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Brexit: Movement of People in the Cultural Sector (European Union Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:35 pm on 15th May 2019.

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Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Conservative 4:35 pm, 15th May 2019

My Lords, this report, the Government’s response to it and the eloquent introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Jay, all focus on a significant aspect of the debate about Brexit which has not had sufficient attention paid to it.

Before continuing, I declare my interests in the register, pointing in particular to the fact that I am the chairman of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership. One of the themes I have introduced into our activities is that we must focus on and promote culture. We should see it in a loose, modern sense as much as traditional, 19th-century “Kultur”—spelled with a capital “K”. In Cumbria, which is my home county, the most exciting cultural thing I have experienced was a performance—I use that word deliberately—on Derwentwater, where cars and bicycles went across the surface of the lake, and it was French.

It seems to me that the impact of Brexit on culture in this country falls into four distinct bits: first, the commercial impact on those who do it; secondly, its contribution to the UK economy and the Exchequer; thirdly, the cultural offering which is available for people in this country; and, fourthly, as part of the United Kingdom’s soft power.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Black, who explained to us how musicians so frequently spend a great deal of their life travelling abroad. Some years ago, I spent a couple of terms as a Member of the European Parliament. That was in the age of travel agents, and I recall talking to my travel agent and saying, “Of all your customers, am I the one who travels abroad the most?” She responded, “No, I’ve a customer who is a musician”. I thought that made the point vividly. Now, people can move backwards and forwards as easily as any of us can go from Scotland to England to carry on their business. The Government want all this to be changed.

An interesting aspect of all this came to me recently, because I am involved in a small ceramics festival. One of its themes is to try to bring in a number of continental potters. In practice, they load their cars up, normally somewhere in the northern part of the continent, come over to this country, go to a couple of fairs and sell a few pots, and that pays for their trip and covers the cost of their holiday. The paperwork that Brexit will entail probably means that they will no longer come, and in turn—who knows—that may even prejudice the festival itself.

It is important to realise the impacts of all this on the economy and the Exchequer, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, has mentioned. It is worth recalling for a moment a point that has been made by the Commercial Broadcasters Association about how a large number of commercial broadcasters who took advantage of the European licence in this country are moving to Amsterdam—I was there the other day, and I must say that I can see why you would move there. It seems that one of the great reasons behind the vote for Brexit was that we objected to paying money to foreigners, but the effect of this will be to hand out wads of tenners to the Dutch Government.

Then there is the question of the cultural experience for those of us here in this country, if I may put it that way. As the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, our culture is not ring-fenced by Britishness; it is linked to the other side of the channel. After all, we esteem van Dyck as one of the great painters and part of our cultural patrimony but, inconveniently for some, he was born in Antwerp. Some of the greatest images of the building we are in now were painted by Monet, who was not, as far as I know, an Englishman—although, since I gather that he stayed in the Savoy Hotel, he might have met the £30,000 threshold. There is an exhibition on in the Tate of van Gogh in London, and there is not the slightest doubt that had the rules now being proposed been in place, he would not have come and it would not be taking place. Several noble Lords have mentioned the appointment of Simon Armitage as the poet Laureate—a good poet, and I like his work. It is worth recalling that WB Yeats spent quite a number of years in London, and I do not think that he, as an Irishman, could do that any more. We will find that our cultural experiences in this country are degraded.

Finally—I do not think there is any need to elaborate on it—it will impact seriously on our soft diplomacy. Behind the situation now lies, as the report says, the four freedoms, which are at the heart of the concept of the European Union. I suppose that, as a supporter of the European Union, I am now very much out of fashion, but what we have been talking about has been an enormous benefit to our country and the people who live in it. As someone pointed out, the Government’s response to our changing circumstances seems to assume that everyone who comes here is a potential immigrant. In the case of cultural events, that is simply not true, because you cannot replace one person with another. No amount of training in the world would enable me to play a violin in a way that anyone else would wish to hear. It is as simple as that.

In the Government’s response is a picture of how they would like to see post-single market Britain relating to its neighbours. It indicates clearly how much damage may ensue. It echoes the mantra that the Government must deliver on Brexit but, after all, how do you deliver Brexit? There is only one way to do it, and that is to serve Article 50. We have done that. Once the Government have served Article 50, they are freed from the shackles of European law about how they conceive the future. It never was and is not now a vote for a no-deal Brexit; it was a vote for a future where the Government can exercise their discretion in a slightly different way from the past, which does not mean that we throw overboard everything that has gone before. In that, we have complete sovereignty, complete freedom to try—if we can succeed in negotiating it and getting others to agree—to do what we want. That should be pursued in the national interest.

If we look forward to the next chapter, that seems to me to be the role, prerogative and duty of the Government. They should cast aside,

“all private interest, prejudice and partial affections”,

in trying to bring that about. My noble friend the Minister got it right earlier in Question Time when he mentioned reciprocity. Is it not strange that reciprocity is being chucked out of the window?