The Conservatives have become engulfed in a standoff with Channel 4 after the broadcaster “empty chaired” Prime Minister Boris Johnson during its climate debate last night.
The Tory party has written to Ofcom to complain that Channel 4’s decision to replace Johnson with an ice sculpture was a “provocative partisan stunt”.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove, a former environment secretary, had volunteered to take the Prime Minister’s place in the debate but was told the invitation was only for party leaders.
The Tory party told Ofcom it believes Channel 4 had broken its duty to be impartial.
It said the broadcaster’s ice sculpture stunt amounted to a “provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right”.
Conservative sources told Buzzfeed News and the Telegraph that “if we are re-elected we will have to review Channel 4’s Public Services Broadcasting obligations”.
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, called it “deeply concerning” that the party would “threaten” Channel 4, whose public service broadcasting licence comes up for renewal in 2024.
Watson also wrote to Ofcom, asking the regulator to “call out this meddling”.
“Boris Johnson has banned the Daily Mirror from its battle bus, ducked the Andrew Neil interview and now attempted to bully Channel 4,” he wrote.
Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage also skipped the debate, and was replaced with an ice sculpture.
“These two ice sculptures represent the emergency on planet earth, not in any human form but are a visual metaphor for the Conservative and Brexit parties after their leaders declined our repeated invitations to attend tonight’s vital climate debate,” Channel 4 News editor Ben de Pear said.
The broadcaster’s Emergency On Planet Earth debate included Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Libereal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Green co-leader Sian Berry and Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price.
Johnson told the BBC it was “not his job” to decide whether or not to appear for an interview with Andrew Neil.
“Other people than me are responsible for those discussions and negotiations, and I do not want to pre-empt what they may decide,” he added.