By Tim Gallagher, Public Affairs Manager at SoA
Unless you’ve been living in a sealed tomb for the last couple of years, it won’t have escaped your attention that the UK is in the process of leaving the European Union. The Brexit news cycle of perpetual votes in Parliament, rounds of negotiations in Brussels and outbursts from intractable MPs has been impossible to ignore. And yet from the outside it can seem as if the debate has barely moved on during this period, and that little concrete progress has been made.
This is set to change over the next six months. As things stand the UK will sever ties with the EU on 29th March 2019, and by then we will know whether we are leaving with or without a deal, whether Brexit will be soft, hard or some texture in between. Any number of things could happen in the intervening period - the Prime Minister could be forced out, there could be a general election or even a second referendum. Whatever happens the months leading up to the exit date will be some of the most politically turbulent in the country’s recent history.
So what happens next?
The UK and EU negotiating teams are set to agree a deal (consisting of both the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework) at a meeting of the European Council on 16 October. The Withdrawal Agreement will cover key areas of the divorce including the financial settlement, citizens’ rights and the Irish border, while the Future Framework will outline the structure of the future relationship, with more details to be agreed during the Implementation Period.
However it is widely acknowledged that the 16 October date will slip and that a special meeting of the Council will have to be convened at a later date, probably in mid-November. This assumes that the two sides can reach a deal at all – given that the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier has said that the UK’s current negotiating position (known as the “Chequers plan”) is unworkable, something will have to give for an agreement to be reached.
Agreement in Brussels is only the first stage. The UK Parliament must then approve both the Withdrawal Agreement and Future Framework for the overall deal to be ratified. The Government’s lack of authority over this hung parliament means that getting any deal approved by MPs will be a struggle. The more enthusiastic Brexiteers in the Tory party are heavily opposed to the UK Government’s current position, instead proposing a free trade deal along the lines of Canada’s current arrangement with Brussels (although little detail has been provided on how this would work in practice). Combined with Labour's likely opposition to the Government’s deal, opposition from Tory rebels would be enough to sink the Withdrawal Agreement. Again, compromises and flexibility will be required if a deal is to get through Parliament.
And if no deal can be agreed? The UK could conceivably crash out without a deal, and all EU Treaties would cease to apply to the UK from 29 March 2019. Or negotiations could be extended, if both sides agree. But it is unlikely that the current status quo in the UK Government could hold under these circumstances. A defeat by MPs on the final deal would put considerable pressure on the Prime Minister to resign, and a general election or even a second referendum should not be ruled out.
We can only say two things for certain: there will be no shortage of political drama, and no one really knows what the final outcome will be.
But what does Brexit mean for SoA members?
The first thing to stress is that your livelihoods will not be put at risk by Brexit to the same extent as some other professions. The position of authors, poets, scriptwriters and illustrators is not comparable with, for example, workers in the car industry, whose jobs hinge on the UK’s capacity to sell car parts to Europe.
However the effects of Brexit will still be felt by authors and the wider industry, and these are the SoA’s key areas of concern:
- Freedom of movement: There is a danger that the end of free movement will create barriers for authors appearing at festivals in the EU, as well as European writers travelling to festivals in the UK. The Government must ensure that visa restrictions do not prevent European creators from entering the UK and British creators from travelling across Europe.
- Trade: The UK is the largest exporter of physical books in the world. The European Union remains our most important market, accounting for 36% of all physical book exports. It is vital that access to European markets is maintained after Brexit and that there is a smooth customs arrangement for goods. A ‘no deal’ scenario would be particularly damaging.
- Creative Europe funding: The Creative Europe funding scheme provides vital funding for the arts across Europe, including for translation. Membership is not restricted to EU states, and the Government should either commit to remaining within Creative Europe following our departure from the EU, or to increasing domestic funding for the arts via the Arts Council or another equivalent body.
- Copyright: The UK’s excellent copyright framework must be maintained after Brexit, harmonised with the rest of the EU. Copyright and Intellectual Property law must be strengthened and not watered down as part of any future trade agreements.
- EU Copyright Directive: The EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market contains important provisions for authors, including an obligation for publishers to provide greater transparency when reporting accounting information to authors and an obligation to include ‘bestseller clauses’ in contracts. Whether or not the Directive is passed in Europe before Brexit, we urge the UK Government to introduce these provisions into UK law.
You can read more about our issues of concern on our Where We Stand page on Brexit.
The SoA will continue to lobby government on all of these issues, both individually and in partnership with other organisations in the sector, to ensure that the final Brexit outcome does not disadvantage authors. We will be meeting with politicians and government officials, and keeping them updated of our concerns in writing on a regular basis.
What do we need from you?
As always we want SoA members to be at the centre of our campaigning. Over the coming months we will have various calls to action for our members, such as writing to MPs and promoting our key messages on social media.
At this stage we are looking to collect evidence from writers on how they might be affected by Brexit, in order to aid our lobbying efforts. Perhaps you have made an appearance at a European festival recently and are worried about visa restrictions after Brexit. Perhaps you have received funding for translation from Creative Europe, and you are concerned about the possibility of losing access to the programme. Or maybe your concerns are more general, about the impact on the economy or the loss of ties with our European neighbours. Whatever it is, we’d love to hear from you – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Please watch out for our regular blogs and campaign updates over the coming months, where we will keep members updated on the progress of negotiations, particularly on what this means for authors. We will be asking you to get involved in many different ways. Please get in touch if you have any questions or concerns.