As the EU’s offer of youth visas is rebuffed by UK parties, Scots count the deepening cost of Brexit

Many Scots were excited by the EU’s surprise offer of a youth visa to let 18- 30s from the UK live and work across 27 member countries for up to four years. Only to have their hopes dashed when both main UK parties immediately snubbed the offer.

Professor Lesley Stark of Edinburgh University spoke for many when she posted news of the Labour Party’s snooty response to the offer to ask: “Why, Why, Why? My son benefitted from freedom of movement when young. My daughter, who was too young to vote in 2016, is losing out.”

Another Professor, Anand Menon of King’s College London responded to the news that the Labour Party said they wanted nothing to do with the scheme which they claimed was “akin to freedom of movement” with the scathing comment: “I find it utterly depressing that both of the major political parties do not know the difference between free movement and a limited youth mobility scheme that involves visas.”

“Get Brexit Done!” was the three-word slogan that dominated the last general election. Going into the next, because the major UK parties support Brexit, they are trying to say as little as possible on the subject. Yet it is causing serious problems that are getting worse not better. These are affecting people’s everyday lives in concerning ways. 

From less supply and higher prices for medicines to weakening the food supply to the loss of free movement, here are three areas where the issues caused by Brexit are worsening and damaging Scots' quality of life

1 Loss of freedom of movement with Europe

When Scotland was part of the EU, people were free to work, live and study across 27 member countries. That situation ended gradually after Brexit and now the barriers are getting higher as new visa requirements bed in. 

It is now extremely difficult for young people to study or live in the EU. There are a few places on degree courses with a year abroad, but Scotland is no longer part of Erasmus, the world’s biggest study exchange scheme. Now, living in Europe is mainly an option for those who can afford the fees at a private college or language school. It is out of reach for most ordinary Scots. 

It is not just the young who are affected. Before Brexit older Scots joined the flocks of retirees from northern Europe who like to spend a few years of retirement in sunnier climes - that is no longer possible for most. 

The situation is also hard for those coming the other way - in the past, Scottish hospitality businesses in the summer season benefited from lively young staff from Naples to Warsaw. Here are some recent changes that are making things even worse: 

  • New Brexit-driven visa regulations come into effect this month. They raise the minimum salary threshold for a skilled work visa from £26,000 to £38,700. This was noted across Europe - for example, the Italian press lamented the end of a rite of passage for young Italians, who would no longer be able to get visas to work as waiters in the UK. But it is also going to affect science and other research areas. The amount a Scot now needs to earn to bring a European husband or wife to live here also just went up to almost £30,000 - and is to rise further. Scotland has no say over immigration rules which are set by Westminster, and these have an even heavier impact here, because salaries are lower than London.  
  • Spain ended its golden visa scheme which effectively meant anyone who bought a house there could get a residency visa. They also have stringent income requirements. It is now much harder for older Scots to plan to spend a few years of their retirement in the sun, as many other northern Europeans do, from Corsica to the Canaries. 
  • Scots musicians and entertainers are finding themselves barred from playing and touring in the EU - the biggest market for their services in the world - because of the cost and complexity of arranging visas. The European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) held a “busk against Brexit” event in Edinburgh earlier this month to kickstart their campaign "Face the Music".

2 Medicine shortages 

It is increasingly common for Scottish - and UK patients - trying to get a prescription filled to hear the pharmacist say they are out of stock. They are having to go without, or find an alternative -  which may not be as effective. The conditions affected include some very serious conditions like diabetes and epilepsy.

Pro-Brexit apologists will say that this is caused by a range of factors from Covid to the war in Ukraine. But now an authoritative report by the Nuffield Trust has concluded that Brexit is making the UK much more vulnerable to chronic shortages - which it said are becoming the ‘new normal’. In summary - 

  • The UK has lost privileged access to EU supply chains. That means it effectively has to scrabble for what is left over for the rest of the world after EU members’ orders have been filled. 
  • There are new customs checks for meds coming into the UK from the EU which create more red tape and delay, and these also make the UK less attractive as a customer. 
  • The UK decided to leave the EU’s European Medicines Agency and start approving drugs itself. That has created more delays as the UK’s bureaucracy tends to lag behind the EMA. New drugs with EMA approval can’t be sold or used in the UK until they have gained a separate certificate. 
  • The UK has to pay a lot more for medicines it buys from the EU and it is much harder to get concessions on big orders for the NHS. That is partly because there is more red tape, but also because since the Brexit vote sterling has lost 20% of its value against the Euro. 

3 New import controls threaten businesses and increase pressure on consumers

The impact of post-Brexit red tape, fees and barriers on exports has already kicked in and that has reduced the ability of Scottish businesses to export with the EU. On an ongoing basis, that is costing the Scottish economy £3billion a year.  

Import controls and fees were made necessary by the Brexit deal but the UK government kept delaying them - but now they have started to come in too - although the latest information suggests that Dover will just wave through lorries arriving for fear of causing delays, despite charging businesses for checks. . 

  • New charges for importing food such as meat and cheese come in at the end of April. Small imports of products such as fish, salami, sausage, cheese and yoghurt are subject to fees of up to £145 per consignment. Scottish delis, specialist food and farm shops have spoken out about the charges which they will have no choice but to pass onto customers and which they fear may put them out of business. 
  • This is making it harder for Scottish businesses to buy from European suppliers. Food wholesalers and trade associations say suppliers in EU countries are already looking at other markets instead of the UK. These new costs come on top of  mounting levels of Brexit bureaucracy, including phytosanitary certificates, plant passports, import licences and export health certificates.
  • There is more trouble ahead - the import charges will start to apply to fruit and vegetables later this year. That will add to the pressure on food supplies. It may mean more shortages of basic items and higher prices for hard-pressed families. Many producers of lower value crops like cucumbers are already reluctant to do business with the UK as they do not think it is worth their while any longer. That situation is only likely to worsen when the new charges come into effect. 


Scotland did not vote for Brexit. The Scottish government’s request for that to be recognised and for Scotland to be offered a similar deal to Northern Ireland was rejected by the UK. Now Scots have to suffer damage to their quality of life because of what England voted for. 

Labour has said they won’t rejoin, and the EU has said they have no intention of revisiting the Brexit deal without that. The Labour Party’s intransigence and failure to engage with the issues Brexit is causing were illustrated forcefully by the way they snubbed the EU’s offer of a youth mobility visa. They don’t offer much change from the Conservatives’ intransigence and failure to engage. 

There is little prospect that the next UK government will be able to do anything meaningful to solve the issues.  The only way for Scots to benefit from a better relationship with the EU will be to rejoin as an independent country.