Thought leaders fear Brexit transition period threatens fate of UK creative industries

BOOKS/FILMS: UK creative industries fear access to the European Union’s most favourable multi-territory trading policies, from copyright protection to government subsidies, is in serious jeopardy as Brexit becomes a reality.

Brexit (which blends the words ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’) is the term used for the UK’s divorce from the EU after being a member for more than 40 years. This follows the 23 June 2016 referendum that saw a majority of British citizens vote to leave the EU’s Single Market economic powerhouse because they feared Britain was losing control over its own political, social, economic and legislative requirements.

To make the UK’s withdrawal official, current Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is triggering Article 50, the formal notification, today (29 March 2017).

And Britain’s creative industries, from book publishing to the movie business, dread a transition period of chaos as the government renegotiates new trade treaties with the EU’s other 27 member states over the next two years.

“Uncertainty is unhelpful as we seek international deals,” said Ian Hudson, CEO of UK-based international publishing house DK (Dorling Kindersley) and a subsidiary of Penguin Random House.

He was speaking earlier this month during the 2017 London Book Fair at the city’s Olympia exhibition centre. And he did not hide his frustration at the inconvenience the proposed departure from the EU could have on his company, which prints and sells books in more 100-plus countries in 63 different languages and employs numerous staff.

“Diversity of nationalities in talent is crucial to the UK, which has a highly creative society. We need to retain and recruit creative talent from Europe to help us develop books that appeal to the global markets,” he added.

Rosa Wilkinson, Director of Stakeholder Engagement for Trade Policy at the UK’s Department for International Trade, was at the book fair to explain Brexit’s positive aspects.

“We shall be an independent nation responsible for its own trading environment. It’s about making the transition smooth, keeping things simple. I’m optimistic that in the long run it will be good for publishing,” she said.

However, no member state has ever left the EU and, as there is no precedent to Article 50, no one knows its implications. And it is the not knowing what could really happen that is causing much concern.

“Trade barriers destroy economic value,” DK’s Ian Hudson continued. “Intellectual property rights and piracy protection are fundamental, and the loss of our seat at the EU table is a backward step. We’ve been a voice of reason at that table, which has helped with (EU copyright legislation) framework.”

The UK joined the EU in 1973 to benefit from the its pan-regional political and economic policies, such as the removal of expensive import and export tariffs among member states, harmonised copyright and employment laws, plus other reciprocal agreements that banished tiresome red tape.

Critics say Brexit threatens to bring back burdensome bureaucracies and raise border barriers that could damage the freedom of movement to trade in Europe.

The Brexit vote saw the value of the UK’s pound sterling currency plunge to an all-time low next to the US dollar and the euro in the middle of March. And while that might make UK exported goods cheaper, no one knows how long that will last.

Another creative industry expecting to be severely impacted is the filmmaking sector, said Rebecca O’Brien, the producer at UK-based Sixteen Films, during this year’s BVE trade show for the entertainment-and-media technology businesses.

She said EU funding has been essential for the award-winning movies she has made, including Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, which was co-produced with France-based Why Not Productions and Germany’s Wild Bunch. I, Daniel Blake (pictured below) won the 2016 Cannes Film Festival’s Palme D’Or, BAFTA’s 2017 Best Film and similar accolades in North America.

But O’Brien is adamant that without Creative Europe (the EU-supported creative and cultural sectors’ funding scheme), I, Daniel Blake would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make.

“What we will lose is our association with Creative Europe, and that is far more damaging,” O’Brien stated during the BVE’s Brexit discussion at London’s ExCeL conference centre.

“One of the best things about Creative Europe is that you can apply for funding for a slate of five to six pictures or for a single film; that has been valuable money for a small company like ours.”

At present, the Creative Europe €1.46bn (US$1.58bn) fund is available from 2014 to until 31 December 2020. It is forecast to support several creative-sector commercial activities, including the distribution of 1,000 European films in 2,500 cinemas and the translation of 5,500 books.

Brexit is also expected to raise hurdles against the freedom to move from one EU market to another to shoot movies, O’Brien asserted.

“I have a real problem possibly losing the freedom of movement policy, especially if you film in different countries. Anyone over 40 years old knows you needed to fill in forms every time you went abroad. If you wanted to use Belgian workers and equipment, you filled in a form for every piece of equipment you brought over. That was very restrictive.”

Speaking at the same BVE session was Bertrand Moullier, owner of industry consultancy Narval Media Ltd and senior advisor international affairs to the International Federation of Film Producers Associations.

He pointed out that the UK was also in danger of sacrificing the benefits of co-production pacts signed with other EU markets.

“Because we’re heading for the hard Brexit, the UK won’t become part of the Single Market,” he said. “Some people are saying Brexit means the UK shall be free at last. But there is no single precedent (to international trade deals) that doesn’t incorporate mutual obligation agreements. So if UK wants to increase its own tax credits, for example, it will not be able to benefit from EU support because that might distort competition in the region.”

He observed that the UK is still a member of the Council of Europe, the international organisation comprising 47 member states, and, as such, could still profit from certain Creative Europe provisions.

However, he warned, that means the UK having to contribute to the fund dictated by the EU. It will also have to accept the EU’s freedom-of-movement policy, which Brexit supporters argue is far too liberal and encourages illegal immigration. Additionally, once a post-Brexit independent UK agrees to adhere to any the EU rules, it is agreeing to accept changes imposed by the remaining 27 member states without having a say.

The UK is also free to rejoin Eurimages, a separate funding initiative from the Council of Europe.

Back at the London Book Fair, DK boss Ian Hudson demanded assurances from the British government that a post-Brexit Britain will re-instate advantageous Single Market policies into UK law, including EU funding and subsidies, plus employment security for EU citizens working in the UK and vice versa.