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Jeremy Corbyn Will Take Part In Tonight's Leaders' Debate And He's Challenged Theresa May To Join Him

Corbyn had previously maintained he would not take part in any head-to-head election debate without the presence of the Conservative prime minister.

Carl Court / Getty Images

Jeremy Corbyn has made the surprise decision to appear on tonight's BBC TV leaders' election debate – and challenged Theresa May to take part.

The Labour leader had previously maintained he would not take part in any head-to-head election debate without the presence of the Conservative prime minister, while May's team had repeatedly made it clear they have no interest in putting her into a direct debate with other candidates.

This effectively ensured there would be no debate between the two leading candidates to become prime minister.

However, on Wednesday lunchtime Corbyn told a rally in Reading he had changed his mind: "There is no hiding place. We'll put our views out there, let the people decide."

In an emailed statement, Corbyn went on: "I will be taking part in tonight's debate because I believe we must give people the chance to hear and engage with the leaders of the main parties before they vote.

“I have never been afraid of a debate in my life. Labour’s campaign has been about taking our polices to people across the country and listening to the concerns of voters.

“The Tories have been conducting a stage-managed, arm's-length campaign and have treated the public with contempt. Refusing to join me in Cambridge tonight would be another sign of Theresa May’s weakness, not strength.”

It is unclear when Corbyn's team made the decision to send him on to the primetime TV debate. Corbyn started on a pre-announced trip to Reading this morning and had been due to appear at an NHS rally in Bristol on Wednesday evening. However, he will now head to Cambridge, where the BBC debate is being filmed.

The Conservatives had already said they would send home secretary Amber Rudd in place of May and party spokespeople confirmed this remained the plan.

The prime minister is currently on a tour of constituencies in Somerset and Plymouth. On the trip she defended her decision not to take part: "I've been taking Jeremy Corbyn on directly week in and week out in PMQs. Yes, public scrutiny is for an election campaign but that's why taking questions from members of the public is so important... The other interesting question is, I feel sorry for ITV, why didn't he do their debate?

"I've been very clear the sort of campaign I want to do is about meeting people and taking questions from the voters."

She also suggested journalists should not pay as much attention to debates: "I'm interested in the fact Jeremy Corbyn seems to be paying more attention to how many appearances on telly he's doing. He ought to be paying more attention to thinking about Brexit negotiations – that's what I'm doing to make sure we get the best possible deal for Britain.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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