Brexit: What does leaving the EU mean for designers?

The UK public has voted for Leave in the EU referendum, with a 52% majority – we summarise what this could spell for the design industry.

United Kingdom exit (brexit) answer YES checked

After 43 years of membership, the UK has voted to leave the EU, with a majority of 52% of the electorate choosing Leave and only 48% backing Remain – a landmark event in the nation’s history.

While Remain won in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Leave garnered more of the votes in Wales and the rest of England. The voter turnout was 72%.

David Cameron has announced he will step down as prime minister from October, and the sterling has already dropped to its lowest value since 1985.

What does all of this spell for the creative industries? Designers and creative leaders have voiced their concerns about how Brexit could negatively impact design businesses – their main reasons being less access to international talent and to exports, loss of collaboration with consultancies abroad, and potential damage to intellectual property and design registration laws.

Others have noted that there could be a silver lining, with a possible “reduction in red tape” in regulation for businesses, and also more flexibility over grants and loans due to less restriction on state aid.

Here’s a summary of what creative business leaders think will be the main consequences of Brexit:

Less free movement could stifle the industry

The European single market allows the free movement of goods, money and services (including workers) across countries in Europe. But in order to qualify for this, payments need to continue to be made into the EU budget, and EU rules need to be accepted, according to the BBC.

Designers worry that the UK will have less access to this free market now we’re out of the EU, and therefore will lose out on receiving exports from European countries, which currently generate more than £10 billion a year for the creative industries, according to Creative Industries Federation chief executive John Kampfner.

It could also result in less creative talent, he adds. “This could prove a huge issue for the continued growth and success of the design sector – particularly when the Migration Advisory Committee has placed a number of design roles on the UK’s skills shortage list.”

It could damage the industry’s reputation as inclusive

The design industry is known for its global nature, inclusivity and diversity. It’s common for consultancies to have several offices across the world, and currently collaboration and travel between different design studios is not difficult.

Designers have said they are concerned restrictions on travel will hinder the production of high quality, creative work. Naomi Turner, head of development at Projects by If, says she has currently been working on an Arts Council-funded project in Nottingham in an international team.

“Over the last six months, we have worked with a Swedish design strategist, a Dutch film-maker and a Greek fine artist,” she says. “All have worked across borders, aided by technology and freedom of movement and ideas. Design is an international business, actively damaged by prejudice.”

Copyright and design registration laws could suffer

EU design registration law has helped designers protect their work from infringement of copyright. Dids Macdonald, founder at organisation Anti-Copying in Design, questions: now that we’re leaving, will designers still be able to rely on this right?

Macdonald is also concerned the UK will now “lose its voice” in discussions around intellectual property law, which it has worked for “decades” to reform to help protect designers’ original ideas.

She adds that leaving also sparks uncertainty about what happens if a designer’s rights are infringed by somebody in another EU country – will the same rules of intellectual property infringement still apply?

We could lose EU funding for innovation, arts and culture

Until now, the UK has benefitted from EU funding such as Horizon 2020, an €80 billion (£65 billion) project which will provide funding for research and innovation across Europe until 2020. The UK has also been eligible to receive grants from organisations such as the European Cultural Foundation.

There are worries that the UK will now lose access to these funds, which would be “an enormous loss to the UK”, says Macdonald.

Leaving could provide more freedom over spending

Being cut off from the EU would also mean freedom from the EU’s strict restrictions on state aid, which is defined by Europa as government support given to a company that would provide it with an advantage over its competitors.

Separation from the EU would mean that the UK could govern the distribution of grants and loans itself without having to answer to a parent. Christine Losecaat, chief executive officer at Little Dipper, says that this could be a good thing, but “only if the UK commits to continuing its support for the creative and cultural sector”. 

Looking forward

The Creative Industries Federation has responded to the Leave vote with determination and optimism to engage the UK’s cultural community and safeguard its future. The main issues the organisation will be focusing on are access to funding and international creative talent, alongside creative education.

Chief executive John Kampfner says: “Within the UK, we will play our part in helping to bridge divides within and between the nations and regions of the country. As the UK creates a new identity and a new position on the world stage, our arts and creative industries – the fastest growing sector in the economy – will play an important role.”

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Hide Comments (9)Show Comments (9)
  • Neil Littman June 26, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Dreadful result I think. For most of my career I have worked for European mainland companies and travelled to them as well forging some great friendships. I still work for a European Association which has British members. Wonder what will happen to that? However, just one question and I know this will be difficult to get a conclusive answer to. I wonder how many designers in the UK voted for Leave?

  • Michael Dale June 27, 2016 at 10:50 am

    It’s a tragedy of epic proportions and we’ll have to see the full ramifications. The UK will now be viewed as an unfriendly place to work and we need to work hard to ensure that we project a welcoming image.

  • Vicki Smith June 27, 2016 at 1:24 pm

    One of the most balanced articles yet to come out of the result of the Referendum…well done to the creative industry!

  • Eugenie Smit June 28, 2016 at 2:59 am

    The key word here is “could”, I wish people will just go with it and see what possibilities there are rather than write articles about what negatives there might be. Lighten up.

  • tamer saidani June 30, 2016 at 1:32 am

    its right

  • tamer saidani June 30, 2016 at 1:38 am


  • Nathan Boon July 3, 2016 at 12:01 pm

    All I hear is me me me. I am a graphic designer who voted leave. I didn’t vote for my future prosperity – most people in the creative industries are well educated and will make their way whether in or out, including myself. I voted for my local fishermen who have seen their industry completely destroyed by the common fisheries policy. I voted for my local farmers who are getting an extremely raw deal from the common agricultural policy. I voted for African traders who see barriers to their goods entering the EU, ensuring a life of poverty for them. I voted for the less educated and less privileged people who haven’t seen any positives from the EU and are demanding social and political change.

    I voted against big financial institutions, I voted against big business lobbying to destroy small businesses, I voted against the anti-democratic machine of the EU, I voted against London-centric politics.

    I always thought the idea of the creative industry being majority left-wing was a fallacy and my thoughts are well and truly being proven right now.

    • Michael January 17, 2017 at 10:45 am

      You voted for loss of workers rights. You voted for unregulated environmental damage. You voted for an economy further dominated by corporations. You voted for rises in xenophobia. You voted for loss of billions in aid to our poorest regions. You voted for unsustainable fishing. You clearly have been brainwashed.

  • Zithas October 19, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Awesome post thanks for giving this information. I really like it.

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