A LEADING German MEP has said he feels Scotland is already a member of the European Union as he underlined he will "help in whatever way he can" and is "ready to engage".

David McAllister made the comments as he praised the work of Scottish Government officials in the Belgium capital when he spoke to a Holyrood committee this morning.

He also said he was ready to engage on behalf of Scotland as he attacked Boris Johnson's decision not to let the UK remain in the EU's Erasmus education exchange scheme.

McAllister, is a senior member of the governing CDU party in Germany and a close ally of both its Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen, a former defence minister in Merkel's government. He is a former Prime Minister of the Lower Saxony region in Germany.

"Let me commend the excellent work Scotland is doing in Brussels. They are very active," he said.

"Sometimes I am so often in contact with representatives from your government that I've got a feeling that I have a new constituency in the European Parliament but I am happy to support where I can. I enjoy talking to Scots and where ever I can help I will be ready to get engaged."

His remarks followed a question by SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson about the Erasmus scheme who told him that the Scottish Government was prepared to make the financial contribution to ensure the universities could remain in the EU's programme.

"I deeply regret the UK Government's decision not to participate in the Erasmus programme. I don't even want to be diplomatic. I want to be very outspoken. This is a total lose lose situation," McAllister, who chairs the UK Co-ordination Group in the European Parliament, told MSPs on the parliament's Europe committee.

"I am really really disappointed especially as the UK originally indicated that they would be ready to continue in this, a programme of academic co-operation."

He said the UK could still rejoin and that the Brexit trade deal provided for such a possibility.

McAllister, who is a senior member of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party, was speaking after European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen - a former defence minister in Merkel's governmeny rejected a request by more than 144 MEPs from across the EU, for Scotland and Wales to continue in the scheme without England. Northern Ireland will continue to participate after the Irish Government agreed an arrangement for it with the Commission.

The move also came as Scotland's higher education minister Richard Lochhead held talks with the EU's education commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

The German politician, who is the son of a German and Scottish parents, was brought up bilingually and attended a British primary school in Berlin, was among the MEPs who signed the letter to the Von Der Leyen.

He went on to say he hoped the UK would change its mind and that students across Britain will be able to benefit from the scheme again.

Pointing Von Der Leyen's reply to the MEPs' letter, he said: "The European Commission has made public that association to Erasmus is not possible for Scotland and Wales separately, the only possibility as the commission argues, is for the UK as a whole or not at all."

After reading out her letter, he added: "This is a clear position taken by the European Commission, I could imagine that not everybody in the European Parliament will share the view of the Commission President in this matter but we are all politicians that was a very clear announcement from the Commission President."

During the committee, which was taking evidence on the trade deal the UK and EU negotiated, McAllister also said that Brexit has caused "so many problems" and its consequences will be felt for decades to come with some in Brussels were still "very, very sad" that the UK had left.

He also told MSPs that businesses in Germany had appeared to be better prepared for the end of the Brexit transition period than firms in the UK had been.

While the UK formally left the EU in 2020, the transition period meant the full impact of this was only felt from January 1 this year, with McAllister saying there was a need now to find "practical solutions" to any trade issues.

He told the committee: "My impression is at least in my home country Germany businesses were informed at an early stage what they can expect and what they have to expect for trade.

"There was a big information campaign for all companies, specially targeting smaller and medium sized companies operating in the UK market.

"It seems that perhaps not 100% of all businesses in the UK dealing with the single market on the continent were informed and prepared on the same level."

He added: "I don't like lecturing the UK, but obviously what we are reading is there were so many surprises since January, obviously not everyone was 100% prepared."

The MEP, who has a Scottish father and German mother, added: "I've got to be diplomatic, I won't say mess, but this whole Brexit has caused so many problems.

"It's just so unfortunate because if you look at the world there are so many other things we could be dealing with.

"But, of course, we respect every decision taken in London, even though we are still very, very sad."

He told the committee the Trade and Co-operation Agreement reached between the EU and Boris Johnson's government just before Christmas was "unprecedented", being the first the EU had negotiated with a former member state.

He added: "What we will have to keep in mind is no free trade agreement can ever match EU membership nor participation in our single market.

"Brexit may be done but we will be living with the consequences of Brexit for many, many years and decades."

His message to UK politicians was: "If you leave the European Union, if you leave the single market, if you leave the customs union, this will have consequences, because as a matter of fact the UK and the EU are now totally separate legal systems and two totally separate markets."

The Erasmus programme was launched in 1987 with 11 participating member states, including the UK. It has enabled students to study in

another European country – or a ‘partner country’ elsewhere in the world – by funding their grants and waiving their tuition fees.

In 2014, the programme became Erasmus+ and expanded to include apprentices, volunteers, staff and youth exchanges, and jobseekers.

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union following the 2016 referendum did not necessarily mean that it had to end its involvement with the Erasmus+ programme.

The UK government, however, have said that the terms for continued participation offered by the EU were not in the interests of the UK taxpayer.

On 24 December 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the UK would no longer participate in the Erasmus+ programme, and it would be replaced by the Turing Scheme.

The scheme will be backed by £110 million, and will provide funding for around 35,000 participants in universities, colleges, and schools to go on placements and exchanges across the world from September 2021. However, it does not fund overseas students taking part in it.

The announcement of the Turing Scheme was welcomed by universities, but Scottish institutions are among those concerned that the decision not to fund the inward aspect of the scheme will lead to a decrease in the number of students coming to the UK and the loss of benefits that they bring.