Student leader warns of a catastrophic “No Deal Brexit”

Gwyneth Sweatman calls on the UK Government to make sure Wales and its students avoid the worst effects of Brexit

As each day goes by, it is becoming increasingly clear that we are headed towards a No Deal Brexit – or at the very least, a deal which could not command the confidence of the House of Commons, therefore causing a No Deal Brexit by default.


A No Deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Wales. It would risk millions of pounds of investment and spending; it would put the future of our industries at risk; it would risk job losses on a massive scale.


Such a scenario would also risk the future of important EU programmes, such as Erasmus+. Erasmus+ is the EU’s education, training, youth, and sport programme. One of its most well-known elements is the opportunity for students to study, work, volunteer, teach, and train abroad.


In 2016 alone, 2,235 students or young people from Wales were funded through Erasmus+ to study abroad. What’s more, Erasmus+ has brought in almost EUR 30 billion to Wales since 2014.


For good reason, the Welsh Government has been clear that it wants to see Welsh students continue to access Erasmus+ and other schemes:


Significant investment in Wales is stimulated by a number of smaller EU programmes and we strongly believe Wales should continue to benefit from access to them from outside the EU. These include: Horizon 2020, ERASMUS+, Creative Europe and the Wales-Ireland Programme.

– Securing Wales’ Future (2017)


UK Government has expressed its desire to secure continued access to the programme. However, this is on the caveat that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed:


“We will discuss with the EU the options for future participation as a third country, as the Prime Minister has made clear, on the basis of a fair and ongoing contribution. So we have accepted that we will want the option to participate and we know we must pay into the programme, but obviously we want the contribution to be fair and we will have to negotiate the terms.”

– Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for Universities, Science, Research, and Innovation (21 June 2018)


Now there are just six months to go before Brexit takes effect, and it looks like a No Deal Brexit is on the cards.


Polling by YouGov on our behalf in June 2018 found that 73% of people living in Wales wanted Welsh students to continue to be able to study and work in the EU post-Brexit. In fact, a clear majority of Leave supporters agreed.


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,001 adults living in Wales. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 21st June 2018. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults living in Wales (aged 18+).


Today we are calling on the Prime Minister to follow what is very clearly the will of the people: ensure Welsh students’ continued access to Erasmus+.


And if the UK Government fails, then we are calling on the Welsh Government to explore its own options for securing continued access to Erasmus+ or a similar scheme.


Erasmus+ is also important in bringing students from the EU to Wales. Research by Universities Wales has found that EU students contribute £150 million a year to the Welsh economy. We know Kirsty Williams would secure their future funding beyond 2020 if she could, but UK Government makes that impossible.


Erasmus+ is but one area where there remains still incredible levels of uncertainty about the future. Just think of any of the following:

  • our universities’ access to essential research and development funding worth millions through Horizon 2020 and its successor scheme, or
  • the replacement of structural funds that have grown to be a lifesaver for some of Wales’ most impoverished areas, or
  • the future funding of apprenticeships.


In all these areas and more, we are hurtling towards 29 March 2019 at a startling pace. None of us can be sure we won’t be worse off. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly certain that we will in fact be worse off.


In our position paper on Brexit which we have today published, NUS Wales has set out a number of demands of both the UK and Welsh Governments. These can be boiled down to:


  1. The UK Government must listen to the collective, democratic voice of the National Assembly for Wales.
  2. The UK Government must ensure Welsh students’ continued access to Erasmus+ post-Brexit. If the UK Government fails to ensure continued   access to Erasmus+, the Welsh Government must explore its own options for continued access to the same or similar schemes.
  3. The UK and Welsh Governments must work together to ensure long-term funding for EU students in Wales beyond 2020.
  4. The UK Government must deliver the continued freedom of movement of students and academics.
  5. The UK Government must ensure that there is no loss of fundamental human or industrial rights as a result of leaving the EU.
  6. The UK and Welsh Governments must ensure continuous access to the EU’s research programmes.
  7. The UK Government must legislate without delay for a People’s Vote on the final deal.


These demands would help mitigate the very worst effects of Brexit. But let me be clear: there is no scenario under which Wales would be better off after Brexit. There is no scenario where Brexit will leave us stronger on the world stage.


That is why, now that the full effects of Brexit are better known, we are joining calls for a People’s Vote on the final deal. This is not a ‘second referendum’ as some claim. Rather, it is an opportunity for us the people to decide whether the final deal – be it good, bad, or non-existent – is acceptable.


We know that the vast majority of young people and students voted to Remain in the EU. It is our firm belief that these people’s voices should not be ignored; with such disastrous effects on their futures on the table, it is essential that they are given a say.


Campaigning for continued access to Erasmus+, continued innovation funding for universities, continued funding for EU students in Wales, and many more of the things which we hold dear, does not preclude us from saying that we want a People’s Vote.


The Prime Minister seems determined to fight her way to 29 March 2019. So in the event that Brexit goes ahead, it is only right that we campaign to mitigate its absolute worst effects.


But at the same time, we can clearly say that a People’s Vote is now necessary. So much has changed since the referendum in June 2016. So much has now become clear. We believe that it is right that the question be now put: is this really what the people want?


The message that Wales’ student movement is sending to politicians at every level of government today is this: stop dithering, make sure Wales avoids the worst effects of Brexit, and give us a say in our future.


All articles published on Click on Wales are subject to IWA’s disclaimer.

Gwyneth Sweatman is NUS Wales President

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