• COVID-19 is already doing untold damage to the futures of a whole generation of young people.
  • Brexit negotiators on both sides have an opportunity to mitigate this damage.
  • Here are three areas they should be prioritizing during the talks.

Younger workers are the least likely to become severely ill from COVID-19 but the most likely to lose their jobs from the recession caused by the pandemic. Youth unemployment is rising precipitously across the whole of Europe, as those who have only recently entered the workforce make up a disproportionate number of the more than six million Europeans who have lost their jobs since March.

Therefore, we call politicians on both sides of the Brexit negotiations to agree a deal with a clear commitment to securing jobs for young workers and those entering the workforce. They must not compound the dark employment outlook by increasing the burden on 'generation lockdown' through failing to reach an agreement.

The pandemic will not last forever – but as we enter the colder months the picture is grim for both public and economic health, with more job losses ahead. Our view is that neither side in these negotiations can afford to worsen the already dire job prospects for young people. There is no moral, political or economic justification for doing so.

Governments are rightly pouring resources into short-term support and job placement schemes for young people who have already lost their jobs due to the pandemic. But this must not come at the cost of the longer-term impact of Brexit on employment.

Ministers must ensure a trade deal and the related cooperation frameworks agreed for the post-Brexit era can act as a new intergenerational deal for Europe – a ladder for tomorrow’s workers and entrepreneurs, creating jobs and boosting social mobility.

A three-point plan

We call on government representatives in the EU and UK to do three things:

1. Agree a deal. Even a limited free trade agreement is better for jobs than no deal. While the impact of COVID-19 may mask some of these effects initially, the pandemic will ultimately make the economic impact of a no deal Brexit worse. The large negative hit from the pandemic has reduced the capacity of the UK and EU economies to cope with further hits, with hundreds of billions in lost GDP predicted each year.

2. Prioritise a framework for the UK to continue to participate in the Erasmus+ student exchange scheme. Hundreds of thousands of UK students have benefited from studying in Europe through the Erasmus exchange scheme, and the UK has been the most popular destination for European students for decades. Exchange programmes create a more mobile workforce. When the pandemic is over, it is vitally important that Brexit does not drag down mobility precisely when it should bounce back.

3. Ensure British companies and researchers are eligible for Horizon Europe. The value of investment in scientific research and innovation has rarely been as evident as it has in 2020. Nor has the cost of research nationalism been so clear. This field will provide many of the jobs that will drive economic growth in the future and Europe will be stronger if the UK and EU continue to cooperate. The EU27 and the UK are science superpowers and will be stronger working closely together in our research and data-driven global economy.

How a no-deal Brexit might affect the UK and EU economies
How a no-deal Brexit might affect the UK and EU economies
Image: Statista / IMF

Industries that traditionally employ many young workers such as hospitality, the arts and entertainment have already been hit particularly hard by COVID-19. The London School of Economics has noted that Brexit will hit harder in sectors such as professional, scientific, technical and manufacturing industries. It is vital to act now to minimise the damage and reduce the number of lost opportunities for young people entering or seeking to enter these high-value sectors.

Unlike some more controversial areas of Brexit, it is clear what must be done to prioritise young workers and future opportunities. The two sides must do a deal that keeps trade flowing; preserve access to Erasmus+; and ensure cooperation on scientific research. The risk if talks fail is that opportunities for millions of young Europeans over the next decade will be snatched away. The social and economic costs will be vast, and we will all be the poorer .

The Forum of Young Global Leaders, the World Economic Forum’s foundation for remarkable leaders under 40, was founded to fuel new models of leadership. Every year, the Forum seeks out change-makers with the grit, foresight and potential to improve the state of the world. As current Young Global Leaders we have directly benefited from the close trading relationship between the UK and EU, which in turn spreads prosperity across all of Europe. The fact that we will have a new relationship after the end of the transition period does not mean the young workers of today – who will be the leaders of tomorrow – should miss out on similar opportunities. The time for playing games is over and the clock is running down. It's time to do the right thing for generation lockdown.