Michael Gove criticised for wrongly claiming EHIC and Erasmus will survive ‘for a period’ after no-deal Brexit

‘It’s astonishing that the man in charge of our Brexit policy should completely mislead the public on two major issues of concern’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 09 December 2020 11:40
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Michael Gove is under fire after wrongly claiming key health and education benefits will be saved “for a period” even if there is a no-deal Brexit.

Both free, or very low-cost, medical treatment for travellers to the EU and the Erasmus student exchange programme will be lost if the UK crashes out without a trade agreement.

Even if a deal is struck – with just 22 days left to rescue it – there is no guarantee the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or Erasmus will be part of it, after the UK set strict conditions for the latter.

But Mr Gove, asked if “free medical treatment” would still be available after a no-deal, replied: “It will be the case that, for a period, yes, there will be appropriate access.”

Similarly, on Erasmus – used by more than 16,000 UK students in 2017 – the Cabinet Office minister told the BBC they would still be able to study in the EU “yes, for a period”.

Ben Bradshaw, a Labour MP demanded that Mr Gove “correct the record” immediately, saying: “Otherwise, why should people believe a single thing any minister says?

He added: “It’s absolutely astonishing that the man in charge of our Brexit policy should completely mislead the public on two major issues of concern.”

For months, supporters of the EHIC and Erasmus have been warning of the harsh impact if the schemes are lost – but there has been no hint that they are a focus of the crisis-dogged talks.

Last month, the health minister Lord Bethell said the government recognised the EHIC as “particularly important for those with pre-existing or long-term conditions”.

But he warned peers: “Future reciprocal healthcare arrangements are subject to ongoing negotiation with the EU.”

After a no deal, the UK would seek “bilateral” deals with individual countries, but, Lord Bethell added: “We cannot start these discussions until the negotiations with the EU have concluded.”

Universities and colleges have warned that quitting Erasmus will “blow a hole” in the UK’s economy, taking away income of £243m a year and depriving young people of vital work experience.

They urged the government to make rescuing the programme a high priority, before the UK’s membership expires at the end of this month.

But that has seemed unlikely since the government’s negotiating aims said options would be considered only “on a time-limited basis, provided the terms are in the UK’s interests”.

Tough new immigration rules, with the end of free movement of people, could also make it harder for students to take part.

UK nationals will only be able to stay in an EU country for 90 out of every 180 days without a visa – and EU nationals would require a UK student visa to stay for more than six months.

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