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The BBC unveils plans to hold 10 election debates in three weeks

Nick Robinson will host the main debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn
Nick Robinson will host the main debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn Credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire/Yui Mok/PA Wire

The BBC has revealed it will host a live head-to-head debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, as it unveiled ambitious plans to hold 10 special election programmes in the space of three weeks.

It will be hosted by Radio 4's Today presenter Nick Robinson on Dec 6 in Southampton and will see the party leaders challenge each other on Brexit, the NHS and the economy.

But it will also hold a series of regional events - with BBC One Wales planning two panel sessions, a Northern Ireland leaders' debate scheduled for Dec 10 and Scottish leaders preparing to face off on Dec 10 in Glasgow.

Emma Barnett will host a special edition of Question Time for younger voters on Dec 9, where an audience of under 30s will question leading figures from each of the main parties.

She said it was important that young voters “should not be forgotten about” in this election and pledged to seek answers to questions from an “often overlooked perspective”. 

“These people are at the beginning of their voting career and this election will be generation defining,” she said.

On Friday Nov 29 BBC One will hold The BBC Election Debate, a seven-way podium debate between leaders or senior figures from the seven major parties, which will also be chaired by Mr Robinson.

He said he hoped the debates would "illuminate the choice we all face between competing parties, leaders, policies and visions for the country".

The BBC’s former political editor said: “I covered my first election in 1987 and it’s an absolute thrill to have played a part over the years as a researcher, producer, political editor and now as debate host.”

Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will go head to head Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS/Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS

However, the head-to-head was described as “another establishment stitch up” by Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson after she was not invited to take part.

She said: "Millions of people voted to Remain in 2016. After three years of chaos, it is shocking that the Liberal Democrats - the strongest party of Remain - are being denied the opportunity to challenge Johnson and Corbyn on Brexit."

The Lib Dems have already filed a complaint against ITV because Ms Swinson was excluded from the channel's planned head-to-head debate on Nov 19.

Ms Swinson said on Wednesday the party will "pursue legal avenues", adding that the broadcaster "cannot and should not exclude the only woman leader who is able to be the next prime minister".

The SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the BBC's decision to exclude the party from a key televised election debate is "senseless" and defies democracy.

He said: "This is the most important election in living memory but the BBC has made the decision to short-change voters in Scotland, and across the UK, by restricting the focus of these debates to just two parties."

Plaid Cymru said the decision is "absolutely disgraceful", with the party's candidate for the Carmarthen East and Dinefwr seat Jonathan Edwards adding: "Whether we're talking about a blue Brexit or a red one, both Johnson and Corbyn are prepared to throw Wales under the bus."

There will also be a special Question Time Leaders' Special hosted by Fiona Bruce on Nov 22, in which it is proposed that Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon and Jo Swinson will each take questions from the audience.

In the run up to the election, Nigel Farage, leader of the Brexit Party, is also expected to take part in a 30 minute Question Time special, and the Green Party will also feature on an audience focused special programme.

Televised general election debates started in 2010, with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg clashing in three debates.

In subsequent elections, the formats have been different and have involved battles between the broadcasters and party leaderships over who should be invited to debate whom.

In 2017, then Prime Minister Theresa May refused to take part in a seven-way debate on the BBC, sending then-home secretary Amber Rudd instead.