, despite only Tory party members being eligible to vote, because their choice “will profoundly affect us all”.
Theresa May announced on Friday that she would step down as the leader of the Conservative Party on 7 June and make way for her successor as Prime Minister once the leadership contest had concluded.
Declared in the race so far are: Andrea Leadsom, Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Esther McVey, James Cleverly, Jeremy Hunt, Kit Malthouse, Matt Hancock, Michael Gove, Rory Stewart and Sajid Javid.
The BBC said it has planned for the final two candidates to appear on a special edition of BBC Question Time, hosted by Fiona Bruce, where they will be “invited to put their case to an audience”.
The final two will then also face one-on-one interviews with Andrew Neil in separate broadcasts to take place within the voting period for Tory party members. All programmes are set to air on BBC One.
Sky News has said it will host a head-to-head debate with the final two leadership candidates in front of a live studio audience made up of Conservative voters, with Kay Burley as host.
John Ryley, head of Sky News, said: “For three years Sky News has offered independent coverage in great depth of the tumultuous changes that have engulfed our country and its politics.
“We’ve consistently pushed the agenda for leaders’ debates for over a decade, this will be another key milestone in the unprecedented political turmoil we’ve been able to witness.”
An ITV spokesperson said: “ITV will provide coverage across both TV and online, with ITV News’ journalists scrutinising the candidates for Conservative leader, getting answers to the questions that matter.
“Our plans will include both a head to head debate and interviews, as well as trusted impartial analysis across our ITV news bulletins. Further details of our plans will be announced in due course.”
Press Gazette has contacted ITN (which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and 5 News) about their plans to cover the Conservative leadership race, but has yet to hear back.
Fran Unsworth, director BBC News and Current Affairs, said in a statement: “The decision being made by Conservative Party members will profoundly affect us all, so it feels right that BBC audiences get a chance to see the candidates’ debate with each other, and that we scrutinise the various policy proposals they will be standing on
“Our plans include bringing the final two candidates in front of the same Question Time audience on the same night to be quizzed by the public, as although the final say will fall to Conservative party members, it’s firmly in the public interest for audiences to question and hear from the next potential Prime Minister.”
The BBC backed out of plans to host a head-to-head debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May over her Brexit withdrawal deal in December last year, despite being chosen to host it by the Prime Minister.
The BBC said in a statement at the time that it had failed to reach an agreement with both May and Jeremy Corbyn, who preferred a rival proposal put forward by ITV, over the format of the debate.
Pictures: Reuters/Hannah McKay