Lib Dems and SNP lose court bid for slot on ITV election debate

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The Liberal Democrats and the SNP will not appear in the first televised debate of the 2019 general election after losing a High Court battle against ITV.

Both parties challenged the decision to only include Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in a head-to-head debate on Tuesday night – with the Liberal Democrats arguing in court that the “voice of remain had been excluded” from the event.

The Lib Dems have campaigned for inclusion since the debate was first announced – party members and supporters used the hashtag ‘#DebateHer’ to goad Mr Corbyn and Mr Johnson into inviting Jo Swinson to argue her case.

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However, two senior judges have said the decision fell outside of the courts’ jurisdiction and that the parties would be better off complaining to broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

Lord Justice Davis, sitting with Mr Justice Warby, said that, even if the court did have jurisdiction to deal with the case, the format of the debates was a matter of “editorial judgment” and there was “no arguable breach of the broadcasting code”.

He added: “The clear conclusion of both members of this court is that, viewed overall, these claims are not realistically arguable.

“It follows that the television debate scheduled for tomorrow evening between the leader of the Conservative Party and the leader of the Labour Party may lawfully go ahead.”

ITV lawyers had already threatened to cancel the debate if the SNP and the Liberal Democrats won their case.

A spokesperson said: “We welcome the court’s decision and will continue with our comprehensive election coverage as planned.”

Lib Dem candidate Layla Moran said it was “outrageous” that no outwardly anti-Brexit party would be present in the debate, adding on Twitter: “It’s simply wrong of broadcasters to present a binary choice and pre-empt the decision of the people in a general election.”

The party vowed to take the matter into future legislation, arguing that such debates should not be left purely to the whim of broadcasters.

Liberal Democrat president Sal Brinton said: “Televised debates between political party leaders should be framed in stronger legislation.

“But more than that, our democracy should not be in the hands of invisible corporate structures, and arrangements for such debates should always be accessible and transparent.

“We will not set our principles aside, we will continue this fight. Not just for this general election, but for our future democracy too.”

The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, added: “It was already clear that the Westminster political system is utterly broken and incapable of properly representing Scotland’s interests.

“What is now clear is that the UK broadcasting system is similarly incapable. The result of the decision to exclude the SNP is to discriminate against Scottish voters and to effectively treat them as second-class citizens.”

Additional reporting by PA.

Social media is an increasingly important battle ground in elections – and home to many questionable claims pumped out by all sides. If social media sites won’t investigate the truth of divisive advertising, we will. Please send any political Facebook advertising you receive to, and we will catalogue and investigate it. Read more here.

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