Post-Brexit Day: Where does the art market stand now?

With the tolling of the Brexit bell on 31 January, commentators are revisiting the long-standing question of what a post-Brexit art market will look like.

Back in June 2016, Boodle Hatfield art law specialists sought to address the possible long-term consequences of Brexit on the art world. Among those they identified were a possible reform of the export licence regime and renegotiation of Artist’s Resale Rights (ARR). Then in July 2018, art auction search engine Barnebys weighed in on the debate. It warned Brexit policies may decrease the UK’s share of the global art market, which already declined by 10% in the preceding year.

Post-Brexit day (31 January), the theme of the debate appears to be centred around the challenges and opportunities of this brave new art world as well as the many unanswered questions that it raises.

According to Fine Art Group CEO, Freya Stewart, the impact of Brexit on exporting art is still one of the most commonly asked questions in the art world. Writing in The Art Newspaper on Brexit day (31 January), former MEP Daniel Dalton pointed out that we can expect substantial change to the existing regime for exporting art to the EU.

As the UK will leave both the EU single market and the customs union, art exported to the EU will become ‘third country’ imports subject to new licences, tariffs and paperwork. On the other hand, exporting cultural goods from the UK to the EU will be easier for the UK than for other non-EU countries. This is because of new EU legislation on the import of cultural goods into the EU, which introduces export licence requirements for antiquities over 250 years old, licences the UK already issues.

The debate over ARR (royalties paid to artists when their work is resold) remains open-ended. Some in the art market would welcome changes to ARR as it is seen as placing London at a disadvantage compared to its competitors in New York and Hong Kong. For artists committed to defending this right, Consultant Lucy Sollitt advises them to “fight for a cultural voice in the trade negotiations” and join a campaign in order to protect it.

A further consideration for the art world is the impact of plans to end free movement of workers. This is a question which is likely to leave London’s museums, galleries and auction houses scratching their heads as to how to fill posts many of which are occupied by European nationals. Existing workers are being told to register with the EU Settlement Scheme but it is unknown how the government’s pledge to reduce the number of so-called “low-skilled” migrants might impact on attempts to fill cleaning and catering posts.

A lot of unknowns and little detail as to how the technicalities will be addressed. Nonetheless, some in the art world remain staunchly optimistic about this post-EU chapter. “I am positive”, art dealer Thaddaeus Ropac tells artnet News. “I think there is an interest on both sides to find practical and pragmatic solutions”.

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