Brexit: May's deal and the arts

The Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement still leaves the arts and cultural industries in doubt about the future.

According to BECTU’s Tony Lennon, speaking to The Stage, the agreement the EU members signed up to at the weekend was “postponing a leap into the dark” for two years, while the CEO of the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), Alan Bishop, said that while the deal left many uncertainties for the sector, it took the country “one step further away from a potentially devastating no-deal scenario”. 

The British Council’s director of arts, Kate Arthurs, believes that as the council strives to support British artists working overseas, overcoming the new European strictures will be its most urgent task in the next two years. “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union we want to build and strengthen relations with our partners on the continent, and that is not something we can do completely free” she told AI. “I would highlight that as our biggest challenge”.

Under the withdrawal agreement nothing will change until 2020, and in recent months focussed campaigning has brought the arts into the debate where they had been absent. The creative industries are worth more than 9% of the UK’s total services exports, and the disruption will therefore have a serious negative impact on the UK economy.

As the deal stands, however, the end of freedom of movement will mean that EU citizens working in the arts will have to apply for visas probably under the Tier 2 system that allows 20,700 high-skilled workers a year to enter to work for  up to three years, which allows EU nationals to travel freely to work in other member countries, and they have to have guaranteed work earning at least £30,000 a year.

That will severely limit the number of arts workers entering, effectively strangling the supply of creative talent on which our cultural industries have depended. It is likely that the traffic of equipment for exhibitions and shows will also be curtailed through the extra border control bureaucracy, probably increasing costs by 10% to 15%.  

The EU offers generous grants which arts organisations in the UK have benefitted from until now, with almost £17m a year coming from the Creative Europe programme which has been particularly effective in helping small projects. The government has said it will try to replace this funding, but there are no details as to how this will be done.

According to the CIF’s Global Trade Report, 40% of our creative industries believe that a no-deal Brexit would have harmed their ability to export, and 21% would consider moving abroad. “Securing a transition period is critical in order to reduce the significant uncertainty that business have been facing across the country” Bishop said.

The agreement, however, does mention UK participation in European cultural and educational programmes, and cites priority being given to intellectual property and temporary movement of talent.

But there is no detail as to how this would be protected or which elements of the sector would be chosen for special treatment. “We urgently need more clarity on the final relationship” Bishop said.

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