Top UK museums reveal fears of no-deal Brexit in secret memos

'Our ability to hold blockbuster exhibitions while having to pay import duties would be really problematic,' says V&A director

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 31 October 2018 18:47
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Some of the UK's most prestigious museums could be forced to cancel exhibitions if Britain crashes out of the EU without a deal, according to a batch of secret memos.

Major visitor attractions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Museums of Liverpool have expressed grave concerns about the costs of importing foreign artworks, falling tourist numbers and staffing shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

A memo from the V&A to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport warned it could be compelled to close its doors temporarily as 44 per cent of customer service staff are EU nationals, and claimed that recruitment difficulties could hamper its plans for a new venue in Stratford.

The South Kensington-based attraction also said it could face up to £25m import costs on its loans for future exhibitions.

Papers from the Natural History Museum said it could be left £2m out of pocket through a loss of research funding, while an estimated 15 per cent decline in foreign tourists could cost £2.4m.

The Royal Museums Greenwich said a chaotic exit could mean shipment of art items are twice as costly in the short term, while the National Museums Liverpool warned that visa and customs issues could affect costs and timings for programmes.

The fears were laid bare in a freedom of information request by the People's Vote, which is calling for a referendum on Theresa May's Brexit deal, an aim backed by The Independent's Final Say campaign.

V&A director Tristram Hunt, a former Labour shadow cabinet member, told the Evening Standard: “Our ability to hold blockbuster exhibitions while having to pay import duties would be really problematic.

“Our ability to promote British soft power and influence through exhibitions like David Bowie Is and Pink Floyd would be seriously compromised.

“That’s bad for the London visitor economy. Four in five visitors to London come for the culture, and they are drawn by great museums and world class exhibitions. It is also potentially damaging for British influence abroad.”

Ahead of the referendum, senior Brexiteers warned that leaving the EU would not affect the creative industries.

In an open letter signed by top Tories such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Dominic Raab, Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith, Vote Leave claimed that funding for cultural organisations would be unaffected by Brexit.

Labour former culture secretary Ben Bradshaw said: “The mess created by the Brexit elite in Westminster is now casting a long shadow over the future of our great museums.

"Millions of people every year visit them to discover and enjoy some of the most extraordinary collections assembled on this planet.

"Now, because of the ideological and half-baked way Brexit has been pursued, our museums face new costs, staff shortages, and may even have to close to the public.

“Our museums are brilliant because they reflect an open outward-looking vision of the world where Britain has always thrived. This will close us off and turn our country inwards."

It comes after Brexit secretary Dominic Raab insisted that a deal would be agreed with the EU in the next three weeks as the talks enter the frantic final stages.

EU officials are ramping up preparations for a no-deal, as no progress appears to have been made since the meeting of the European Council two weeks ago, where EU leaders scrapped plans for a November summit.

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