A televised EU debate must be serious, sober, far-reaching …

Television’s EU referendum, now the Brussels deal is done,won’t be some simple 90-minute debate between Out and Remain – still less a few Ask Dave or Nigel Question Times on May 2015 election lines.

Since the impact of withdrawal will be widespread and often momentous – an accumulation of small as well as high-sounding issues – the TV companies bidding frantically for their sessions in the ratings sun would surely be best putting in a momentous amount of effort and thinking time, too. You can always put election mistakes right in five years if you wish. Europe – even more than Scottish independence – is a once-in-a-lifetime choice stretching into the distance.

So here are a few questions that need settling fast, and debating openly as they’re raised. Is this a basic contest between two potential leaders once the voting’s done: say Dave versus Gove? How do other parties, all advocating Remain, get a part of the action? Ask Jeremy, Tim and Nicola, plus the Greens, UDP and Plaid Cymru, too? But if they’re all basic Remainers, how is that fair to the Outs? Contrapuntally, what’s the point of Labour stalwarts voting to Remain – along with the TUC and CBI – if they’re not allowed a separate say? OK: we know there are supposed to be just two great blocs, saying Yea or Nay. But why force Outs who don’t agree with other Outs into some narrow straitjacket? Or whizz in the PM again as great Remain champion at the close?

Then there are the issues that need prolonged investigation, not just two-minute parcels of soundbites. What happens to those migrants from the EU who have moved here to work? They don’t have a vote: but they do have to buy a TV licence. Are they to be excluded – like two million or so Brits living in Europe who may find themselves substantially disadvantaged and unable to remain over there? Do Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own debates, which may produce their own answers? What about the 16-year-olds who won’t have a vote but will face the consequences after two years of withdrawal negotiations before the deed is finally done?

As for other details that matter: the terms we’ll try to negotiate once the big Out is sealed; the cash to be paid for EU access, or not; the effect on farming, housebuilding, defence and much else. These aren’t two-minute bits of non-business either. This is no general election. Nor is it – in structure or implications – a mere reprise of Darling v Salmond. Big decisions need full monty deliberation – even if, seeping around some TV controllers’ boardrooms, you can already begin to feel ardour cooling as serious choices demand serious answers (and serious temptations to switch over to Emmerdale).

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Peter Preston, for The Observer on Sunday 21st February 2016 07.00 Europe/London

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