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Doubts emerge over whether David Cameron will debate the EU referendum live on the BBC

Exclusive: Prime Minister will appear on Countryfile talking about Europe, but may avoid an appearance on one of the BBC's three live debates

Published: Monday, 16th May 2016 at 6:00 pm

ITV has signed David Cameron for its EU referendum debate, but the the BBC's hopes of booking the Prime Minister for its own debate programming have been thrown into doubt.


Cameron is scheduled to appear in an hour-long ITV programme hosted by Julie Etchingham on 7th June, in which the PM and UKIP leader Nigel Farage will take turns answering questions from a studio audience.

However, understands that Number 10 has gone cold on the idea of Cameron appearing on one (or more) of the three debate events planned by the BBC.

The first programme, presented by Victoria Derbyshire, will be aimed at young voters and be broadcast live from Glasgow on Thursday 26 May.

Just over a week before polling, on Wednesday 15 June, David Dimbleby will moderate a special edition of BBC1’s Question Time programme, featuring "one senior advocate from each side” according to the BBC's advance publicity.

And, as the campaign reaches its climax, Dimbleby will be joined by Mishal Husain and Emily Maitlis, live at Wembley Arena on Tuesday 21 June. The BBC said it is be inviting thousands of voters to question representatives from the 'leave' and 'remain' camps to take part in the event, but so far David Cameron has not committed. understands that Cameron believes he has already agreed to a BBC interview – he is set to appear in an upcoming episode of BBC1's Countryfile.

Cameron and pro-Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson will be interviewed by regular presenter Tom Heap on the show in the coming weeks in a bid to win over rural voters, though it is not clear whether they will appear in the same programme or on separate editions. It is believed that they will not appear on screen together.

However, if the BBC fails to get Cameron to debate in any of its three main Referendum debates it will be a serious blow for the Corporation's prestige.

According to one source involved in the negotiations, this kind of brinkmanship is common for live debates before crucial votes.

“I think Cameron may possibly do one of the BBC events if he thinks the vote will be tight but he will keep everyone guessing right up to the wire. At the moment there is no sign of a confirmation and word is he has said Countryfile is his BBC appearance.”

A BBC spokesman declined to comment and added that no broadcast date had yet been confirmed for Cameron’s Countryfile appearance. A Downing Street spokesman said that “negotiations are ongoing” with the BBC and also declined to comment.

The ITV debate is also mired in controversy.

Vote Leave said it is considering legal action after ITV decided to put Nigel Farage up against Cameron in its referendum TV special.

The official Leave campaign had wanted one of its senior figures – Michael Gove or Johnson – to take part, and claimed No 10 had "set the rules".

ITV has rejected claims of a "stitch up", while Farage said Vote Leave should "put their egos aside".

Downing Street says the Prime Minister will not debate against other senior Tories, with a Number 10 spokesman telling that the running order of the debate will also be decided by the broadcaster.


Cameron and Farage Live: The EU Referendum will be broadcast at 9pm on ITV, Tuesday 7 June


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