Conservative MPs accused the national broadcaster of anti-Brexit “bias” as they claimed the debate had been “geared up” to encourage the candidates to “knock chunks out of each other”. Their grievances appeared to vindicate frontrunner Boris Johnson’s decision not to take part.
One Brexiteer Tory MP told the Daily Telegraph: “Watching Channel 4 and the ganging up on Raab one could be forgiven for thinking there had never been a referendum.
“As the only one there wanted an actual exit date he was sneered at. Not surprising from ‘Channel4Remain’.”
Meanwhile Boris Johnson-backer James Cleverly added: “This Channel 4 debate is geared up to encourage Conservative 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.”
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Another Tory said: “This was typical Channel 4 – they attempted to sideline Dominic who represents the only candidate promising actually to deliver Brexit by the end of October.
“This kind of bias does them no favours.”
According to the Daily Telegraph, an analysis showed Mr Raab, who has threatened to suspend Parliament to ensure the UK leaves the EU by October 31, got the least amount of time to answer the questions during the Channel 4 event.
A source close to the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs said: “A Channel 4 audience hated Dom because he had the courage to stand up to everything they hate.
“A really courageous performance by seemingly the only man in the room concerned about not losing even more Tory voters.”
Brexiteer Mr Johnson, who was buoyed on Sunday by the backing of fellow Brexiteer Esther McVey, decided not to attend to 90-minute-long hustings.
Explaining his reasoning for not taking part the former London Mayor said the debate would be “cacophonous”.
The Old Etonian did however specify during an interview with Radio 4’s World at One programme he would attend a televised event organised by the BBC.
During the interview Mr Johnson said he was “pretty bewildered” by claims he was dodging scrutiny and said the public had had “quite a lot of blue-on-blue action, frankly, over the last three years”.
A spokesman for Channel 4 denied the audience was biased against any individual MP.
He said: “Survation recruited an audience of floating voters who were open to voting Conservative and who fairly reflected the Brexit issue.
“This was a live debate and each candidate participated fully.
“Fairness and due impartiality in political debates are not dictated by an arithmetic calculation of airtime. Each candidate had a fair opportunity to participate.”