With Europe suffering its greatest conflict for 80 years, why is the UK government creating barriers to young people understanding each other better? Ian Collard - political campaigner and European Movement member - argues for those barriers to be taken down.
Events in Europe over the last 18 months have shown that we should be doing everything we can to bring the youth of Europe together - not putting up barriers to keep them apart. To help this happen, please sign and share our petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/641914. The cutoff date for the petition is the middle of February next year, as all petitions last for six months. But please sign it while it is fresh in your minds!
One of the key understandings of leaders rebuilding Europe in the years after 1945 was that the more people knew about those from other countries, their ways, and their culture, the less likely their countries would be to go to war with each other.
A major part of this was the rapid expansion of the then nascent town twinning programme. Then, as travel became easier and less expensive, overseas school trips began to be introduced to the extent that they are now seen as a rite of passage and a fundamental part of a child’s education.
Of course, this was a two-way street. It hasn’t only been British kids going to Europe but increasingly school pupils from across the continent visiting the UK.
Perhaps not surprisingly in view of the prominence of the English language, the UK has become a major destination. A report produced by the trade body for the industry, the British Educational Travel Association calculated that the youth, student and educational travel sector was worth over £28.6 billion per annum to the UK economy – representing over one third of the total inbound tourism market.
As was the case in so many areas of the economy, educational travel virtually came to a halt during Covid. However, just as it was looking towards recovery, in October 2021 the government decided to deal it a hammer blow.
Until then, under something known as the Listed Travellers Scheme, visitors on educational trips had been able to enter the country based on just their own national identity cards. But in changes announced in September 2021 and introduced a month later, the government withdrew from the scheme and instead required that all non-resident EU citizens present a passport when entering into the UK.
Because young people can travel throughout Europe without requiring a passport, they will often not hold one until they turn 18. Even if a majority of those in a particular group do hold a passport, faced with the choice of travelling with only part of the group to the UK or travelling with the whole group to another English-speaking country within the EU, the choice becomes simple.
The effect on the industry has been devastating. Information published on the government website shows that in 2019, 235 companies surveyed sent 524,000 children to the UK. In the first 8 months of 2022 that number was estimated to be 82,000 - an 84% fall.
Although the after-effects of Covid were still being felt, in other English-speaking countries without such restrictive controls, such as Malta and Ireland, the decline was only expected to be around 29%.
Looking towards this year, a survey of the main providers estimates that travel to the UK will still be 39% below its 2019 level.
Even if we ignore the unquantifiable loss of failing to show international students British culture and our way of life, 39% of £28.6 billion is not small change and represents a significant loss of income to the UK.
In June 2022, Patricia Yates, interim Chief Executive, VisitBritain and VisitEngland, gave evidence to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in June 2022. She also authored an article on this subject in the New European: Brexit is killing off the school trip. It’s costing millions and hurting children. “We have asked people if they will get a passport,” she said. “If everyone who said they would get a passport now got a passport, the loss to Britain would only be about £600 million. But if those people did not get a passport, the scale of the loss here could be over £3 billion!”
In an ideal world, the government would simply reverse the ID card decision. However, as the government is not very good at admitting it has made mistakes that damage the country, an alternative would be to allow school visitors to come on a collective ID pass.
Unfortunately, because trips such as these are normally arranged over a year in advance, the UK industry has already probably lost the 2024 window. Please sign the petition to avoid any further delays!
- Ian Collard has been involved in political campaigning for over 25 years. Although initially with the Conservatives, he split with the party in 2017 over the party's approach to Europe and human rights. In 2021, along with Adam Sykes and Mohammed Amin, he formed the Campaign for Shared European Values, a non-partisan advocacy organisation dedicated to promoting and defending the values of the European project.
London4Europe blogs are edited by Nick Hopkinson, Vice-Chair. Articles on this page reflect the views of the author and not necessarily of London4Europe.