Rishi Sunak ‘rejects post-Brexit youth mobility scheme’

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving his speech in central London (PA Wire)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak giving his speech in central London (PA Wire)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has reportedly rejected a Brussels offer to open post-Brexit talks which could allow young Britons to live, study or work in the EU.

The European Commission wants to open bloc-wide talks with the UK Government on a youth mobility visa scheme for people aged 18 to 30, similar to agreements the UK already has with Commonwealth countries including Australia and New Zealand.

Labour knocked back the suggestion and Number 10 indicated on Friday that Brexit had ended free movement and it had no desire to reopen that conversation, even with strict conditions on length of stay, the Guardian reported.

A Government spokesman said: “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.”

However, he did note the Government would be happy to make deals with individual member states. It is known that the UK is keen to strike an arrangement with France.

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.

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

Young demonstrators with banners during the People's Vote in 2019 (EPA)
Young demonstrators with banners during the People's Vote in 2019 (EPA)

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, young UK and EU citizens would be able to stay for up to four years in their desired 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.

Maros Sefcovic (PA Wire)
Maros Sefcovic (PA Wire)

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.

No 10 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.”

Labour 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.”