LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn agreed to a prime time television debate on Brexit ahead of a crunch parliamentary vote as she struggles to win support for the deal agreed with the European Union.
May personally challenged her rival to take part in the head-to-head debate and said the format would need to be decided by broadcasters. Corbyn’s team accepted the offer, prompting demands from other parties and anti-Brexit groups to insist one of their supporters be allowed to take part.
“I am going to be explaining why I think this deal is the right deal for the UK – and yes, I am ready to debate it with Jeremy Corbyn,” May told the Sun newspaper. “Because I have got a plan. He hasn’t got a plan.”
Labour say they plan to oppose May’s deal in parliament and that if they were to win power they would strike a trade deal with the EU focussed on protecting jobs.
This would be the first time May has been willing to go up against the Labour leader in a live television debate after she refused to take part in any in the run-up to last year’s general election.
After securing a deal with the European Union at the weekend, May has launched a nationwide campaign to drum up support for her agreement, although she was left embarrassed after U.S. President Donald Trump said it sounded like a good deal for the European Union.
The odds look stacked against May winning parliamentary approval for her deal with criticism coming from all sides, including the Northern Irish party propping up her minority Conservative government.
Leaders’ debates have become a fixture of British politics over the past decade, with months spent trying to agree a debate format during the 2015 general election. Time pressure means political parties only have a matter of days to come to an arrangement this time.
May came in for heavy criticism during the 2017 snap general election for dodging direct TV debates with other party leaders and sending then Home Secretary Amber Rudd to take part instead.
She later justified her decision, saying it was more important to take questions directly from the voters.
The Brexit debate is expected to take place on Dec. 9, two days before members of parliament vote on whether to support her deal, in one of parliament’s most important moments in decades.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable has demanded to be included in any debate as have leaders of Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties.
(Editing by Ed Osmond and Stephen Addison)