By Andrew MacAskill
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May challenged opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to a live prime time television debate on Brexit days before a crunch parliamentary vote as she struggles to win support for the deal agreed with the European Union.
May said the format of the debate would need to be decided by broadcasters. Corbyn’s team swiftly accepted the offer, prompting demands from other parties and anti-Brexit groups to insist one of their supporters is 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.”
This would be the first time May has been willing to go head-to-head with 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 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 interior minister Amber Rudd to take part instead.
She later justified her decision, saying it was more important to take questions directly from the voters.
The debate, if both sides can agree on the format, is expected to take place on Dec. 9, two days before lawmakers vote on whether to support her deal, in one of parliament’s most important moments in decades.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill, editing by Ed Osmond)