Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly was empty-chaired by Sky News’ Kay Burley on Wednesday morning following two car-crash interviews in which he was forced to defend his party over a number of scandals.
The senior Tory refused at the last minute to take part in the TV interview with Ms Burley despite being “just 15ft away” from the empty chair he was due to sit in, the presenter said on air.
Mr Cleverly had just made appearances on ITV’s Good Morning Britain and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that saw him struggle to answer difficult questions over his party’s decision to share a video of Sir Keir Starmer that had been edited to make it seem like the shadow Brexit minister was unable to answer a question.
He was also quizzed about Jacob Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that Grenfell residents who stayed in the burning building “lacked common sense”, and a prospective parliamentary candidate who posted on social media that people who appeared in Channel 4’s reality TV show Benefits Street needed “putting down”.
Ms Burley said on Sky that she had been due to interview Mr Cleverly, but that he “would not come on the programme”.
She said: “Ooh, I’m fuming. I can’t even begin to tell you how cross I am.
“I’ve got an empty chair here.
“It was supposed to be filled by the chairman of the Conservative Party.
“Where is he? He’s probably 15ft away from me.
“I’ve been in to see him. He said he wasn’t due to come and talk to us today although they had said they would talk to us.”
Mr Cleverly denied backing out, and said he was booked to do another interview on Talk Radio at the time.
He wrote on Twitter: “I’m good at multitasking but cannot be in two studios at the same time.”
A Tory spokesperson denied Mr Cleverly refused to do the Sky News interview.
Burley insisted he had agreed to go on air. “He ducked us on the media round but then said yes to my team when we tracked him down,” she tweeted.
Talk Radio said: “Conservative Party chairman James Cleverly was talking with Julia when Sky News presenter Kay Burley cut to an empty chair, claiming he was refusing to come on the programme.”
In the Good Morning Britain interview, Mr Cleverly had defended the edited video of Sir Keir Starmer, which had been shared by senior Conservatives.
He said: “We needed to shorten the video.”
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Cleverly said the edited video of Sir Keir Starmer was “satirical”.
“What we also did, and this is not unique to us, is we did a lighthearted satirical video, obviously so with a comedy soundtrack, highlighting the Labour Party’s chaotic position on Brexit,” he said.
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Asked whether his party had “posted a lie” online, he replied: “I disagree with your assessment of it.”
Conservative parliamentary candidate Johnny Mercer, who shared the video on his Twitter, apologised for doing so.
He said: “It would appear this has inexplicably been doctored at the end.
“I apologise and will remove it.
“The original interview was bad enough – I have no idea why this needed altering. I will call this out – whichever side does it, including my own. Sorry folks.”