On the 13th March 2017, Parliament passed the EU Withdrawal Bill, which means that Brexit will definitely begin at the end of this month. Whilst Theresa May’s Brexit plan aims to be empowering, the outcome for designers looks gloomy. Theresa May the UK prime minster outlined her plans for carrying out Brexit on the 17th January 2017, where she delivered a speech, which promises a “global, outward-facing Britain”. The speech indicated more certainty rather than ambiguity around Brexit, which was the most positive outlook since the referendum result on 24th June 2016.
With the independence May is promising for Britain, there has to be a trade-off, which will result in strict rules on exclusion from the EU. As a result there will be stronger curbs on immigration, no membership of the free single market, and reduced membership of the customs union, which at the moment allow restriction free trading between all EU countries.
Whilst May has vowed that the UK would invariably want “highly-skilled” immigration, she said: “The message from the public during the campaign was clear – Brexit must mean control of immigration coming from Europe”.
So how will his affect designers and the creative industry? Currently, in the UK design and technology industries we utilise the talent that has come over from abroad. This could be what May was referring to as “highly-skilled” immigration. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) research shows that the IT sector sponsored 42% of skilled work visa applications to the UK in 2016.
Theresa May has put a lot of focus on the importance of highlighting “cutting edge” science innovation and research but has not mentioned the creative sectors. The CEO at the Design and Technology (D&T) Association, Dr Julie Nugent has warned that the drop in immigration means the government needs to recognise the “economic value” of design and work harder to encourage young British students to take these subjects on. She went on to point out that “if the UK is to restrict its borders to migrants with essential skills, the UK will need to grow it’s own talent in essential design, engineering and technology-based skills”. She also added “design and technology are critical gateways to careers across the creative, design, digital and advanced manufacturing sectors. The Department for Education must do more to ensure we have the flow of young talent that the UK needs”.
If we don’t focus on developing these skills within the young British students, the UK is bound to fall behind other “growing economises” such as China, Japan, South Korea and United Arab Emirates (UAE), and we risk not having enough talent to fill crucial industry roles within the UK added Dr Julie Nugent.
The Government needs to support creativity to enable it to thrive within the UK, the burden falls onto design businesses themselves to promote diversity following Brexit according to Alasdair Lennox, the executive director at global retail design consultancy Fitch. He added, “Isolation is not conducive to free-flowing creativity” and “designers and creative must work towards establishing foreign workers’ rights without EU law, and advocate for who permits for EU nationals already in the UK, as well as those who want to work here”.
There is still some ambiguity around “highly-skilled” workers. There are a few concerns to how a EU worker’s “skills” are going to be judged if they apply to work in the UK following Brexit. The chief executive at Creative Industries Federation (CIF), John Kampfner, is wary of the UK’s “out dated immigration system”, and points out “the willingness to welcome the ‘brightest and best’ begs the question as to how that will be interpreted in the future”.
Creative and Design businesses are potentially going to lose international work because of Brexit. One fifth of the Design Business Associations (DBA) member consultancies income comes from overseas clients and the majority of it comes from Europe. The CEP at the DBA, Deborah Dawton, highlights that businesses need to keep trading with other countries in order to retain knowledge of “international markets” and keep afloat on the “international business stage”.
There are a few UK-based consultancies that work primarily in Europe, who fear the loss of work opportunities. The co-founder at exhibition design firm Casson Mann, Rodger Mann pointed out “we get most of our public sector museum work from the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU)” and “at this point we have no idea what will replace the OJEU, and how limiting that will be for us”.
Theresa May has vaguely suggested that whilst we will no longer be a “member” of the single market, which is what allows us tariff-free trading between EU member states, we will still retain “access” to it through a new free trade agreement. It will mean the UK gets the best of both world theoretically, as we wouldn’t have to pay large sums of money towards the EU budget, which is roughly £12.9bn a year, but we could still trade freely within the EU.
However, May has yet to mention the digital single market (DSM), which allows the fair access to online goods and services across the EU and is subject to European copyright and Intellectual Property (IP) laws.
The head of manufacturing, design and innovation at Policy Connect, George Dibb, highlighted that access to the DSM is essential for the “health and future growth” of the UK’s tech and design sectors, and hopes that parts of the DSM can be included in forthcoming trade agreements with the EU. He also added that if Britain is excluded from the DSM with no access to the advancement in the EU copyright, IP and data laws applying to digital services, this could have “potentially devastating effects on the future health of the UK design economy”.
Theresa May has announced that although the UK will no longer be handing out millions to the EU each week, we do still have the option to opt in to certain funding programmes if we want to. Although, May’s focus on science innovation and the lack of reference to the creative industries doesn’t inspire us with hope that the UK government will be inclined to opt into all of the EU cultural funds that we currently benefit from for example, at the moment we benefit from grants from organisation such as Creative Europe.
Many design industry experts have already stated, the government needs to switch its focus to include the creative industries that according to research from the Design Council brings in roughly £72bn to the UK economy and employs over 1.5 million people.
John Kampfner at CIF has said that the Creative Industries Federation would “welcome a discussion” on whether we continue to participate in European research and cultural programmes that have majorly benefited the UK.