Prime Minister Boris Johnson has assured the House of Commons that the UK will continue to participate in the Eramus+ scheme after Brexit.
Responding to a question about the future of the scheme from SNP MP Douglas Champman during prime minister’s questions (PMQs), Mr Johnson said: “There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme. We will continue to participate. UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners, just as they will continue to be able to come to this country.”
Mr Chapman said politicians “voted to make our young people more insular, narrow and parochial” last Wednesday, after Conservative MPs were whipped to vote down a Liberal Democrat-backed amendment to the EU withdrawal bill.
The amendment had aimed to force the government to negotiate access to the student exchange scheme and the EU’s Horizon research programme before the UK exits the Brexit implementation period on 31 December 2020.
In response to the criticism, Mr Johnson said Mr Chapman was “talking through the back of his neck”.
Following the vote in parliament last week, universities minister Chris Skidmore tweeted that the amendment was “game-playing by opposition parties” and insisted the government was open to participation in Erasmus+, but that this depended on future negotiations.
Last night’s vote- game playing by opposition parties- does not end or prevent the UK participating in @EUErasmusPlus after leaving the EU. We remain open to participation and this will be part of future negotiations with the EU- we highly value international student exchanges
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) January 9, 2020
In a speech to vice-chancellors at the Universities UK conference in September last year, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “I want to reassure you that my department is open to continuing to be part of schemes like Erasmus+. But we have to prepare for every eventuality, and it is sensible to consider all options. As such I have asked my officials to provide a truly ambitious scheme if necessary.”
Last week, The Times quoted a Whitehall source who suggested the Treasury and Department for Education would not prioritise the scheme in future negotiations. The scheme is estimated to cost the European Commission £411m, and the UK government would need to pledge funds to assure UK student access after Brexit.
The Whitehall official told The Times: “The question being asked is whether you want to spend a billion pounds on this or put it into the schools budget.
“Clearly it will depend on the negotiations with the EU but the feeling is that it is expensive and not a priority for the government.”