Johnson’s Conservative Party complained to the UK’s broadcasting watchdog Ofcom ahead of the Channel 4 event, which saw Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Liberal Democrat Jo Swinson and the heads of the UK’s other main parties quizzed on their plans to tackle the climate crisis ahead of next month’s poll.
The party said its offer of having minister Michael Gove stand in for Johnson was rejected by Channel 4, complaining the decision “effectively seeks to deprive the Conservative Party of any representation and attendance at the Channel 4 News debate.”
The program’s editor had earlier said Johnson “sent his two wing men” — Gove and Johnson’s father, Stanley — to attempt to “argue their way into” a program intended only for leaders.
Johnson and fellow no-show Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, were ultimately replaced with ice sculptures bearing their parties’ logos, which Channel 4 said was intended to “represent the emergency on planet earth.”
Corbyn earlier announced a plan to plant 2 billion new trees by 2040.
Johnson’s refusal to appear in the debate gave further fuel to charges that he is dodging scrutiny during the campaign. Several opposition figures criticized him on Thursday for refusing to confirm he would take part in an interview with BBC presenter Andrew Neil, which all of the other major leaders have done.
Farage, meanwhile, said he refused to take part because “Brexit is the defining issue of our age and the fact that Channel 4 does not want to discuss it speaks volumes about this broadcaster and its Remain position.”
A similar refusal by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May to take part in a TV debate during the 2017 election backfired on the then Prime Minister, who ultimately lost seats in the election.
Johnson is currently enjoying a healthy majority in opinion polls, but Labour have closed the gap in recent days.