BBC to host Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage TV debate

 
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Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage are to go head-to-head on BBC television in a debate on Britain's future in Europe.

The hour-long debate will be shown on BBC2 from 7pm on Wednesday, 2 April, and will be hosted by David Dimbleby.

Mr Clegg's Liberal Democrats are the most pro-EU of the main parties at Westminster, while Mr Farage's UKIP advocates withdrawing from the EU.

They have been involved in a growing spat over the issue, ahead of May's European elections.

Last month, Mr Farage accepted Mr Clegg's invitation to a televised "open debate" on whether the UK should stay in the EU.

'Fantastic opportunity'

The BBC said the televised debate would take place in front of an audience "selected by a reputable polling organisation to be demographically representative and with an equal number of people for and against British membership of the EU". Questions will come from the audience members.

Start Quote

UKIP MEPs refuse to roll up their sleeves and get down to work”

End Quote Nick Clegg Lib Dem leader

James Harding, Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, said: "We are delighted to have negotiated successfully to broadcast this important debate. Europe is always a highly charged issue in British politics and this is a fantastic opportunity to test the arguments."

Mr Clegg last month challenged the UKIP leader to a debate on his weekly phone-in programme on LBC radio, which will also host a clash between the two party leaders.

He said: "I will challenge Nigel Farage to a public, open debate about whether we should be in or out of the EU, because that is now the choice facing this country and he is the leader of the party of 'out'; I am the leader of the party of 'in'.

"I think it's time we now have a proper, public debate so that the public can listen to the two sides of the argument and judge from themselves."

'Needy for publicity'

In response, Mr Farage said he wanted the Conservative and Labour leaders to join in a four-man debate, which he suggested should take place during the European election campaign in April or May.

But he said he would take on the Lib Dem leader in a head-to-head debate even if the other party leaders declined.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown The party leaders took part in a general election TV debate for the first time in 2010

Downing Street said David Cameron will not be taking part in the debate with Mr Farage and Mr Clegg.

A spokesman said the prime minister would be setting out his views on Europe during the European election campaign and did not want to start "another process", adding the Lib Dems were "a bit needy of publicity".

The Labour Party said the party's priority was to reach agreement on TV debates between the two prospective prime ministers ahead of the next election.

"Anything else will be a matter for negotiation after that is agreed," he added.

Start Quote

Nick Clegg has some cheek raising attendance and voting records”

End Quote Nigel Farage UKIP leader

Leaders debates have long been a feature of election campaigns in the United States, but took place for the first time in Britain at the 2010 general election.

But there is some doubt over whether the exercise will be repeated in 2015, amid behind-the-scenes wrangling over the likely format and timing of the programmes and battles about who should be allowed to take part.

'Quite wrong'

The BBC's chief political correspondent Norman Smith said the debate between Mr Clegg and Mr Farage could encourage the party leaders to sign up to general election debates or, alternatively, "provide some room to argue against them".

UKIP is consistently ahead of the Lib Dems in national opinion polls, with Mr Farage claiming his party is in with a chance of topping the polls at the European elections.

The Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron, by contrast, is warning his party it faces the "fight of their lives" to retain its 12 MEPs.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Republican candidate Mitt Romney clashed with Barack Obama in 2012

Mr Clegg, who has known Mr Farage since his days as an MEP, between 1999 and 2004, has opted to launch an all out attack on his Eurosceptic rivals, focusing on their voting record in Brussels and Strasbourg.

In a speech on the EU's role to the Centre for European Reform, Mr Clegg accused Mr Farage and his colleagues of failing to "stand up for Britain" in the European Parliament.

"Nigel Farage and deputy leader Paul Nuttall rarely turn up to vote in the European Parliament, despite being happy to take their taxpayer-funded salaries," he said.

"UKIP MEPs refuse to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. Nigel Farage hasn't tabled a single amendment to EU legislation since July 2009."

Mr Farage hit back at his rival's claims, saying: "Nick Clegg has some cheek raising attendance and voting records. Although Nick Clegg lives in London, between 2010 and 2014 he has voted in Westminster only 22.6% of the time.

"By contrast I live eight hours away from Strasbourg, lead a national party and have voted 55% of the time in the European Parliament."

He also said that the group of MEPs that he leads, the "Europe of Freedom and Democracy", had "put down hundreds of amendments since 2009, so factually Nick Clegg is quite wrong in what he's saying here".

He said he would use the TV debate with Mr Clegg as a "platform for the majority of British people who want our relationship with Europe to be one of trade and co-operation but not one of political union".

 

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  81.  
    07:24: David Cameron on TV debates BBC Breakfast

    On the subject of TV election debates, Mr Cameron said it was a "good thing" that discussions had been taking place about which parties should be included. Asked if he would take part in the debates if Northern Ireland parties were included, he replied "yes", adding "a deal could be done".

     
  82.  
    07:21: David Cameron on apprenticeships BBC Breakfast

    David Cameron says apprenticeships are "very good" options for young people and the overwhelming majority of apprentices get jobs afterwards. The Conservatives are saying that they can create more using money saved by cutting the benefits cap limit.

     
  83.  
    07:16: David Cameron on benefits cap BBC Breakfast

    David Cameron tells BBC Breakfast that plans to reduce the benefits cap shows the Conservatives want to build on what he says is a successful policy of getting more people in to work - he says there was criticism in some parts of the country that £26,000 was too high. It's "absolutely crucial" to making sure young people get jobs and build a future for themselves, he says.

     
  84.  
    07:13: David Cameron on Breakfast
    David Cameron

    The Prime Minister David Cameron is appearing on BBC Breakfast from Downing Street.

     
  85.  
    @bbcnickrobinson Nick Robinson, BBC political editor

    tweets: Significance of today is not that it's 100 days until an election. It's Holocaust Memorial Day - when we pledge 'Never Again' @HolocaustUK

     
  86.  
    06:59: Party campaigns Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    The Tories are going on about the economy, there is a big push from Labour on the NHS today - I can see this going on right up to polling day. We've seen that the NHS is the number one issue for voters, but it has not yet translated to a lift off for Labour, despite the NHS winter crisis - which suggests the strategy appeals to the traditional Labour vote, but doesn't reach out beyond that.

     
  87.  
    06:57: The morning papers

    Meanwhile the Daily Mirror reports a survey which suggests a third of voters haven't made up their minds about how to vote yet.

    Mirror front page
     
  88.  
    06:53: The morning papers

    A bit more on how the 100 days to go point is being marked in the papers. With David Cameron and Ed Miliband appearing face-to-face on its front page, the i asks "where are the parties, what are the hot issues?". It also carries a poll suggesting the Tories have taken the lead over Labour.

    I front page
     
  89.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: David Cameron is on @bbcbreakfast at 0710 and @BBCR4Today at 0810. Ed Miliband is on @bbc5live at 0750 and @bbcbreakfast at 0810.

     
  90.  
    06:42: Breakfast briefing
    Chris Mason on Breakfast

    The two main parties "will be playing their hits today - what they think works with voters", BBC political correspondent Chris Mason tells BBC Breakfast. So Labour's focus is on the NHS and integrating social care. The Conservatives are talking about the economy and the benefits cap - they want to lower the cap and use the money to create more apprenticeships. The Lib Dems and UKIP are both focusing on what impact they might have in partnership with larger parties.

     
  91.  
    06:35: The morning papers

    The Daily Telegraph has an interview with David Cameron in which the prime minister pledges to reduce the annual benefits cap to £23,000 as the first act of a new Conservative government - a theme that also features in the Daily Mail.

    Telegraph front page
     
  92.  
    06:29: The morning papers

    Most of the papers mark the 100 days to go, with the Sun featuring the faces of readers on its front page and setting out its "Sunifesto" in a special edition, saying there are "100 days to save Britain".

    Sun front page
     
  93.  
    06:27: The morning ahead Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    It's an early start for the party leaders with David Cameron and Ed Miliband both appearing on BBC Breakfast and BBC radio between 07:10 GMT and 08:30 GMT. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are also launching an election poster. The economy will take centre stage at 09:30 GMT when the GDP figures are out.

     
  94.  
    06:21: Good morning Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online

    Hello and welcome to a fresh day's coverage of political developments ahead of the 7 May General Election - yes there's just 100 days to go now. You'll be able to listen or watch all the BBC's political output today on this page and we'll be bringing you all the best clips, quotes, analysis, reaction and breaking political news throughout the day. If you want to see what to expect, here's yesterday's campaign countdown.

     

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