General election TV debates: Date, time and how to watch

Sunak and Starmer
Sunak and Starmer

The first head-to-head election debate between Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer will take place at 9pm on Tuesday, ITV has confirmed.

The broadcaster is set to host the first televised event with both major political party leaders on June 4 – exactly one month before the general election takes place.

It also said it has plans to hold a “multi-party debate” at some point, presumably including all the major party leaders, with details announced “in due course”.

It comes after the Tories pressed Sir Keir to take part in a record six debates during the six-week election campaign.

Labour headquarters had indicated instead that their leader would take part in two head-to-head debates, matching what Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn did in the 2019 election campaign.

Conservative sources had dubbed the Opposition leader “the knight that won’t fight” and “Sir Fear Starmer” after he failed to sign up to their weekly debate demand.

When is the first leaders’ TV debate?

ITV has confirmed the specifics of the head-to-head debate: it will last for an hour, starting at 9pm on June 4.

Michael Jermey, ITV’s Director of News and Current Affairs said: “Millions of viewers value the election debates. They provide a chance to see and hear the party leaders set out their pitch to the country, debate directly with each other and take questions from voters. ITV is pleased to be broadcasting the first debate in this year’s election campaign.”

Live TV election debates have been held in the UK since 2010 and take place in the weeks running up to polling day.

What time is the general election TV debate?

ITV has confirmed the debate will be broadcast at 9pm on June 4.

Titled Sunak v Starmer: The ITV Debate, it will be moderated by ITV News anchor Julie Etchingham. It will take place live in front of a studio audience and will be made and produced by MultiStory Media, part of ITV Studios.

Ms Etchingham previously moderated general election debates in 2015, 2017 and 2019.

What channel is the TV debate on?

ITV confirmed it will broadcast the programme on ITV1 and STV and its streaming services, ITVX and STV Player.

Its has also previously broadcast significant events, such as PMQs and political speeches, live on its YouTube channel.

Who will be appearing at the election debate?

At the moment, only the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties are set to take place in the head-to-head debate on ITV.

But ITV said it also plans to broadcast additional programming, including a “multi-party debate” and an interview show with other party leaders. Details on the further programmes will be announced “in due course”.

Nigel Farage, the honorary president of Reform UK, had attempted to get involved, challenging Mr Sunak to a live TV debate on immigration.

But the Tories declined the challenge. A party spokesman said: “We respect Nigel but there’s only two people who can be prime minister at the end of this campaign, Rishi or Starmer, and that’s who should be up on stage debating each other.”

In 2019, as well as the head-to-heads, there was also a seven-way debate, which included senior figures from the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party, and the Brexit Party – although neither Mr Johnson or Mr Corbyn attended it.

The party leaders in 2017, Theresa May and Mr Corbyn, skipped the TV debates and were criticised for it. Mrs May, who eventually lost her majority in the election, later said she regretted not taking part.

In 2015, the party leaders held a debate that was shown on Sky News. Separately, there was a live television interview with Jeremy Paxman and the Conservatives’ Lord Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband. It was jointly broadcast by Channel 4, Sky and the BBC News channel.

In 2010, when the first election TV debates were held in the UK, Labour’s Gordon Brown, Lord Cameron, and Nick Clegg debated three times on BBC, ITV and Sky.

When is the general election?

The UK is set to go to the polls in just over five weeks’ time, on July 4.

Mr Sunak announced the date last Wednesday in a rain-sodden speech outside No 10.

Both he and the other party leaders have been on the campaign trail since then trying to win over voters.

The polls currently make for grim reading for the Tories as Labour have a 20 percentage point lead.