The uncertainty surrounding the terms on which the United Kingdom will exit the European Union (EU) and when this will happen is causing confusion about what the future holds for the Erasmus+ youth study and training scheme.
As it currently stands, the government is adamant that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October - with or without an exit deal - but with political and legal challenges ongoing, there is every chance Brexit will be postponed again, potentially until next year.
Meanwhile, with the Prime Minister Boris Johnson pushing for a general election to be held soon, Brexit could be scrapped altogether if the public decides it wants a change of government.
The uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit is hitting many aspects of policy making in children's services (see below), particularly for schemes such as Erasmus+ that are pan European in nature.
Implications of Brexit
UK organisations received¤680m from the EU for 4,846 Erasmus+ projects from 2014-2018. Every year, 18,000 UK students benefit through the scheme with a study or work placement abroad.
There are also 10,000 vocational, education and training students who are given work placements abroad that directly link to their vocational studies, 7,500 young people - often from disadvantaged backgrounds - who benefit from youth exchanges and 6,000 school pupils who take part in Erasmus+ funded school exchange visits.
The current seven-year cycle of Erasmus+ ends in 2020, and it is unclear if the UK will have access to the next phase of the programme, which begins in 2021, particularly if the country leaves under the cloud of "no deal".
In April, the House of Lords EU home affairs committee urged the government to negotiate continued inclusion in Erasmus, although it also called on ministers to consider a UK replacement scheme if this failed.
In the event of a "no deal" exit, advice from the Department for Education states participants' involvement in the current Erasmus+ scheme will remain unaffected. The government advises that those projects that have already applied for funding under 2019 deadlines will be considered in the usual way, and those that are in the process of applying for remaining 2019 deadlines should continue to do so.
The British Council, which runs the Erasmus+ scheme for schools and higher education in the UK, simply refers all inquiries about the consequences of Brexit for the scheme to the website. This is periodically updated, most recently on 22 August, so for the moment little seems to be changing.
Due to Erasmus+ being a pan-European scheme embedded in the context of the EU, it is hard for agencies and participants to be anything but anxious.
Although it is unclear whether government advice about Erasmus+ would be any different if the UK left the EU with a deal as opposed to without one, it seems reasonable to assume that a more benign political atmosphere would make any transition easier.
It is almost certain, for example, that leaving with a deal would include an agreement to continue as things are until new arrangements could be made. This might happen with no deal as well, but a deal means more goodwill from the start, which would help.
Countries outside the EU are already involved in Erasmus+, although their status as "partner countries" means that their participation is more limited. Most obviously, some activities run under the scheme - so called "centralised" projects - are managed by the European Commission rather than in the member countries, so it seems likely these would not be readily available to the UK when it leaves.
For many organisations closely involved with Erasmus+, the preservation of something similar to the scheme is highly desirable.
The British Youth Council, in a position paper on Erasmus+ and Brexit, underlined this when it concluded the programme was so beneficial to young people that it should be either continued or replaced with something similar.
When we leave, said the position paper, young people "should have access to the same opportunities".
ADVICE ON ‘NO DEAL' BREXIT PREPARATIONS FOR COUNCILS
The government has issued advice to children's services departments on what to do if there's a "no-deal" Brexit.
It covers workers' rights, children seeking asylum in the UK and international child protection. It also includes details about looked-after children and the EU Settlement Scheme - and says all looked-after children and care leavers who are EU nationals should apply for it.
To do this practitioners should:
- Identify which children will need to apply, and offer support to any who need help with identity documentation or other paperwork.
- Raise awareness and provide support to parents and carers of EU citizen children accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, where needed, or signpost to relevant community support.
- Share information with personal advisers supporting care leavers to make their own applications.
- To support this, practitioners should consider putting in place procedures to check for the existence of a passport or identity card for each child who is subsequently looked after by your authority.
- The Home Office has provided guidance to support local authorities in making applications on behalf of eligible children in their care, including guidance on obtaining passports and ID documents.
- Councils can identify a member of staff to lead on the EU Settlement Scheme for children in care and care leavers.
Guidance from www.gov.uk