Cultural Ties With Europe: Update On Liberal Democrat Policy

Liberal Democrat Conference Lanyards: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0

Layla Moran introduced a motion at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference to update the party’s policy on Europe. She pointed out that, far from securing cultural ties with our continental neighbours, red tape is strangling a new generation of musicians, and we need paper-free tours for artists. The Government’s new Turing scheme is not adequate and does not offer the benefits of Erasmus plus.

The UK should scrap passport requirements for school trips. The youth mobility scheme for gap-years needs to be reinstated, as this would also help plug the social care gap with young temporary care workers from the EU. In the withdrawal negotiations, the EU offered concessions on many of these cultural ties, but the UK hard-Brexit negotiators declined them. Now we are beginning to see the cost.

The various speakers who followed all supported the motion, most of them telling stories from their own experience. Others in the chat also mentioned specific examples. 

Turing vs Erasmus+

Comparing Turing to Erasmus+ someone pointed out that Turing will help only the wealthiest students from elsewhere to come to the UK, and not help youth from poorer families. These used to benefit from Erasmus+ links between colleges of further education.

Turing only pays fees but none of the other expenses such as travel, visa fees, and accommodation. Examples popped up in the chat about British students trying to go to Spain hit by visa costs, and students from Dunbar who now had to pay for accommodation in France.

UK’s Passport Requirement Is a Deterrent

Within the EU school students need only ID cards to travel on short visits. Now they need passports for entry to the UK. But this will deter schools from poorer communities: ID cards cost €16 while passports cost €100. If a class from Germany, for instance, contains some Turkish students, they might not be able to come at all.

In Kent, school parties are very important to the high street economy of Canterbury, with many constantly flowing through the medieval streets to the Cathedral, and other sites. Covid has, of course, blocked such parties this year, but in this next school year, we will see how the Brexit visa requirement harms the Canterbury tourist economy.

School Visits Opened Windows Of Opportunity

School visits used to lead to further opportunities. For instance a school student hosted by a family in Scotland realised she could study to be a vet in Scotland under Erasmus+. But no longer.

Throughout the UK school system, the number studying foreign languages or planning to major in them is falling, especially German.

Loss Of Language Students Leads To Loss Of Language Schools

The many schools teaching English as a foreign language, that used to attract hundreds of thousands from Europe to their courses in the UK, are already suffering from pandemic travel restrictions. They are now likely to go out of business because of Brexit visa restrictions.

No Agreement Yet On Mutual Recognition Of Professional Qualifications

In the chat, someone mentioned the problems of professionally qualified individuals. Architects and engineers, who used to take contracts in other EU countries, are now blocked from doing so, because mutual recognition of qualifications has not been agreed.

It is also much harder for academics and research scientists to work across EU borders. It is not just the visas for the academics that is the problem: they need to transport their equipment across borders, such as isotopes. They have to fill in “Carnets” and present them at every national frontier.

Loss Of EU Funding For Research

One speaker, clearly a physics teacher, described how he got EU funds to investigate physics education on the continent. Such funds will not now be available to the UK. So he pointed out that “cultural ties” are not just for arts and music but also for science.

Music Industry Badly Hit

Several speakers gave more details on how Brexit hampers the music industry. For example, in the Netherlands a jazz group on tour from the UK consisted of an English singer backed up by an Italian pianist and a German clarinet player, a multi-national collaboration that will become increasingly unlikely.

Someone also pointed out that the music industry is much more than just the performers: there is a whole support structure of transport, lighting, installation, and media, with jobs in all these likely to fall away.

Already, someone in the chat said, there is a drop in music graduates able to get jobs in the music industry. But music has for decades been at the forefront of creative industry export with Cool Britannia concerts in Europe. As someone quipped: let the Yellow Brick Road replace the Blue Wall.

Complete Consensus

Unsurprisingly, this motion was carried unanimously, and will appear shortly as LibDem policy. Other conference motions passed can be viewed here.