The first time I studied economics, at 16, the case could be neatly and simply put across at A level. I came across the enormous benefits the EU can offer us in terms of harmonisation laws and regulations to make trading easier, abolition of tariffs, to make free trade cheaper and free movement of people, so we get the best people for the job. Since the EU comprised 50% of our trade, this meant cheaper goods, less governmental interference in the market for businesses to flourish and better skilled workers to contribute to the economy.
Likewise, the first time I heard of the EU was during politics, also at 16, and the benefits of the EU could not be questioned. We could put aside irrational national grudges from untrustworthy politicians, reuniting Europe after World War Two and build a cooperative and mature democratic forum at the supra-national level. Made perfect sense in a time of globalisation where the power of big business could supersede national governments, and where powers had just been devolved to Scotland and Wales and more local levels, the nation state was changing and we needed decision making at different levels to adapt to this. There was absolutely no question, the EU was a great thing for me, a working class kid.
Fast forward five years and I've learnt a bit more about politics and economics and am writing my dissertation on the topic at university. I'm anti-establishment, left wing and critical of the neoliberal free trade agenda of the EU and its lack of democratic legitimacy. I've been spoilt by 10 years of Labour governments during my formative years and wished for more radical policies in Europe, whilst also still criticising the Blairite labour government. I'd argue that the focus on free trade and neoclassical economics (a la thatcher and the Anglo Saxon model of capitalism) are ensuring traditional socialist policies of Germany, Sweden or France are being undermined in effect to harmonise the policy in member states.
Fast forward a year, during my masters at LSE studying free trade (taught by those who worked at the WTO), the EU came up again as another target, this time for acting as a regionalist trading bloc which was preventing free trade and was a protectionist force to the outside world. Though what I realised was that this could protect workers' rights in the EU, and specifically those vulnerable to threats of globalisation (the least well off). It could stop a race to the bottom, as a club of some of the most powerful countries in the world, with a history of social democracy and workers' rights (which you'd not see in the Americas or Asia) could introduce common law to uphold basic social standards, and it did through the European Convention on Human Rights & European Social Chapter which enshrine basic workers' rights and keep them safe from any neoliberal or right wing government of the day. Most importantly (at that time, which was the year of the financial crash, 2008) , the EU led the way on talks on international monetary cooperation, such as the Basel accords, which are crucial to regulating our economy and stabilising our precarious financial system.
Working with the European Commission
I realised that I was probably right the first time, and my undergraduate years I'd gotten a bit carried away in the prospect that Britain may stay as it was in the 1970s, and I've realised the world is changing as we need to catch up or be left behind. I'm now 8 years into my working life, a trained accountant, and I now work for and audit for the European Commission as a contractor, as well as the United Nations and other 'unelected' bodies. I've lived most of my twenties under a Tory government and gone through the biggest recession since the Great Depression just after graduating, and have seen first-hand that the investment which has been cut off from the most deprived areas of the U.K. during this time by our government, has been provided by the EC.
Moreover, working with the EC, I have come to realise the question of democratic legitimacy is not one that worries me now. What I hadn't realised back in 2007 was that the European Union (which is comprised of three institutions, the European Parliament (directly elected through the list system), the Council of Ministers (our own democratically elected heads of state) and the European Commission) is set up just like our own bi-cameral system (two chamber system). Just as we have one elected house (the House of Commons) and one appointed chamber (House of Lords), one acts as a check and balance on the other (although we have two elected chambers in the EU, and only one non-elected part of the EU). The EU is actually more democratic in the sense that the commission cannot put through legislation which has not been approved by all member states. Importantly for the Brexit debate, it us the most powerful member states which have the loudest voices, the U.K. being one of them. So if it is undemocratic it is because of the lack of political equality for the smaller countries.
Likewise, as mentioned, the voting system for the European Parliament elections is the list system, and is by far more democratic than FPTP which we use in the UK, and the list system is the most proportional system available. Importantly, the main reason I moved back to being pro EU is because we do not have a written constitution in the UK, it is easy for the government of the day to slowly repeal the social rights and responsibilities we've taken decades to enshrine in the EU. If we stay we can guard these from the Thatcherite side of the Tory party who are overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit. This check and balance is necessary in a time when the NHS is at stake, education is now a privilege of the wealthy and we are starved of investment across the board.
On trade, I wrote my masters dissertation on the struggles of the WTO Doha Round trade negotiations in 2008. This taught me one thing, trade talks take time. These talks are still ongoing in 2016 and likely never to reach a conclusion. The world has been going through unstable times since the financial crash, the Eurozone and US are looking inward in times of trouble (Bush, Le Pen, etc.) and this is not going to be a conducive ground for opening up new trade deals post Brexit. There's a reason that the EU takes a long time to negotiate trade deals, it's a logistical nightmare with so many countries involved. We will be negotiating our way back in the EU which will be a timely process, and something I'm not convinced we need to do at all.
Finally, on the hot topic of immigration, I know we are an overpopulated country and we live in an overpopulated world. I also now work for UNFPA (UN Population Fund) as a contractor, with our main objective to ensure we manage the strain on resources as our population grows, in nation states and globally. I know better than most, living in a one bed flat in Peckham and paying £1,100 a month, that we don't have enough housing. I know as a school governor of an inner city school that we don't have enough teachers. I know as someone who's been unfortunate to have to use the NHS more times than I'd like to over the past couple of years that our doctors are stretched. I think we need to focus on the strains on our resources in terms of the government policies and investing more in public services. I know that most immigrants that are seen as a drain work low paid jobs but they pay tax legally in order to stay in the country. That puts into the pot for our social services and does grow our economy. It is not a zero sum game. What we now need to do is elect a government who want to invest in public services and our economy, and I know that the government we'll get if we vote Brexit are anything but that.
I'll admit there are a lot of unknowns in the EU debate, but those things are certain. I've spent my Friday night writing this as I'm sick to death of the Brexit media coverage stating the we don't know anything in order to get us to distrust all the people who have bothered to study economics and politics who downright disagree with them. And the idea that anyone on the remain side is an establishment figure, is simply not true. I was bought up in a council estate in the West Midlands and was lucky enough to work my way up to where I am now, due to investment in young people and education. Something the Gove et al has stripped away for those younger than me in his time as minister for education. Please don't believe that there are no facts, there are plenty, they just don't want you know them.