Brussels will not immediately entertain talks with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party to join the bloc’s Erasmus scheme after Downing Street decided to not to rejoin it after Brexit. While the programme is open to non-EU members, Boris Johnson opted not to continue UK participation amid feelings it no longer represented value for money and suited No10’s “levelling up” agenda. The SNP has suggested it could approach the UK Government to allow Scottish students to continue to take part in Erasmus.
But Eurocrats will not open negotiations with Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, while the country is still inside the UK.
The Scottish leader has begged the EU to “leave a light on for Scotland”, which voted heavily to remain in the bloc, and is seeking to use Brexit to build support for independence.
Ms Sturgeon has described the Prime Minister’s decision to quit the Erasmus scheme as “cultural vandalism”.
Instead, the Prime Minister has proposed a new £100million programme, named after wartime code-breaker Alan Turing, to open up overseas study opportunities for students from disadvantaged backgrounds in England, Scotland and Wales.
Students in Northern Ireland will remain eligible for Erasmus after the Irish government moved to fund their participation.
Asked whether Scotland could rejoin Erasmus, a European Commission spokesman said: “The UK Government decided that it no longer wanted to take part in Erasmus, which is something that we regret.”
And EU sources said Scotland would first have to win its independence before being considered a suitable participate in the programme.
Scottish students made up the bulk of UK participants in Erasmus, with 14,000 taking part in the scheme between 2014 and 2018.
The Westminster Government was keen to avoid rejoining the programme because ministers felt it was more available to wealthier and privileged students.
Last week Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s universities minister, said: “The loss of Erasmus is huge blow. This is simply unacceptable and we are looking at alternative options.
“I have since spoken to my UK counterpart and expressed our profound disappointment that the UK chose to abandon Erasmus which plays such a key role in opening up opportunities and horizons for so many young Scots. Crucially, it is a scheme that brings different countries and nationalities together with massive cultural and educational benefits.
“I am seeking further clarification on what the new scheme looks like and how they intend to provide funding on a par with the amounts historically secured under Erasmus.
“They don’t have a notably unifying force in the national mood. They should only be once in a generation.”
Asked whether there was a difference between the historic referendum on EU membership and the vote demanded on Scottish independence, the Prime Minister said: “The difference is we had a referendum in 1975 and we had another one in 2016. That seems to be about the right sort of gap.”
Applying the same theory to the Scottish question would mean another vote would not be held until 2055.