Brexit (The UK’s departure from the European Union)
The Brexit referendum decision to leave the European Union presents major challenges to the UK economy, including the creative and cultural industries and the broader cultural sector. Impacts are likely to be felt in mobility and work opportunities for UK performers, artists and cultural organisations, in the movement of cultural goods and services, in the recruitment and retention of EU workers, in financial income and expenditure, in cultural co-operation and in the UK’s soft power reputation. The extent of these impacts will depend on the nature of any deal which the UK negotiates with the EU and will be magnified if the UK leaves with a ‘bad’ deal or no deal at all (and as this part of the Compendium was being prepared these last two scenarios appeared to be the most likely outcome).
The Incorporated Society of Musicians have indicated that 70% of professional UK musicians travel overseas for work, especially to EU Member States, while a-n (Artists’ Newsletter) noted that 40% of visual artists travelled regularly to Europe in the 12 months to July 2017. It could have a serious impact on UK arts organisations that travelled to or toured in the EU, as they could be subject to visa regulations and border checks when bringing in equipment such as sets of musical instruments temporarily. This could deter smaller companies, and even large music ensembles, theatre and dance companies may be forced to reduce their engagements in the EU because of legal costs and administrative procedures.
According to the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), creative organisations may face the ‘catastrophic’ possibility of higher costs when trading goods and services to EU countries, and losing employees. The EU is a major trading environment for the UK creative industries, representing 56% of cultural exports in 2015. Guidance prepared by the law company Bates Wells Braithwate for the CIF in 2018 noted that 40% of UK creative industries export goods to EU states, and these could be subject to customs checks and trade tariffs.
EU citizens represent 8% of the classical music workforce in the UK according to the Association of British Orchestras, but an estimated 20% of the dance sector and, on the evidence of the Museums Association, 15% of staff from larger museums have been recruited from EU countries. The DCMS indicated that 115,000 workers in UK creative industries were from the EU, a figure which the CIF considered to be a huge underestimate. In a 2018 report on The Potential Impact of Brexit on the Creative Industries, Tourism and the Digital Single Market, the House of Commons DCMS Committee inferred that the Government was underestimating the extent to which the creative industries depended on EU workers.
Members of the House of Lords in a debate in May 2019 also raised concerns about the future treatment of EU nationals and the Government’s failure to seriously consider recommendations by the Lords’ European Union Committee in July 2018, noting that should the current UK visa system applicable to foreign nationals also be applied to EU nations it would make it difficult to attract EU talent. Indeed, the new Government has indicated that it will introduce an “Australian style” points-based visa system that could impose stricter rules for touring artists from outside the UK. This has alarmed some in the cultural sector who fear this would not only limit access by EU based practitioners, but could result EU states making it more difficult for UK performers and creators to engage with their countries.
A report from ICM Unlimited and SQW, Impact of Brexit on the Arts and Culture Sector, for Arts Council England in 2017 suggested that 17% of the earned income of theatre companies and 16% of that earned by dance companies was generated by international activity, much of it from engagements in the EU. A fall in the value of £ sterling since the referendum result has already impacted on the cost of engaging overseas cultural artists and organisations and importing cultural supplies and materials.
The UK is involved in more than 50 EU funding programmes, at least five of which relate directly or indirectly to culture (Creative Europe, Erasmus, European Regional Development Fund, European Social Fund and Horizon 2020). A 2017 study, Assessing the EU’s Contribution to the Arts, Museums and Creative Industries in England, produced by EUCLID for ACE, revealed that UK organisations received at least GB£ 345 million between 2007 and 2016 (excluding the audiovisual sector). However, it was not simply the financial return to organisations in England that is revealing, but the fact that the organisations were involved in 1,385 projects, evidence that England and Wales (and the UK as a whole) is a consistently valued cultural partner for co-operation.
There is also concern that Brexit is having an adverse effect on the UK’s soft power reputation. A British Council report Soft Power Superpowers – Global trends in cultural in cultural engagement and influence (MacDonald, A), in 2018 argued that for the UK to maintain its leading position in soft power it will need an ‘open Brexit’ that has a continuing commitment to multilateral engagement. Unfortunately, it seems an open Brexit is not on the UK Government’s agenda. The Brexit debate has polarised society in the UK and led to an alarming climate of antagonism and even hate. Is there a role for culture to help heal the divisions? It’s a ‘big ask’, especially if the cultural sector is damaged financially should the economy contract and there is even more pressure on public expenditure and people’s incomes.
This entry was finalised before the full impact of the Coronavirus was known. However, the closure of theatres, concert halls, museums, galleries, cinemas and other cultural venues and events in response to Government advice to the public to avoid unnecessary contact with other people, in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus, is expected to have a devasting effect on the cultural sector.