Let British students back into free movement scheme, EU committee says

Exclusive: An EU committee has urged the bloc to negotiate a reciprocal free movement agreement with the UK

Zoe Grunewald
Thursday 04 April 2024 15:53 BST
Former prime minister Boris Johnson announced the UK would leave the Erasmus programme as part of Brexit negotiations

An official advisory body to the EU has urged leaders to let young people travel freely between the UK and EU, aiming to reignite opportunities for those under 30 post-Brexit.

The European Economic and Social Committee, an official consultative body to the EU Commission, has today agreed to a proposal that urges the EU to reintegrate the UK into the Erasmus programme which allows students to study abroad.

After Brexit the UK left the Erasmus scheme, which had enabled 200,000 UK nationals to study at the best universities across Europe at no extra cost.

New Brexit rules have also made it much more difficult for people to move between the EU and UK for work, study, and travel due to new border rules.

But today’s resolution is a significant step, as the European Commission is urged to approach the UK government about “the possibility of negotiating an ambitious reciprocal youth mobility partnership.”

A British Youth Council ambassador has said Brexit caused a ‘devastating loss of exchange and educational opportunities for young people on both sides of the Channel’ (PA Wire)

Maurizio Cuttin, the British Youth Council’s elected UK Young Ambassador to the European Youth Forum and advisor for the EESC’s opinion report, told the Independent that the UK’s exit from the Erasmus scheme has resulted in a “devastating loss of exchange and educational opportunities for young people on both sides of the Channel.”

He added: “The recent collapse of the British Youth Council - partly attributed to the gaping hole of funding left from our country’s exit from the Erasmus+ scheme - is further evidence of this. The UK government owes it to its young people to provide opportunities to unlock a brighter, skills-induced, and prosperous future. Embracing Erasmus+ is undoubtedly the way forward. Students, apprentices, and young volunteers deserve nothing less.”

The British Youth Council was initially set up by the Foreign Office in 1948 but became independent of the government as a charity in 1963. It aimed to empower young people and promote their interests at a local, national, European, and international level.

However, the Youth Council announced its closure in March following 75 years of championing young people, blaming the decision on ongoing financial difficulties which had resulted in insolvency.

Today’s resolution is a welcome relief for those under 30 across the UK who missed out on the opportunity to work and study in the EU before Brexit. The committee joins calls from increased cooperation from Labour mayor Sadiq Khan, who has pledged to offer young people studying in the capital a new version of the EU’s Erasmus scheme as part of his bid for a third term in office.

Mr Khan has said he will offer a scheme under which students would receive grants and other help to study and undertake work experience across the UK and other major world cities with reciprocal arrangements for overseas students to do the same in London.

He told The Observer: “The government’s hard Brexit has done damage right across London, and it is young people who have been hardest hit in so many ways.”

Sadiq Khan has pledged to offer a reciprocal scheme for young people studying in the capital as part of mayoral campaign (PA Archive)

He added: “I’m clear that I’d be supportive of a youth mobility scheme, which would benefit us economically, culturally, and socially. While the UK may no longer be part of the EU, London is, and always will be, a European city.”

Support for freedom of movement for young people has also been backed by former Tory cabinet minister and leading Brexiteer George Eustice, who called on Rishi Sunak’s government to open bilateral negotiations with the EU and offer young Europeans under 35 the right to two-year visas to work in Britain.

Mr Eustice said the deals should be reciprocal and should come as a part of the UK’s “post-Brexit reconciliation” with the EU.

The Home Office has said it is looking at the possibility of some form of youth mobility scheme.

In 2023, campaign group Best for Britain conducted a poll of more than 10,000 voters, which showed 68 percent of the electorate supported the UK Government negotiating a reciprocal youth mobility scheme with the EU, while 61 percent supported the UK being in Erasmus.

Responding to today’s draft opinion, Naomi Smith, Chief Executive of campaign group Best for Britain, said: “The government’s awful Brexit deal cruelly robbed young Brits of irreplaceable formative experiences and created significant issues, particularly for UK universities and hospitality businesses.

“The planets are now aligning for some of this damage to be reversed, and with the EU now backing the plan, it’s time the UK Government signed up to a reciprocal EU-UK Youth Mobility Scheme and allowed British students back into Erasmus.”

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