Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn look unlikely to face-off in a televised Brexit debate ahead of Tuesday’s crucial Commons vote after ITV announced it had scrapped its plan to broadcast it.
The commercial network withdrew after Labour and the Conservatives had spent days rowing over whether to accept its offer of a head-to-head or accept a rival bid from the BBC.
The BBC, which was favoured by Number 10, had already pulled out of the running to host a Sunday night programme featuring other voices as well as the two party leaders.
On Thursday ITV, whose one-on-one format was favoured by Labour, announced it too was abandoning plans for the programme.
A spokeswoman for the broadcaster said: “ITV invited the Prime Minister and leader of the Opposition to appear in an ITV programme this Sunday evening, and we have been clear that it is up to those invited to decide whether they want to accept the invitation.
“ITV is developing its plans for covering the build-up and reaction to the crucial Commons vote next Tuesday, and a range of voices and opinions will be represented on the subject of Brexit in our output.”
The decision means that the only programme currently due to go ahead on Sunday is to be broadcast on Channel 4, which will show The Real Brexit Debate, featuring “four high-profile politicians” reflecting a range of opinions from across politics.
Labour accused Mrs May of “running scared” of debating the opposition leader, the same phrase deployed by Downing Street when the BBC abandoned its plans on Tuesday.
A party spokeswoman said Mr Corbyn would still “relish” the opportunity to debate the Prime Minister, adding: “Labour believed the head-to-head offer from ITV was the most straightforward format.
“A head-to-head would give viewers the greatest clarity and allow both speakers to get into detail.
“The Prime Minister has refused to join Jeremy in a head-to-head debate.
“Her team tried to confuse people with a convoluted format. But the British public will see this for what it is – Theresa May unable to face real scrutiny over her crumbling deal.”
On Monday, the Prime Minister expressed concern that holding the debate on ITV would mean she missed Strictly Come Dancing.
That followed Mr Corbyn last week complaining on This Morning that the BBC’s proposal would clash with jungle-based reality show I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here!.
The BBC on Tuesday said it was “disappointed” not to have reached an agreement on the proposal for a debate involving the two leaders, saying it wanted the programme to include other voices.
At the time Downing Street blamed Labour for raising “false and flimsy objections” to the BBC’s proposed format.