Ian Swanson: Brexit TV debate mirrors another show '“ Pointless

THE viewing public is ­probably already fed up with Brexit dominating the news bulletins and current affairs programmes '“ and now the politicians are trying to force their way onto a prime time Sunday evening television slot.

Monday, 3rd December 2018, 2:07 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd December 2018, 2:10 pm

They’re still arguing about the arrangements, but the proposal is that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn face each other in some form of TV debate about exiting the EU, hoping to cash in on the huge audiences tuning in for Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!

Mrs May wants to sell her Brexit deal to the public – even though it is MPs rather than voters who will decide two days later whether or not the package is approved and she has set her face against any chance of a second referendum.

One commentator has dubbed the proposed debate “the one Sunday night TV show where you won’t get a vote”.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The Prime Minister went on a whistlestop tour last week visiting each nation of the UK to talk up the deal which has managed to unite Remain and Leave-supporting MPs in opposition to it.

Many of her critics believe she would be better trying to win over backbenchers in her own party than making trips to a showground in mid-Wales, a university in Belfast and a factory outside Glasgow in what seems like a forlorn hope that ­members of the public will then put pressure on MPs to back her deal, or that popping up in different corners of the country with the same soundbites will somehow create a public mood which the rebels cannot ignore.

The Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for a televised debate with Mr Corbyn is deeply ironic.

During last year’s general ­election campaign – when the votes of the public were crucial – she steadfastly refused any debate with the other party leaders, even though the public expectation was that politicians bidding for the keys to Number Ten should be prepared to show their ­mettle in such a forum.

Now, when the public has no vote, she is suddenly determined to have a debate. If there were a second referendum or a general election, her eagerness would no doubt be welcomed, but when the crisis that threatens to prompt a vote of confidence which could force her out of office is a close vote in parliament, should she not be trying to sort out the divisions in the Tory party rather than appealing to the public?

The other problem with the planned May v Corbyn clash is that it does not really reflect the range of options being talked about. An argument could be made for adding one of the more hard-line Brexiteers to the platform, perhaps even an advocate of “no deal”, along with a more enthusiastic Labour remainer and/or someone to speak up for a People’s Vote.

An array of speakers on these lines might well serve only to underline and even fuel the divisions which exist over this vital issue.

But we can expect little more from a debate where Mrs May is likely to trot out her familiar soundbites and attack Labour for not having a plan of their own, while Mr Corbyn seizes the opportunity to lay into the Tories over austerity, the NHS and the plight of the poorest in society.

In terms of Brexit, it’s difficult to avoid summing up this debate with the title of another TV show: Pointless.