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Brexit: Impact on Young People

Volume 783: debated on Monday 11 September 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to the impact of Brexit on opportunities for young United Kingdom citizens to travel, work and study within Europe.

My Lords, it is still too early to say what rules will be in place for British citizens travelling in the EU after we leave, including for young people. We are carefully considering our options and the potential impact they may have on different categories of people. We will discuss these arrangements with the EU in due course. At every step of the negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people.

My Lords, immediate concern in Parliament has rightly been for EU nationals in the UK and Britons currently abroad, but what thought has been given to how the loss of rights to travel, work and study abroad at will would affect Britons resident here, rights that most young European citizens will continue to enjoy, allowing them a significant advantage in chasing up opportunities? What consideration have the Government given to ensuring that young people here are maintained on the same level playing field as their European counterparts, including continuing participation in Erasmus?

My Lords, the noble Earl raises a vital question, because the value of international exchange and collaboration in education and training is a vital part of our vision for the UK as a global nation. It is about the future of our young people. Erasmus, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is an example of the European programmes in which we might well want to participate. We will consider that as part of the negotiation. There are other schemes, too, in respect of which we need to look carefully at how we might participate after we leave the European Union.

Does my noble friend agree that we are unlikely to make much progress on these matters until we get some resolution on debt? In that context, will she tell this House the extent to which the problem is about legality and the extent to which it is about quantum? If it is about legality, have we given serious consideration to arbitration? If it is about quantum, have we given serious consideration to mediation?

My Lords, regarding debt, I assume that my noble friend is not harking back to the previous Question but looking forward to the negotiations on the liabilities the EU owes to this country—and we recognise there will be duties that we owe to the EU, whether they be based in law or indeed morally. A lot of thought has been given to this issue and I have answered questions on it recently. About 10 days ago, the UK negotiators gave a three-and-a-half hour presentation to the EU negotiators, examining each and every part of the directives and treaties the EU put forward as a list of references, without explaining their application to the UK’s liability. So we are deeply involved in examining wherein lay the duties, each way, to each other.

My Lords, the European Social Fund gives adults opportunities to learn—often, people who are less likely to go into further or higher education or benefit from the Erasmus scheme. Does the Minister agree that the Government’s proposed shared prosperity fund should be used to replace money such as the European Social Fund to ensure that such opportunities for learning will continue?

The noble Baroness makes an important and interesting point, and I shall certainly take it back. We need to look over the whole range of activity which encompasses youth training and learning. As the noble Baroness was speaking, I was reminded of the youth mobility scheme, which allows young people aged 18 to 30 from participating countries and territories to learn how to live and work in other societies.

My Lords, the noble Earl is far too young, and the noble Baroness the Minister is certainly too young, to remember that before we joined the European Union, young UK citizens travelled, studied and worked with great freedom across Europe west of the Iron Curtain. Can she confirm that you do not have to be a member of the EU to participate in the Erasmus programme? Does she agree that the graduates of our excellent universities will continue to be very much welcomed by employers in Europe? Is there any reason to suppose that young people will not in future have the same wonderful opportunities in Europe as they have had in the past?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Also, the youth mobility scheme and Horizon 2020 are open to countries that are not members of the EU; it depends on the negotiations between the EU and that third country. The most important thing is that all of us are looking to ensure that the future of our young people can be as rich an experience as it has been in the past.

My Lords, notwithstanding what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has just said, does my noble friend agree that it would be extremely sad, to put it mildly, if young people from all the countries of Europe found it more difficult to travel and work around the continent than those who came over in the Middle Ages to help build Lincoln and the other great cathedrals? If that stage were reached, we would have not a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit but a barren Brexit. That would be the worst of all.

My Lords, I taught history several lifetimes ago, and I know that we were not always the most welcoming of countries. I hope we have learned that it is better to welcome than to prevent people coming from countries for the wrong reasons. Clearly, it is important to have a legal basis to control immigration, but it is important to recognise that we have a way of welcoming people that enriches our society. Certainly, as we have announced already, for those who wish to take up Erasmus, applications will continue as normal in 2017-18, and:

“The Government will underwrite the payment of such awards, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.”

That shows a welcoming spirit.

My Lords, will the Minister apologise to young people for the fact that, when she was Chief Whip, she got her Government to refuse our amendment allowing 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in the referendum? It matters: those are the young people whose futures we are discussing. Furthermore, can she tell us why none of the seven position papers the Government have produced so far make any mention of young people? Will there be something in the Government’s thinking about them?

When we talk about young people in this House, it can be something of an elastic term. But in all seriousness, young people, however we define them, have as much right as those of all ages to believe there is a global future for them beyond the European Union, and we are taking that very seriously. The noble Baroness goes back into history on the referendum Act. We discussed that amendment on not one but several occasions, and it would be wrong for me to encapsulate it in just a brief time at Questions.