Oxford West and Abingdon MP Layla Moran pushed two amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to keep UK in Erasmus+ programme and to protect environmental standards and workers’ rights. In both cases MPs voted against the amendments being read a second time.
The Liberal Democrat amendment New Clause 10 called on the government to negotiate full membership to the EU’s Erasmus+ education and youth programme, and was defeated 344 votes to 254. New Clause 29 would have required the government to seek close alignment with the EU single market on key-level playing field provisions, but this was also voted down, 345 votes to 250.
Moran has expressed her strong belief in the importance of Erasmus, saying of the programme: “The benefits are huge: learning a new language, picking up skills and work experience, building lifelong friendships and providing a huge boost to your confidence and independence. Without Erasmus, the opportunity to study abroad is only available to a select few.”
The Erasmus scheme is an EU-funded programme which organises student exchanges across the continent and supports individuals while they are studying or working abroad. The financial support offered by the scheme allows students from a wide variety of backgrounds to benefit from its opportunities.
Many members of the public have taken to social media to express their outrage at the government’s lack of support for the programme, while petitions to save Erasmus are rapidly gaining signatures. Dr Mary McAuliffe of University College Dublin tweeted that she was “so sorry to see the British Government removing themselves from Erasmus – so many students, most recently two young cousins, have had positive, life-forming experiences on this. It’s a small minded, bad, Brexit-driven result.”
However, participation for 2020 is protected under the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and Universities Minister Chris Skidmore has stated that the vote “does not end or prevent the UK from participating in EU Erasmus+ after leaving the EU. We remain open to participation and this will be part of future negotiations with the EU.”
Skidmore says it is possible this will continue with the new Erasmus successor programme for 2021. In an article she wrote for the Guardian, Moran voices her mistrust of the current government to maintain the scheme.
Moran wrote: “The benefits of Erasmus are so obvious to the thousands of people who take part in the programme. Each year, more than 17,000 students at UK universities study or work abroad as part of their degree. They go because Erasmus has made studying abroad attractive and affordable.”
“By voting against the Liberal Democrats’ amendment last week, Conservative MPs showed they are at least prepared to throw away all these benefits. It is devastating.” “But there’s another reason to keep fighting. I don’t think the government has made up its mind about whether to stay in Erasmus or not.
“At prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, Boris Johnson downplayed fears. ‘There is no threat to the Erasmus scheme,’ he told MPs. ‘UK students will continue to be able to enjoy the benefits of exchanges with our European friends and partners.’”
Moran, who increased her majority from 816 to over 8,000 votes in December, is the education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats.