UK: Lords Committee calls for UK-EU mobility reset

Published 29/04/2023

The House of Lords European Affairs Committee has called for a UK-EU relations “reset”, including a shake up of the current student mobility landscape.

In its new report, The future UK-EU relationship, the committee uses evidence from stakeholders to examine the overarching state of the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU, delving into themes including mobility of people and the overall political, diplomatic and institutional relationship between the UK and the EU.

“The UK’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU has regrettably come under significant strain over the period since the Trade and Cooperation Agreement came into force, characterised by tension and mistrust,” said Lord Kinnoull, chair of the committee.

“A particular theme running through our Future UK-EU Relationship report evidence was the significant impact of post-Brexit barriers to mobility young workers and professionals in the early stages of their careers, emerging artists, as well as students across different educational levels,” added Kinnoull.

“Making progress here will benefit all in the short term but especially in the long term.”

The report outlined recommendations, focused on priority actions in a bid to reset the UK-EU relations following the recent agreement of the Windsor Framework.

Such recommendations include the reintroduction of a youth group travel scheme that would not require students travelling on school visits from EU countries to carry individual passports.

The UK’s decision to withdraw from the ‘List of Travellers’ scheme for EU group travel was partly down to border security, with the report including comments from Olaf Henricson-Bell, EU director of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, who said that “almost half” of the false documents detected at the border in 2020 were ID cards.

However, Joss Croft, CEO, UKinbound, argued “it is not hugely credible to imagine that these children, whose parents are waiting for them to return home, will abscond”.

Research from the Tourism Alliance showed the number of students sent to the UK by European operators that organise school trips and other educational, cultural or sport-related group travel was 83% lower in 2022 compared to 2019, the last pre-pandemic year before the TCA was introduced.

Meanwhile, destinations such as Malta and Ireland have “done very well” compared to the UK, said Stephen Lowy, chair of the British Educational Travel Association, signalling that the pandemic alone is not to blame for the UK’s decline.

The committee said it “deeply regrets” the substantial decrease in school visits from the EU since 2019 and highlighted its concern on the considerable long-term cultural impact of this, as well as significant economic impact.

UKinbound highlighted further research suggesting that the decline in school group visits is forecast to result in a whopping £875 million loss of revenue and the loss of 14,500 jobs.

English UK recently made a similar call to action on this point, included in its nine asks of the UK government, with the youth group travel scheme reintroduction being a top priority for the association.

Lowry described the situation as a “huge loss of soft power”.

“It upsets me that a lot of young European kids will miss out on experiencing that joy of travel at that age here, in the formative part of life when you get those experiences and fall in love with a country,” he added.

“We talk about creating global Britain but British kids will not have that in Europe”

“We talk about creating global Britain but British kids will not have that in Europe. That is very sad for the UK, both inbound and outbound.”

Lowy recommended a new youth group travel scheme should be reciprocated to allow young British students to be able to travel easily on school trips to Europe.

The report also calls on the government to “explore the addition of a reciprocal element to the Turing scheme, drawing on the experience of the Taith scheme introduced by the Welsh government”.

Since its launch, stakeholders have voiced concerns over the Turing scheme’s lack of reciprocity, amongst other aspects.

“Although we generated quite a lot of mobilities from Turing, that lack of reciprocity when there was an exponential budget increase had an impact on EU mobility,” said Anne-Marie Graham, chief executive at UKCISA during a European Affairs Committee formal meeting on the future UK-EU relationship in December 2022.

“There are models across the UK that we can learn from,” she added.

“I do not think there was any significant reason to pull out of Erasmus in the first place,” said Ellie Gomersall, president at National Union of Students Scotland.

“In replacing it with the Turing scheme, we tried to reinvent the wheel and did not necessarily succeed. A UK-wide program like Erasmus+ or the Taith program would bring significant opportunities, with students around the world able to come here and students here able to go and study internationally.”

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