Young people will lose vital knowledge of other cultures unless the UK rethinks pulling out of the Erasmus study exchange scheme, the EU ambassador is warning.
The prime minister pledged there was “no threat” to Erasmus from Brexit, but then pulled the plug – triggering accusations that he is crushing the hopes of students who want to live, study and travel abroad.
“The Erasmus programme is one of the greatest successes of the European Union, but – most importantly – because it is about the young people, it is about creating links, addressing misperceptions,” Mr Vale de Almeida said.
“You know, increase the knowledge of the other side, of other countries, of other cultures
“It has been, in the European Union, a fundamental instrument to create a sense of belonging to Europe, but also a sense of respect for diversity.”
Giving evidence to the Lords European affairs committee, the ambassador – expressing a “personal” view – said: “Maybe there is a chance for this to be redone?”
Mr Vale de Almeida also pointed to the absence of a cooperation on foreign policy and security, after the UK rejected the idea in the Christmas Eve agreement.
“The British government did not want to engage on work on that,” he said, adding: “This is one area where I think we can make progress.”
Amid the outcry over the axeing of Erasmus, ministers announced a new “Turing Scheme”, named after the legendary Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing.
But the details suggested far less financial support than was provided by Erasmus – which was scrapped to save the UK money.
And, most significantly, free studies in any EU country, plus some others in Europe, has been replaced by pressure on universities and colleges to strike deals.
In his evidence, Mr Vale de Almeida said he wanted to “lower the temperature”, welcoming the UK’s move to apply for a delay to a ban selling chilled meats in Northern Ireland – rather than acting unilaterally.
The three-month extension to the grace period is expected to be granted by Brussels within days, although many other trading problems remain.
“I’m encouraged by very recent developments in the context of the Northern Ireland Protocol,” he said.
“The fact that the UK government decided not to opt for unilateral measures regarding some aspects of trade is encouraging [and] allows me to feel encouraged by possibly a new, more constructive climate in our relations.”
Mr Vale de Almeida said the EU was “turning our regulations upside down to try and find a solution to this problem”.
“What we didn’t like to see was unilateral action by the government in breach of what we had agreed – I hope that is behind us now.”