The Arts Council of Northern Ireland (ACNI) has published a report highlighting the implications for culture in Northern Ireland of the UK's withdrawal from the European Union (EU).
EU Withdrawal: Key Legislation Changes and Implications for Northern Ireland-based Arts Organisations considers the impact of new rules on artists and arts organisations, and the steps being taken locally and nationally to support the continued international mobility of artists.
Freedom of movement between the UK and the EU ended on 31 December 2020 as a result of Brexit. This report outlines the legislative requirements for people and goods travelling both outbound from and inbound to Northern Ireland.
The report notes that working creatives from Northern Ireland and the EU will be subject to new restrictions such as visas and work permits, though artists travelling out to the EU for work for less than 90 days in a 180-day period will not need a visa to travel.
Options for artists travelling to Northern Ireland are varied and dependant on the nature and length of their visit. The new skilled worker visa system includes stipulations on work sponsors, the skill level of the job on offer and the prospective applicant’s ability to speak English to a required standard.
Festivals and events on the list of "permit free festivals" are able to invite participating entertainers or artists without needing to issue a certificate of sponsorship. But in Northern Ireland, only the Belfast International Arts Festival meets the criteria of attracting audiences of more than 15,000 and having been established for three years or more.
Potentially significant costs incurred as a result of new travel rules mean that the price of taking work to and from Northern Ireland has already increased post-Brexit.
ACNI’s consultations with a number of organisations informed the development of the report. The arts council found that though the extent and nature of the impact of Brexit has been masked by the Covid pandemic, social and economic implications are already being felt in the arts that are threatening to undermine the diversity of the sector, both locally and internationally.
The report says that the loss of access to EU funding could hold back the sector. Anecdotal evidence noted in the publication points to some Northern Irish organisations formally constituting themselves in the Republic of Ireland to ensure that they remain eligible for EU-based funding. The legislation around such operations is unclear, and the report stresses that such a model would not be feasible for the majority of small to medium-sized organisations.
New travel legislation impacts the transport of materials and objects as well as people. Permissions in the form of an ATA carnet are required to move goods outside the UK, with the carnet often referred to as the “passport for goods”, permitting the tax-free and duty-free temporary export and import of non-perishable goods for up to one year.
A carnet is also required to move goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. In its consultation, ACNI found that there was concern among visual artists around the difficulty of sourcing supplies and materials from Great Britain post-Brexit.
Confusion surrounding “temporary admission” and “returned goods review”, both of which allow some goods to enter EU member states from Northern Ireland, has led to a lack of clarity among organisations and individuals who need to move goods between countries for exhibitions.
This lack of clarity stems from a reported lack of sector-specific knowledge on the import and export of goods and the outward and inward movement of artists, with consultees calling for a “single, authoritative and accessible” source of information on post-Brexit rules.
The report does recognise, however, the work of Arts Infopoint UK, a collaboration between the four national arts development agencies in the UK that will run as a pilot scheme until the end of 2021.
Arts Infopoint UK's function is to support the continued mobility of artists internationally by providing practical advice and information on issues such as visas, work permits and residencies. It also hosts country-specific webinars, signposts resources and researches contemporary challenges to artist mobility.
When looking to the future, consultation respondents felt that the voice of Northern Ireland's arts and culture sector in UK negotiations is weak, and its unique position demands a stronger lobby. The sector was also supportive of the creation of a dedicated reference group to support ACNI lobbying activity at both Northern Irish and UK levels.
A press release stated that ACNI will “continue to work closely with national and international partners to promote and support international creative exchange and dialogue”.