European Commission seeks post-Brexit talks on youth mobility agreement

The European Commission wants to see a scheme allowing 18 to 30-year-olds to study, live, and work across the English Channel and vice versa.

The European Commission said it was open to talks on the UK rejoining Erasmus+, should it express a wish to do so
The European Commission said it was open to talks on the UK rejoining Erasmus+, should it express a wish to do so (Yui Mok/PA)

Brussels wants to open post-Brexit talks which could allow young Britons easier access to study, work and live in the EU.

The European Commission wants to open bloc-wide talks with the UK Government on a youth mobility agreement.

In a statement on Thursday, the Commission said it would ask EU Council member states permission to negotiate with the UK on the matter.

It suggested Britain had shown interest in agreements with individual European nations and appeared to criticise this, as it insisted an EU-wide approach was preferable.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has called for talks
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has called for talks (Liam McBurney/PA)

Bilateral schemes with individual countries are in the UK’s best interest, Downing Street has said.

The timing of the announcement has raised eyebrows in Westminster, which could be seen as a signal to a potential incoming Labour government, but the party said it had “no plans for a youth mobility scheme”.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said: “The United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union has hit young people in the EU and the UK who would like to study, work and live abroad particularly hard.

“Today, we take the first step towards an ambitious but realistic agreement between the EU and the UK that would fix this issue. Our aim is to rebuild human bridges between young Europeans on both sides of the Channel.”

Under the terms of the deal the Commission wants to see, UK and EU citizens between the ages of 18 and 30 would be able to stay for up to four years in their destination country.

Mobility would not be “purpose-bound”, allowing those taking part to study, work, train or travel as they choose.

Neither would it be subject to a quota, or “disproportionate or excessive” visa fees.

The Commission said only “an EU-level approach” would ensure all member states are treated equally in respect of young people wanting to move to the UK, after claiming that the Westminster Government had “shown interest in the issue by reaching out to a number of member states” individually.

The new agreement would not amount to reinstating free movement, which the UK gave up when it left the EU.

Nor would it replace Erasmus+, an exchange scheme which made it easier for students to study abroad.

The Commission said it was open to talks on the UK rejoining Erasmus+, should it express a wish to do so.

The Government chose to withdraw from the scheme when it left the EU, as then-prime minister Boris Johnson believed it was too expensive.

It was replaced with the Turing scheme, named after Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing, which gives opportunities to study in countries across the globe.

Downing Street appeared to favour its current approach to brokering such agreements over the EU’s proposals.

A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The UK does have at a bilateral level a number of such schemes in place and we do that where it’s in the best interest of the UK.

“And we do it as long as it meets our requirement to balance bringing in skills to the UK and exchanging those skills, but at the same time making sure that it’s in line with our objectives to also be promoting and fostering UK talents and skills.

“We have spoken about wanting to reduce legal migration and also about wanting to support UK talent and skills and that’s why we have a system in place whereby we have a number of agreements with individual EU member states where that works in our interests and we have that rather than a Commission-wide agreement.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is a proposal from the EU Commission to EU member states, not to the UK. It has come about because the UK Government is reportedly approaching other European countries to try to establish mobility arrangements.

“Labour has no plans for a youth mobility scheme. We have already suggested some tangible ways that we would look to improve the relationship and deliver for British businesses and consumers, including seeking a veterinary agreement to tackle trade barriers, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and improved touring opportunities for artists.

“A Labour government would seek to improve the UK’s working relationship with the EU within our red lines – no return to the single market, customs union or free movement.”