Culture, the Arts, and Brexit

Guest post by Kate Mattocks, University of East Anglia. This article is part of an ongoing blog series ‘Brexit Countdown’ by the Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI) and Political Studies Association (PSA).

The treaty that created the European Union, in 1992, also for the first time introduced a legal competence in cultural policy. A difficult word to define, ‘culture’ can refer to artistic and aesthetic products and practices, but also can be thought of more broadly as a whole way of life. The EU’s activities in the arts and cultural sector are mostly to do with funding, policy coordination, and the promotion of culture and the arts. The impacts of Brexit have been predicted to be largely negative for the sector.

Culture is a supporting competence, meaning that the EU’s powers are limited to activities such as encouraging and facilitating cooperation between Member States. What the EU does in this policy field therefore supplements, but doesn’t override, Member States’ policies and programmes. Domestic governance of the arts and culture varies considerably among the EU-28, but it is still a national (or even sub-national), rather than supranational, policy field.

The EU is involved in the cultural policy field for economic, social, and political reasons. Cultural and creative activity creates jobs and tourism, and this has been the most dominant frame for EU intervention. The arts and culture can also help increase social cohesion, while on the individual level, participation in cultural activities has been shown to have social, health, and wellbeing benefits. Politically, ‘[c]ulture promotes active citizenship, common values, inclusion and intercultural dialogue within Europe and across the globe’.

Like other policy areas, the full picture of Brexit’s impacts is still to be determined, due to uncertainty. Overall, the reaction from the sector has been largely, although not wholly, negative. Upsides to Brexit, according to a survey conducted by the Arts Council, include a potential increase in UK tourism due to the weaker pound; financial benefits regarding the exchange rate for individuals and/or organizations paid in Euros; and a potential increase in collaboration with countries outside of the EU.

However, by and large the sector has predicted disadvantages, with warnings such as ‘cultural jail’ and ‘black cloud’. One of the most tangible impacts of Brexit is a loss of funding – the EU’s Creative Europe programme funds performing and visual arts and media projects, worth €1.46 billion over seven years. Creative Europe is unique in that projects must be collaborations with partners from at least two other countries — cross-border cooperation is deeply embedded in the programme’s goals. In 2017 alone, UK organizations received £16.4 million. Importantly, this money has helped to make up for cuts that have come from local and national budgets over the past ten years. Other EU funding also supports arts and cultural projects. At the moment, if a deal is signed, the UK will be able to continue participating in Creative Europe until the end of the transition period. After that, there is no guarantee that that access to this funding would be replaced by the UK government.

Other potential impacts include the damaging of the UK’s reputation on an international scale, and the dangers that the loss of freedom of movement of people, goods, and services will bring to the sector, an issue taken up last year by the House of Lords. It is likely that Brexit will make cultural exchanges, cross-border collaboration, and touring more difficult.

Cooperation, exchange, and mutual learning are cornerstones of the EU’s approach to the arts and culture. In the EU’s own words, ‘an EU-wide approach can go further than tackling […] issues at national level’. Cultural exchange helps to promote understanding, which is particularly relevant now in times of multiple crises. Aside from the more obvious and tangible disadvantages of leaving the Union, the loss of these opportunities to collaborate will have detrimental consequences for UK artists and arts and cultural organizations, arguably at the time they are most needed.


Dr Kate Mattocks is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia. She is interested in the politics of cultural policy-making, and in particular, policies relating to cultural identity and diversity.

One thought on “Culture, the Arts, and Brexit

  1. Pingback: Culture, the Arts, and Brexit – Politics Article – Politics Blog

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