Brexit: “Nothing will change quickly”

Jonathan Fryer, journalist and ALCS Board Member charts the UK's possible progress towards the Brexit door, and how it might affect the creative industries.

However individual ALCS Members voted in the EU Referendum on 23 June – indeed, even if they abstained – the consequences of the narrow Leave majority means that all of us will be affected by the outcome, both individually and collectively. However, it will be some time yet before we can say exactly how.

The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, despite supporting Remainsotto voce during the referendum campaign, has made her current position clear: “Brexit means Brexit”. Moreover, by appointing David Davis as Minister for Brexit (as well as fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson to the Foreign Office), she is clearly determined that her promise will be delivered. The EU Commission and several of Mrs May’s continental counterparts are keen that the process of Brexit begins as soon as possible, pour décourager les autres (to discourage other nations from following suit). Yet in London there is no rush to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would in effect open the exit door.

… we Brits do have the great advantage that English-language books are increasingly popular, both within the EU and beyond.

As Mr Davis has predicted that Britain and the EU will probably part company by December 2018, this suggests Article 50 will be triggered at the very end of this year or the beginning of 2017, after which there will be two years of negotiations with our 27 current EU partners about the nature of our future working relationship. In the meantime, the UK government, as well as businesses, including ALCS, will have to try to figure out what sort of deal Britain might be able to get. So in principle, nothing will change quickly, but in fact some effects are already noticeable. The pound sterling slumped on the global currency markets after the Brexit vote, which may be good news for exporters, but will mean higher prices for all sorts of goods that Britain imports, not to mention for our holidays or research trips abroad. The books we write should be cheaper for European and overseas readers to buy, but if the British economy contracts in the short term – as most economists predict it will – then the domestic market for our work might shrink. As writers, we may think of books as essentials, but for most of the public they are luxuries. Nonetheless, we Brits do have the great advantage that English-language books are increasingly popular, both within the EU and beyond.

Because Britain is likely to remain an EU member for nearly two-and-a-half years, we will continue to be subject to EU legislation and regulations until the formal break actually happens. In fact, the UK has consistently been more assiduous in complying with EU rules than many of our continental partners – often gold-plating them – which mean that the UK government is likely to continue complying with evolving EU copyright directives and other measures as the European single market adjusts to the digital age.

Through its lobbying activities, ALCS has kept in close touch with the European Commission in Brussels, making its voice heard, but inevitably that voice will be weakened as formal Brexit looms. Moreover, Britain was due to inherit the six-monthly rotating EU presidency in July next year, but under the circumstances that is now unlikely to happen, which is a shame, as Whitehall could have helped shape the future agenda. Similarly, although British MEPs are likely to remain in the European Parliament until the run-up to the 2019 European elections, their influence is likely to diminish as the months go by.

The UK government is likely to continue complying with evolving EU copyright directives and other measures as the European single market adjusts to the digital age.

Before he was sacked by Theresa May, the former Culture Secretary, John Whittingdale, declared in early July that Brexit will not damage the UK’s creative industries, which over the past couple of years have grown by double the average rate of the British economy. That confidence is not entirely shared by the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), 96% of whose members said they were intending to vote Remain in June.

However, at least two major factors will influence the short-to-medium term future for the sector: the strength of exports to markets outside the EU and whether Britain will retain open access to the European single market. On the latter, David Davis is being upbeat, though independent observers say it will be hard to reconcile that with the new government’s determination to end free movement of EU migrants.

Meanwhile, for those of you who might have been day-dreaming of pulling up sticks and moving to Greece or Portugal or some other sunnier, cheaper destination within the EU, it would be wise not to delay that too long as the Brits’ current freedom of movement within the EU might not endure. Yet maybe the reality of Brexit will prove so disconcerting that Britain will pull back from the brink. At the moment that does not seem likely. But given the extraordinary recent developments in UK politics, who knows?

Jonathan Fryer is a freelance writer, lecturer and broadcaster on international affairs, and an elected member of the ALCS Board. His latest book is Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival. See him on Twitter: @jonathanfryer

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the position of The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).

The View from ALCS

For an understanding of what Brexit means for ALCS Members specifically, you can read the thoughts of Richard Combes, Head of Rights and Licensing here.