A no-deal Brexit a disaster for the UK’s young people

The catastrophic economic consequences of a hard Brexit for the UK and damage to the rest of the EU understandably dominate the headlines. It must be a concern for everyone, regardless of how they voted in the referendum, that after a two-year wait for a government plan the main customs proposals have already been ruled out and warnings are growing about a damaging no-deal Brexit.

Most obviously, there are around a million Britons who live on the European continent. According to the UN, the UK has the fifth highest expat population in the EU, after Poland, Romania, Germany and Italy. More than 2.3 million EU citizens work in the UK, making a big contribution to the NHS, hospitality sector and agriculture. This has been made possible by the free movement of people within the EU.

Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics has reported that nine out of the top 10 tourist destinations for Britons in 2016 were EU countries. This ease of travel is backed by established systems and arrangements for flights and healthcare.

Particular beneficiaries have been young people from the UK. More than 200,000 British students have taken part in the Erasmus education scheme since it was established in 1987. Around a third of those students have had direct work experience placements.

Hundreds of thousands others just enjoy the opportunity to travel, whether to the beaches of the Mediterranean, city breaks across the continent, or the Interrail experience.

Unsurprisingly, young people in the UK voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU – around 70-75% by most estimates. What kind of Brexit is being negotiated for young people? Will their job prospects be improved or not? Will it safeguard their educational opportunities? Will it guarantee them the same freedom of travel? Will they have the same quality of health cover?

Already some of the longer-term signs are not promising, especially with the economic shock of a no-deal Brexit. This is also true with education. According to the British Council, language provision already “looks increasingly vulnerable”, and Brexit could diminish the already “limited language capability” in the UK.

The number of pupils taking modern languages such as French and German has declined dramatically, as have the number of foreign language assistants. No wonder the British Council warns that more young people must learn languages if the UK is to remain globally competitive post-Brexit. Read more