Jeremy Corbyn will take part in the BBC leaders' debate - without Theresa May

UK general election 2017: What you need to knowNewsweek

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has caught the Conservatives off-guard by dramatically announcing that he will take part in the BBC leaders' debate in Cambridge on Wednesday (31 May) evening.

The left-winger had originally refused to be involved in general election TV events unless Prime Minister Theresa May also took part.

But with Corbyn holding his own during the Sky News/Channel 4 "Battle for Number 10" programme and Labour closing in on the Tories in the opinion polls, he has thrown his hat in the ring with just over a week to go before the 8 June vote.

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"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," the Labour leader said.

"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 arms-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."

Corbyn will face-off against Conservative Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, Ukip chief Paul Nuttall, co-leader of the Greens Caroline Lucas, SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson and Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.

"Failing to show up to tonight's debate would show extreme cowardice from a Prime Minister resolutely avoiding proper scrutiny," said Lucas.

"Our democracy deserves proper debate between party leaders, not just set piece speeches and one-to-one interviews and Q&As.

"Theresa May said she called this election because of the actions of other parties, yet she's unwilling to debate with us on the big issues of the day. It is a sign of extreme weakness for a Prime Minister to avoid these debates."

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The programme, moderated by Mishal Husain, will air on BBC between 19:30 and 21:00 BST. The format will see each spokesperson make a statement before taking questions from the studio audience.

The latest opinion poll from Survation, of more than 1,000 people between 26 and 27 May, put the Conservatives six points ahead of Labour (43% versus 37%).

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