Channel 4 Tory leadership debate: MPs lash out at programme format and alleged 'anti-Brexit bias'

James Morris
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Channel 4 Tory leadership debate: MPs lash out at programme format and alleged 'anti-Brexit bias'

Channel 4 Tory leadership debate: MPs lash out at programme format and alleged 'anti-Brexit bias'

Conservative MPs have led an angry backlash against Channel 4 over its Tory leadership debate.

Boris Johnson backer James Cleverly, who had a short-lived run in the party's leadership race, led the criticism of the show’s format, while others accused the channel of sidelining hardline Brexiteer Dominic Raab and adopting an anti-Brexit stance.

Mr Cleverly tweeted: “This #C4Debate is geared up to encourage @Conservatives leadership candidates to knock chunks out of each other.

“That’s not how this campaign should be conducted.

“It’s probably good for Channel 4’s viewing figures but I’m astonished that so many candidates are playing along.”

The channel left an empty stand for Mr Johnson, who refused to take part in the debate.

Tory MPs complained at Channel 4's treatment of Dominic Raab, left (Channel 4/EPA)

A Channel 4 spokesman said: "This live debate was conducted with fairness and impartiality and each candidate had a fair opportunity to participate fully and answer questions from voters."

Other unnamed Tory MPs were reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying Dominic Raab – the most hardline of the five contenders regarding a no-deal Brexit – was deliberately given the least airtime.

One MP, labelling Channel 4 as Remain-backing, told the paper Mr Raab was “ganged up on” and that “as the only one there wanted an actual exit date he was sneered at”.

Another said “they attempted to sideline Dominic”.

The paper also timed Mr Raab’s answers during the 90-minute programme on Sunday, with the former Brexit secretary speaking for 10 minutes and two seconds.

This was behind Michael Gove, who spoke for the longest amount of time at 14 minutes and 30 seconds.

But debate host Krishnan Guru-Murthy hit back on Monday, tweeting: "Actually @DominicRaab answered the questions in a crisper way than his rivals. Perhaps his legal mind. So given the same opportunities he took up a bit less time. That’s a potential strength - people hate waffle."

And after the programme, Mr Raab himself tweeted that he “enjoyed debating the issues that matter with my fellow candidates”.

Mr Johnson, who dominated the first ballot last week, has received a further boost after Matt Hancock, who dropped out of the race on Friday, said he would back the frontrunner - who has also refused an invitation to take part in the parliamentary lobby hustings on Monday.

Mr Hancock said the former foreign secretary had a "unique personality" which would bring the Tories together behind a Brexit deal.