Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Ukip leader Nigel Farage will go head-to-head in two debates before the European Parliament elections take place across the continent in May.
The two will argue over whether the United Kingdom should be part of the European Union first on radio station LBC on Wednesday 26 March between 7pm and 8pm, in a debate hosted by Nick Ferrari.
The following week, the pair will take the issue to television screens in a live debate which will be aired on BBC Two on Wednesday 2 April, hosted by Question Time chair David Dimbleby.
The hour-long, 7pm debate will take place before a demographically representative audience, and an equal split of pro-EU and anti-EU audience members, who will be given the opportunity to field questions to the two leaders.
James Harding, Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, said he was “delighted to have negotiated successfully to broadcast this important debate”, adding: “Europe is always a highly charged issue in British politics and this is a fantastic opportunity to test the arguments.”
Talking up the debates, Farage said: “For the first time in 39 years the British people will hear a proper, open debate on the UK’s membership of the European Union.”
He added that it was time for the UK to “leave the European Union and embrace the world”.
Clegg, who is leader of the Liberal Democrats as well as the Deputy PM, said he looked forward to the “lively contest” and relished “the prospect of talking about how [Lib Dems] are fighting to keep Britain in Europe to protect British jobs while [Ukip] want to yank us out and threaten our recovery”.
The debates will be high-profile interventions by two of the UK’s most prominent pro-EU and anti-EU figures ahead of the European Parliament election, which takes place in the UK on Thursday 22 May.
The election will be the first major test of public opinion on the European institutions since 2009, when Farage’s eurosceptics picked up a vote share of 16.6% across Great Britain and Gibraltar, coming second to the Conservatives – but failing to win an MEP in Scotland, where they polled 5.2%.
Opinion polls have suggested Ukip could come second again this year, with a vote share between 20-30%, because of the rise in euroscepticism in parts of England and Wales.
But the Liberal Democrats are spearheading a pro-EU counter-offensive, branding themselves as “the party of IN”. On their party website, they describe themselves as “the only party prepared to unambiguously make the case that Britain is better off in the EU”.
The UK elects 73 Members of the European Parliament using various methods of proportional representation. The election will take place on Thursday 22 May and results will likely be announced on Sunday 25 May, after voting has closed in the other 28 member states.