Brexit could spell the end for Erasmus

By Sam Chambers |

Yesterday MPs passed the withdrawal agreement in Parliament, taking the UK another step closer to leaving the EU.

Thanks to their landslide majority of 80, the Conservative government was able to get the Third Reading of their Withdrawal Agreement Bill’s passed this week unblemished by any new clauses or amendments.

This includes putting protections for Erasmus+ into law.

MPs refused to add a clause to the EU Withdrawal Bill which would have bound the government to seek continued membership of Erasmus+.

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The amendment, called New Clause 10 and proposed by the Liberal Democrats, was defeated on Wednesday by 344 votes to 254.

Erasmus+ helps students travel abroad to study at European universities. Each year, 16,000 Britons benefit from the stipends. The programme also provides funding for vocational students and teachers.

Layla Moran MP, who tabled the new clause to the Withdrawal Bill, said that following Brexit: “No UK-led programme could ever match the reputation and extensive university partnerships of Erasmus.”

Ms. Moran, who is the Lib Dem spokeswoman for education, believed that her clause was “an absolute no-brainer”.

Labour MP Toby Perkins also voiced his regret in Parliament following the clause’s defeat, saying that Erasmus “enables young people without huge wealth to enjoy some of the opportunities that young people with wealth will continue to enjoy”.

Perkins’ words echoed a report done by the House of Lords EU Committee last year, which warned that leaving Erasmus+ would “disproportionately affect people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with medical needs or disabilities”.

Erasmus+ covers EU countries and some partners |
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What is the future of Erasmus+?

The defeat of New Clause 10 does not necessarily mean that the UK’s membership in Erasmus+ will cease. Currently, several countries not in the EU, including Iceland, Norway and Serbia, pay for full participation in the Erasmus programme.

A junior Brexit minister confirmed prior to the vote that the UK will maintain full participation in Erasmus+ until the transition period terminates at the end of 2020.

The minister, James Duddridge, also noted that the Political Declaration attached to the Withdrawal Agreement “envisages the possibility of UK participation in EU programmes” after Brexit.

Speaking to BBC News the day after the vote, an official from the Department of Education reiterated the government’s intention to keep the UK in the Erasmus scheme, but only “if it is in our interests to do so”.

The government may be unwilling to commit to serious Erasmus+ negotiations, believing they could distract from other priorities.

If there is to be any chance of the UK staying in the Erasmus programme after Brexit, negotiations would have to be completed soon, ahead of the start of the new Erasmus funding cycle in 2021.