Grant Woodward: EU debate stops us talking about what really matters

SIDESHOW: Ukip leader Nigel Farage holding his passport as he takes part in ITVs EU referendum debate.
SIDESHOW: Ukip leader Nigel Farage holding his passport as he takes part in ITVs EU referendum debate.
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ARE you ready for two weeks of misery? No, not the England football’s latest doomed attempt to actually win something, but the countdown to You Know What.

Blimey. Can there really still be two weeks to go before the EU referendum?

By my reckoning the campaigning began some time around the last ice age – and I’ve heard nothing new served up in the debate since then.

The biggest problem is that the salient points for and against staying in Europe have been drowned out by the petty bickering and name-calling between the respective camps.

David Cameron’s decision to enter the fray has done no end of damage to the Tories and it’s hard to see how the differences will be patched up post June 23.

The fact they don’t seem in the least bit perturbed about this is a reflection of how little they rate Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of persuading the nation he’s not completely unelectable.

This isn’t me saying our membership or withdrawal from the European Union isn’t a big deal. Because it is.

But essentially it’s become a guessing game. The barrage of conflicting ‘evidence’ from both sides means we’ve essentially got to go with gut instinct on voting day.

So essentially the debate could have been done and dusted within the space of a few days.

Instead it has dragged on interminably, dominating every inch of the domestic political landscape for months.

And it’s not as if there aren’t a whole ream of other issues on the country’s plate right now that should demand our full attention.

The state of the NHS and Jeremy Hunt’s botched handling of the junior doctors’ strike.

The current impasse over major transport infrastructure outside the capital – specifically the ongoing attempt to lock Leeds in some kind of 20th century limbo without any sort of metro system.

The fallout from the decision by a Tory-led council to impose fracking on Yorkshire – and what it could lead to.

The Government’s apathetic approach to providing Leeds and the surrounding area with adequate flood defences to avoid further misery and costly damage to homes and businesses.

The policy of forced academisation which will run roughshod over the wishes of individual schools – not to mention worried parents.

The scale of immigration from outside the EU and the impact it’s having on public services.

How to finance a level of care that gives the elderly a standard of living they deserve in their twilight years.

The consequences of the continued push by Scottish nationalists to break up the United Kingdom.

The question of how many other companies are operating along similar lines to Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct in its appalling treatment of workers.

All of these are pressing issues that have an impact on a huge number of people.

But the chances of actually seeing them being made the subject of the level of debate they deserve are slim to non-existent in the shadow of the all-consuming EU question.

Parliament begins a two week break next Wednesday. Its summer recess stretches from July 21 to September 5.

A couple of weeks after MPs get back it’s party conference season, which will just about take us up to the middle of October.

There’s a nagging sense that for a government with an awful lot of questions to answer, the EU referendum is a handy sideshow.

It’s buying them time and making life a bit less awkward, despite the splits it’s opened up in their ranks.

Having seen first hand what goes on in Brussels I’m in full agreement with those who believe the EU could and should be better. But the question of whether we’re in or out is undeserving of the time, money and energy being spent on it.

Sarah Champion MP

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