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Au Revoir

31st January 2020

A generation of confident, multilingual young women and men taking us forward into the 2020s is a positive return on our investment in the EU.


Tonight, at 11pm GMT, Britain will leave the European Union. We don’t yet know precisely what this will mean for the British economy or how it will affect our relationships with the rest of the world. What we do know is that the bonds we’ve formed with our nearest neighbours have enriched countless lives in this country and many more. It’s asking a lot for a body representing over half a billion people and with 24 official languages to speak with one voice, but many of the European Union’s initiatives have been widely applauded.


Over the past decade we’ve seen increasing concern over global environmental damage, and the EU Biodiversity Strategy challenged us to set ambitious goals. A ten-year EU plan to protect species and habitats, maintain and restore ecosystems and achieve more sustainable agriculture and fishing saw Britain take positive action. England adopted “Biodiversity 2020: a strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services”. Scotland adopted the “2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity”. Northern Ireland published “Valuing Nature; a Biodiversity Strategy for Northern Ireland to 2020” and Wales published the “Nature Recovery Action Plan for Wales”. Working together, we took steps forward.


Saint Erasmus, a Christian martyr who lived in the third and fourth centuries AD, is the patron saint of sailors. It’s appropriate, then, that his name was adopted by a EU programme that’s sent over three million students on voyages of discovery since its inception in 1987. The Erasmus programme delivers funding enabling students to travel overseas and study at higher education institutions or train in workplaces. The anecdotes of Erasmus students tell us everything we need to know about the programme’s value. Some will tell you of the academic advantages they gained from having to work harder to absorb knowledge in a new environment. Others will wax lyrical about the joys of immersing themselves in a different culture. I’ve heard students newly returned from Turkey speak of their pleasure at discovering that their contemporaries in a Muslim country shared their interests and sense of humour. What they all now share is enhanced confidence and social skills and an appreciation of a language and culture other than their own.

Whatever our views on Brexit, we should all be able to agree that a generation of confident, multiskilled and multilingual young women and men taking us forward into the 2020s is a positive return on our investment in the EU.

Au revoir, Europe. Don’t be a stranger.


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