Craft & Culture

What Brexit means for the arts

As the UK leaves the EU, Nothing in the Rulebook sets out some of the realities of the impact Brexit will have upon the UK's artistic sector - and looks ahead to a year of potentially painful - and crucial - negotiations that will shape the future of the country's creative industries.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”

106 years ago, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey made his now famous remark, as he watched lamplighters begin their work during the summer dusk all along the Mall in London. Fast forward to the present day and it is in Europe – not Britain – where the lights are being kept firmly on.

For creatives in Britain, the UK’s departure from the EU spells potential dangers for their respective industries. And, while the incumbent conservative government might currently be spending a great deal of taxpayer money trying to convince the public they have “got Brexit done”, the reality is that the next 11 months of the ‘implementation period’ will be time that many writers, artists, publishers and others spend fearfully watching for news regarding trade deals, regulatory standards, tariffs and ease of access to European markets.

All of the risks that Brexit presents those within the UK’s creative industries have been sounded out regularly by writers and artists themselves. In May 2019, for example, writers including Neil Gaiman warned that choosing Brexit was “to choose to lose” and pointed out huge concerns over the 36% of physical book exports from the UK to the EU that could be under threat should the UK government lose out – as predicted – in upcoming trade talks this year.

Meanwhile, in September 2019, independent publishers spoke to Nothing in the Rulebook outlining severe fears for the consequences of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. While the conservatives are again trying to persuade people that the business of Brexit is complete, and are currently instructing civil servants to expunge reference to “no deal” from their respective lexicons (as well as the word ‘Brexit’ itself, as it happens), the reality is that a potential cliff-edge departure from the customs union and single market remains a very real possibility. The consequences of such a departure would have huge ramifications for the UK publishing sector, regardless of the number of trade deals struck with other countries around the world.

For example, as David Henningham, of Henningham Family Press, pointed out:

“For me the costs have already begun, and it is production costs mainly. I had to re-cost an entire project and relocate production to UK because of inflation and currency fluctuations effecting leases on printing machines and consumables like ink. With a no-deal it will effect coloured foils and pigments that come from USA and Korea via the EU.”

Impact across the arts

Beyond books, Brexit presents huge implications for organisations working across the UK artistic sector. A 2018 survey for Arts Council England, for example, revealed:

  • 64% of organisations currently work inside the European Union, with ‘touring exhibitions’ and ‘sending UK artists abroad’ being the most popular types of activity.
  • 40% need to regularly move equipment and objects between the UK and the EU.
  • Nearly half believe it is important to their organisation that both EU and UK citizens can work at short notice in either jurisdiction for short periods.
  • A third of organisations employ EU nationals, however this rises to over half in art forms such as Dance.

Future immigration shambles?

In seeking resolutions to these issues, many eyes will turn to the Home Office – and the negotiating teams from the department working on citizens rights, as well as reciprocal arrangements regarding the movement of goods. The EU Settlement Scheme – which allows EU citizens currently living in the UK to stay here after 31 December 2020 – offers some protections for firms hoping to keep existing members of staff. Yet the real challenge will come from the future immigration system rules – as freedom of movement ends, EU citizens arriving in the UK for the first time will have to apply for visas, and the companies that hope to employ them will have to apply for sponsorship. Considering many of these companies will never have worked with the Home Office before, or filled out any visa sponsorship applications, this will prove challenging to the extreme to smaller organisations who may well have to invest in new HR teams to support this (not to mention associated sponsorship costs).

Of course, the government have promised a new, efficient, ‘points-based’ style immigration system that will support businesses and skilled workers. Yet the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), which was commissioned to advise the government as to the feasibility of introducing such a system, recently concluded that it would be “difficult if not impossible” to do.

The fact that the chair of the MAC was asked by the government to stand down as a result of these findings may not convince arts-sector organisations that the government is totally committed to working within the confines of something as trivial as ‘reality’.

Tell us your Brexit stories

There are, of course, other issues to be aware of. Not least what happens to the £40 million the UK receives from the EU Creative Arts budget – or how touring musicians will be affected when looking to move freely across the borders of Europe as they do now.

In fact, there are so many issues and implications, that it seems impossible to capture them all in one single article. And so, it is for that reason that Nothing in the Rulebook will be commissioning a series of regular ‘spotlight’ features on the impact Brexit will have for the UK arts & creative sectors.

If you are an artist, musician, writer, publisher or employed in other ways within the UK arts sector, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU.

Please do get in touch with us using the information available on our ‘contact’ page – and we look forward to working with you to tell your stories.

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