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Initial Brexit agreement offers greater certainty for movement between UK and EU

Short on time? Here are the highlights:

  • The first phase of Brexit negotiations has concluded with an agreement for mobility of citizens between the UK and EU
  • The agreement provides for reciprocal rights for EU citizens currently in the UK to retain their rights to live, study, and work in the country, and vice versa for British citizens in the European Union
  • It also allows for the UK’s continued participation in the landmark Erasmus+ and Horizon 2020 programmes through the year 2020

There was a moment when it looked like an agreement between the UK and the European Union around the first phase of Brexit negotiations could be slipping away. But following days of intense negotiations earlier this month, Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced an initial phase agreement at a joint press conference on 8 December.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

There were some big issues on the table for this initial round of Brexit talks, and the resulting agreement sets out provisions for the movement of people between the UK and EU, the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement for the UK’s departure from the European Union.

Most significantly for British education, the deal provides for reciprocal protection for the rights of European Union and UK citizens. That is, EU citizens can continue to live, study, and work in the UK, just as Britons will retain the rights to do the same in the EU.

At one level, this removes much of the uncertainty for the 46,000 EU citizens currently working at UK universities, and it does the same for British citizens working at institutions in the EU.

The terms of the Brexit financial settlement also support the continued participation of the UK in programmes operating under the current joint funding structure for pan-EU initiatives (formally, the Multiannual Financial Framework, or MFF). MFF allocations are set for five years at a time, and this means at the least that the UK will continue to participate in MFF-funded programmes through the end of the current budget window in 2020.

Again focusing in on the implications for education, this means that the UK will continue to participate in both Erasmus+, the landmark student mobility and volunteer programme, as well as Horizon 2020, the major EU programme for joint research.

The 8 December agreement is reasonably clear in its intent with respect to the rights that students will retain after Brexit: “Equal treatment will apply…including rights of workers, self-employed, students, and economically inactive citizens with respect to social security, social assistance, health care, employment, self-employment and setting up and managing an undertaking, education (including higher education) and training, social and tax advantages.”

“The phase one exit deal is positive news for universities and provides some welcome progress on a number of issues which Universities UK has been calling on government to address,” said Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis.

“It is welcome news that an agreement has finally been reached on citizens’ rights, which has long been universities’ first priority for Brexit negotiations…The budget settlement reached means that UK universities, students and researchers will continue to be able to participate in valuable programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+ until at least the end date of current programmes.”

Russell Group Chief Executive Tim Bradshaw added, “Confirmation the withdrawal agreement will apply to all those arriving in the UK until [the UK formally exits the EU in 2019] is helpful. We also welcome that people with settled status will be able to spend up to five consecutive years outside of the UK without losing this status. This will help ensure future academic collaboration with international partners is not undermined. We would encourage the Government to put the terms of the agreement on citizens’ rights into UK law as soon as possible.”

Talks continue

With an initial agreement in hand, the Brexit talks can now continue to their second phase, a round that promises to be even more challenging as it will focus on transition arrangements as well as a framework for the future relationship between the UK and the EU. As with the initial phase of talk, international educators have much at stake in terms of student and faculty mobility beyond 2019 and 2020.

“Phase two of the negotiations is hugely important for universities,” said Mr Jarvis. “Universities UK will continue to work with the UK government and officials in Brussels to secure an effective post-exit settlement for universities. To ensure universities can deliver maximum impact post-exit, this should include negotiating access to the next European research and innovation programme (FP9) and to the Erasmus+ mobility programme. Developing a post-exit immigration system, with minimal barriers to allow talented European staff and students to work and study in the UK, is a priority.”

These comments hark back to an earlier Universities UK paper that sets out the five priorities for the Brexit talks:

  • An agreement for residency and work rights for EU nationals currently working in the university sector, and their dependents
  • Continued UK participation in the EU’s Horizon 2020 research programme
  • Participation in Horizon 2020’s successor: Framework Programme 9, which is due to start on 1 January 2021
  • Continued access to EU student mobility programmes, most notably Erasmus+
  • Provisions for the ongoing recognition of professional qualifications between the UK and EU member states

For additional background, please see:

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