The decision by British voters to leave the European Union has been announced – and commentators have begun the analysis, the post event combing over of where the losing campaign went wrong.
The art world thrives on interchange and currency; Britain has the third largest art market in the world, and more than 7,800 British art and antiques businesses have a 65% share of the EU’s art and antiques market. Much of the stay or leave argument, I’ve found, had boiled down to this pesky import tax business, with some predicting that the current low UK import tax would leap up in the event of Brexit, severely hindering businesses’ ability to buy on the continent and replenish their own stocks. Likewise, international buyers would be hit by the hefty charge when taking purchases out. Others argue that the UK’s current low import tax rate of 5% – Italy’s is as high as 22% – would have gone up anyway if the country remained. Much of both sides seemed to have been arguing for the UK to retain its control and relative position of power and market dominance, though the absolute uncertainty of what has happened with the leave vote succeeding, means we will have to have a serious rethink.
It’s also worth pointing out that many major galleries and fairs – Masterpiece (opening this week, so exciting!), Frieze etc. – rely on Continental buyers, as well as international traders operating in the UK. Both these sectors feature a large proportion of employees from the EU. Significant collectors, in the reality of the Brexit decision, will be taking their collections with them, resulting in the permanent removal of artworks. Remember the occasional campaign to save works for the nation? Well, expect a mass exodus. Ta ta!
Finally (there are tons more arguments for and against but I, like many voting, who, y’know, has to work and function and hasn’t had time to digest all arguments both ways) there’d be a tighter squeeze on already brutal cuts in arts funding. Remember the free entry to museums that you take for granted, until you go to every single museum in Europe and find it’s a ten Euro plus fee? That’d be the first thing to go.
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