Back to top

UK response to EU mobility proposal “disappointing but not surprising”

Disappointed but not surprised - that was the reaction of many to the UK government's rejection of a youth mobility scheme between the UK and EU.
April 23 2024
4 Min Read

Disappointed but not surprised – that was the reaction of many to the UK government’s rejection of a youth mobility scheme between the UK and EU.

On April 18, the European Commission proposed to the Council to open negotiations with the UK on an agreement to facilitate youth mobility with the aim of making easier for young EU and UK citizens to study, work and live in the UK and the EU respectively.

“The UK’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,” said Maroš Šefčovič, executive vice-president for European Green Deal, interinstitutional relations and foresight.

Šefčovič said that the proposal was the first step towards an “ambitious but realistic agreement” between the EU and the UK that would fix the issue.

The proposal set out the conditions that would have to be met – age, maximum duration of stay, conditions of eligibility, rules for verifying their compliance – to enable young people to move without being tied to a purpose – to allow for studying, training – or quota-bound.

For instance, under the envisaged agreement, both EU and UK citizens aged between 18 to 30 years would be able to stay for up to four years in the destination country.

“Our aim is to rebuild human bridges between young Europeans on both sides of the channel,” said Šefčovič.

However, that ambition was quickly jilted, when both the UK government, and the opposition party, made it clear no such agreement would be met.

“We are not introducing an EU-wide youth mobility scheme – free movement within the EU was ended and there are no plans to introduce it,” a government spokesperson said on April 19.

The government statement followed on from a Labour spokesperson saying that the party has “no plans for a youth mobility scheme”, instead favouring policies such as “a veterinary agreement to tackle trade barriers, mutual recognition of professional qualifications and improved touring opportunities for artists”.

The reaction was not least disheartening for those working in the English language sector who have been lobbying for an ease to travel between the UK and the continent since the UK exited the visa-free travel arrangements.

“We are disappointed that both the government and Labour have said in response that they have no plans to introduce an EU-wide youth mobility scheme,” said Huan Japes, membership director, English UK.

“Their justification for this – that they do not wish to see a return to freedom of movement post Brexit – is less than relevant since youth mobility schemes are both visa-based and time-limited, and the UK already offers several successful schemes with other countries that have brought immense benefits to all participants.”

“The UK already offers several successful schemes with other countries that have brought immense benefits to all participants”

Nevertheless, Japes said that English UK looks forward to a formal offer on negotiations from the EU once the proposal has been agreed by the EU member states.

Stephen Lowy, chairman of the British Educational Travel Association, has been working alongside other parts of the tourism industry for many years to have discussions with government on the expansion of the YMS to Europe.

“I was very pleased to hear that the EU had suggested an EU-wide scheme and equally disappointed that the UK government have dismissed the thought of this so quickly,” Lowy told The PIE.

“In the past we had understood that both the EU and the UK were more open to a country-by-country YMS arrangement but for the EU to suggest a more open offering was good to hear.

“I believe that the two main parties are fairly aligned on the subject of Brexit, so I was not surprised to hear Labour agreeing with the current governments views, no matter how disappointing it is for the sector,” Lowy told The PIE.

“What I would say, is that I believe government – the current or the next – has to listen above the current political noise around immigration,” continued Lowy.

“The YMS would not only allow bright young people to come to the UK and share their knowledge, skills and build a lifetime affinity with the UK, but it also allows British young people to explore Europe and improve language skills, which is essential for the UK to be competitive on a global scale in the future.

“This will aid the growth of UK GDP, give us a network of global ambassadors and allow us to be a true global player – something I don’t think anyone can deny that we need at present.”

The UK government has made it clear its preference to do deals with individual member states.

Despite the opposition Labour party saying it has no plans to introduce an agreement with the EC, current Labour mayor for London, Sadiq Khan, has supported the idea of a youth mobility scheme, while the party’s pro-EU wing, Labour Movement for Europe, has backed similar proposals.

Its chair, Stella Creasy, has said that a scheme “could be a pragmatic solution to the challenges many sectors have”.

“We don’t have to rejoin the European Union to work with it; nor do we have to commit to the myth that Brexit can be made to work to solve some of the problems it has created,” she said.

Others, including the Association of Colleges, the National Union of Students, the Green Party, a campaign backed by 40,000 individuals as well as the devolved government in Scotland, have called for the UK to rejoin the Erasmus+ program in a bid to benefit student and staff mobility.

The UK’s ELT sector celebrated the expansion of the scheme earlier this year to South Korea as well as Japan last year.

“The Youth Mobility Scheme, or working holiday visa scheme, has proven effective between many countries in strengthening cultural and economic ties, encouraging the younger generation to broaden their horizons, deepen their understanding, and foster a sense of global citizenship,” said Shoko Doherty, CEO of Celtic English Academy.

“Although there have been talks within the UK government about possibly expanding the YMS to some EU countries, progress has been exceedingly slow in reaching actual decisions,” Doherty told The PIE.

“While final decisions take time, the younger generation, already impacted by Brexit and Covid-19, is missing out on these valuable experiences. I urge swift and positive action to provide opportunities for our future generations.”

Add Your Opinion
Show Response