THE BBC has rejected claims that its broadcast of a leadership debate between the two contenders to replace Boris Johnson as Tory leader breaches impartiality rules.

The broadcaster insisted it was under “no obligation to give parity of coverage” to other political parties.

The news comes as Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss – the two remaining runners in the race to No 10 – are set to face off in a live debate on the BBC.

Entitled “Our Next Prime Minister”, the broadcast will go out at 9pm on Monday July 25 on both BBC One and BBC Radio Five Live.

Sunak and Truss will both also be invited to appear in one-to-one interviews with the BBC’s Nick Robinson.

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Raising concerns about the impact of the broadcasts on the BBC’s impartiality requirements, Alba’s Chris McEleny claimed the corporation would be breaching its own rules with “what is effectively an hour-long party political broadcast to the Conservative Party”.

In the letter dated July 19, McEleny (below) wrote: “Each of the candidates on the debate will have uninterrupted airtime to profess their views on matters such as denying the people of Scotland their right to determine their own future via a referendum on Scottish independence without a balanced pro-independence point of view being afforded the same airtime.”

The National:  FOR THE NATIONAL...Portrait of Chris McEleny, SNP deputy leadership candidate, pictured in Glasgow...  Photograph by Colin Mearns.9 August 2016.

Ric Bailey, the BBC’s chief political adviser and deputy director of editorial policy and standards, has now responded, insisting that the debate falls well within BBC rules.

Bailey wrote: “May I assure you that holding debates between contenders for the leadership of a political party, in particular when that will decide who is prime Minister of the UK, is a reasonable editorial judgment and within the definition of ‘due impartiality’ demanded both by the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

He said there had been “a number of similar debates in the past involving various political parties”.

Bailey went on: “Part of the BBC’s remit is to scrutinise and hold to account those with power and responsibility – and those who aspire to power and responsibility.

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“The programme … will in no way resemble a party political broadcast; there is no obligation to give parity of coverage to other parties in such circumstances – as you point out, this is not an election period in which voters across the UK will be casting a ballot.

“The debate is of clear public interest and it is important that the BBC is able to conduct such appropriate journalism in bringing to public attention the relevant issues at play in the contest.

“Similarly, I can assure you that the BBC’s journalism in relation to independence for Scotland will continue to be carried out with due impartiality and include an appropriate range of opinion over time.”

McEleny, Alba’s general secretary, railed against the decision. He told The National: “This latest position from the BBC will leave people in Scotland asking themselves one simple question: do you trust the BBC to be politically balanced?

“It seems an obscene stance to take that because it’s not an election period the BBC can simply ignore their version of best practice to facilitate beaming unchecked and unbalanced Tory propaganda into homes across Scotland.

“Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will make claim after claim on the economy and the constitution but according to the BBC these claims should go uncontested with no right of reply from the pro independence movement or any other political party. Presented with these circumstances, why should any Scot pay for a TV licence?“