Tories complain to Ofcom over Boris Johnson ice sculpture TV debate replacement

Leaders stand next to ice sculptures representing the Brexit Party and Conservative Party at the Channel 4 News General Election climate deb Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

The Conservative Party has complained to Ofcom’s election committee after an ice sculpture was used in place of Boris Johnson during a Channel 4 debate.

Party leaders faced questions about how they will tackle the issue of climate change during the televised Emergency On Planet Earth debate on Thursday.

But after Prime Minister Mr Johnson did not attend, an ice sculpture of the world with “Conservatives” written on it was placed on his podium.

A similar sculpture reflecting Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage's no show was also in the studio.

A letter from the Conservatives, addressed to Ofcom Election Committee chairman Tim Suter, said it offered Channel 4 the former environment secretary Michael Gove to be the party’s representative for the debate.

An ice sculpture is put in place for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the studio before the start of the Channel 4 News General Election climate debate Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

“Channel 4 News has refused to accept this representative, and stated that they intend to ’empty chair’ the Conservative Party if the Prime Minister does not attend,” the letter said.

“This effectively seeks to deprive the Conservative Party of any representation and attendance at the Channel 4 News debate.

“It has even been reported that Channel 4 has commissioned an ice sculpture of the Prime Minister to represent the Conservative Party.

“Were this the case, this would represent a significant breach of the Code through such a provocative partisan stunt, which would itself constitute making a political opinion in its own right.”

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener questioned Mr Gove and the Prime Minister's father, Stanley Johnson, about the PM's decision not to attend the debate.

Mr Stanley said he was not "privy to the Prime Minister's diary" and that it was "nonsense" that Mr Johnson's no-show suggested he was not interested in the issue of climate change.

Mr Gove added there was "an enormous amount" on tackling global warming in the Tories' manifesto and that he had offered to take part in the leaders' debate as Mr Johnson's "wingman on this issue".

The Cabinet minister added he was "sorry" that the leaders of Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and the SNP did not want to debate him and that he did "not know what they're afraid of".

A spokesperson for Channel 4 News said ahead of the debate that Mr Gove “is not the party leader” when asked if he could replace Mr Johnson.

The letter, sent by Lee Cain, on behalf of the Conservative Party, claimed it “is part of a wider pattern of bias by Channel 4 in recent months”.

“I would be grateful if Ofcom could consider this matter with due urgency.

“If Ofcom takes the view that this matter could not be considered until post-broadcast, I would request that this complaint is assessed subsequent to the broadcast, given the unfortunate precedents that Channel 4’s actions may set.”

It comes as a Conservative source told BuzzFeed News that if the party wins the coming election it will reassess Channel 4’s public service broadcasting licence.

“If we are re-elected, we will have to review Channel 4’s Public Services Broadcasting obligations,” the source told BuzzFeed News.

“Any review would of course look at whether its remit should be better focused so it is serving the public in the best way possible.”

Reacting to the reports, Labour shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis said: “Britain deserves a Prime Minister that has enough of a backbone to face up to scrutiny.”