One of my fondest memories of the referendum campaign last year was the opportunity to speak to, answer questions and hear from hundreds of young people at schools across my constituency. I still remembered their perplexed looks when I described life in the Europe I grew up in; border checks and visas between each country, different currencies, Eastern Europe still under the grip of the Soviet Union.
This is hardly surprising. Their Europe couldn't be more different from the one my generation was born in. Their Europe now stretches from the Black Sea to the Portuguese coast. In their Europe, multiculturalism, tolerance and diversity are important shared values. The burgundy passport is synonymous with the freedom to travel, work and study across 28 countries.
Since the creation of the European Union, the Erasmus Programme has played a major role in shaping this Europe. This fantastic scheme has given the opportunity to millions of young Europeans, including more than 287,000 UK students, to learn a new language, discover a new culture and make lifelong friends abroad. In fact, over 100,000 more British students were expected to benefit in the new expanded programme in the coming years, benefiting from grants to cover tuition, travel and living costs to work and study abroad.
The vote to leave the EU last June and the destructive, hard Brexit espoused by the Prime Minister in her speech last week, could rob young people of this unique opportunity. It was deeply worrying to see that, whilst the Prime Minister acknowledged that "we should make an appropriate contribution" to the EU programmes we wish to remain part of, the Erasmus+ scheme received no specific mention.
Pulling out of Erasmus would be deeply unfair. Young people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. So the Government must fight hard for their education and employment opportunities in upcoming Brexit negotiations. That's why on the day of the 30th Anniversary of the Erasmus programme, the Liberal Democrats are calling on the Government to protect student exchange post-Brexit. We believe that older generations must not deprive young people of their rights, yet that is the risk we could very well face. Protecting the Erasmus programme would send a strong positive signal to millions of young people that their wishes are being listened to, rather than those of the rabidly anti-European tabloid press.
In the coming months, the Liberal Democrats will fight for the future of young people to be at the forefront in the upcoming negotiations. As the UK embarks on the most complex series of discussions ever undertaken, the outcome of which will significantly define the future of our country, I will always keep in mind the contagious energy, passion and hope of all the local students I met last year and the millions of younger people across the UK. They are looking for a voice to defend their life chances. We will do our utmost to deliver.
Tom Brake is the Lib Dem MP for Carshalton and Wallington