More than 40,000 people have signed a Change.Org petition urging Theresa May to take part in TV debates ahead of the general election on 8 June. The development comes after Downing Street suggested the Conservative premier would not be involved in any such programmes, with Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron accusing May of "bottling" the shows.

"The prime minister's attempt to dodge scrutiny shows how she holds the public in contempt. The British people deserve to see their potential leaders talking about the future of our country," he said.

""I expect the broadcasters to do the right thing, don't let the Conservatives call the shots. If the prime minister won't attend – empty chair her – Corbyn can defend her position as they seem to vote the same on these matters. You have a moral duty to hold these debates.

"I believe this election is your chance to change the direction of our country. "If you want to avoid a disastrous Hard Brexit. If you want Britain to have a decent opposition. If you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united – this is your chance. You need to vote Liberal Democrat."

May, who succeeded David Cameron last July in the wake of the EU referendum, currently has a working majority of 17 MPs.

But polls from YouGov and ComRes found that the Tories have a 21 point lead over Labour, suggesting the Conservative majority in the House of Commons could be increased to more than 100.

Cameron and his predecessor as prime minister, Labour's Gordon Brown, took part in TV debates before the 2010 and 2015 general elections. The formats and rules are usually thrashed out between Number 10, the opposition parties and Sky News, ITV, Channel 4 and BBC News.