What does the Brexit deal mean for designers?

Now that an exit deal has been agreed by both sides, we take a look at its impact for the design industry, from copyright to movement of workers.

After years of fraught negotiation, a Brexit trade and cooperation deal was finally agreed upon by the UK and EU on 24 December 2020.

In the years following the 2016 referendum, Design Week has reported on what leaving the EU could mean for the design industry. Concerns have centered around free movement of workers, intellectual property rights and movement of goods and services.

The potential impact of these restrictions on an international-facing industry has worried designers. While the deal will “provide a great deal of reassurance to individuals and firms”, according to Policy Connect’s Jack Tindale, it will also “unquestionably still result in considerable disruption to the previous year’s transition period”.

The dense agreement has been published – the full 1200-page text is available here to read – but both parties are still working out how best to implement these new agreements. This means that a period of certainty is likely to follow, and the agreement also has provisions built in for regular reviews and adjustments.

We run down the areas that designers should know about.


Design rights

UK designers have lost the automatic protection of unregistered designs in the 27 European Union countries, despite the efforts of organisation Anti Copying in Design (Acid). This means that a design first published in the UK does not qualify for EU protection as an European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD).

Until 31 December 2020, UK designers were able to rely on that unregistered design right. The EU design right protects the individual character of a design with specific references to colour, shape, ornamentation, lines, contours, texture and materials. The UK design right protects only the shape and configuration of products.

If a UK citizen first publishes their design in an EU territory, they still have the benefit of EU protection, Acid explains, but they only get UK protection through the more limited unregistered design rights for three years.

Infographic courtesy of ACID

Designers previously told Acid that they could lose up to 25% of turnover as the change in rights would open the “flood gates to design infringement by those intent on copying”. Acid CEO Dids Macdonald tells Design Week that Acid is “urgently seeking government advice” and that its legal affiliates are putting together a guide for general IP guidelines.

Macdonald notes that intellectual property comprises “one of the longest chapters in the agreement”. While she calls the loss of unregistered designs rights a “significant set-back”, Macdonald highlights the inclusion of artist resale rights and the commitment to co-operate on the enforcing of IP rights.


Free movement has ended

UK nationals no longer have the freedom to work, study or live in the EU and visas will be required for stays longer than 90 days. This was an “inevitability” ever since the 2016 vote, Jack Tindale says.

“While this is unlikely to lead to many challenges for individuals visiting EU countries for business or pleasure, there is little doubt that longer term arrangements will struggle,” he adds.

A new points-based immigration system will apply from 1 January 2021, meaning that EU citizens moving to the UK to work will need to have a visa. EU citizens applying for a skilled worker visa will also need to prove they have a job offer and an employer sponsor (employers will need a sponsor license to hire workers outside the UK).

The term skilled worker has proven contentious since its introduction. The latest definition requires people to speak English and earn a salary above £25,600 or the going rate of the job (whichever is higher).

Information on the new immigration system can be found here.


How else could this affect designers?

Tindale says to the introduction of work visas – for individual countries rather than the EU as a whole – have already been criticised as a “major barrier” for the music industry. “Other areas of the creative economy may be hit as well,” he adds.

Tindale also points out that the agreement could present challenges for designers seeking to participate in touring exhibitions and selling goods and services to European partners.

There had been concerns that the UK’s inclusive design industry would suffer as a result of Brexit, starting at an educational level. While the Erasmus programme – which allowed UK students to study abroad in the EU – has been discontinued, a similar programme is being set up named after computer scientist Alan Turing. Education secretary Gavin Williamson called the replacement scheme “truly international”.


Zero tariffs does not mean zero costs

The UK has now left the single market. While much has been made of the “zero tariff and zero quota” trade on imported and exported goods (worth an estimated £668bn a year), there’s an array of details for businesses to be aware of.

While the agreement guarantees zero tariffs, this does not mean zero costs, Tindale points out. “Customs checks and certifications will require a business to devote time and energy to actions that they have not needed to previously,” he says.

“The new agreement is also focused far more on trade in good than trade in services which may prove challenging for future developments, given that focus on the British economy towards the latter,” he adds.

Information on tariffs can be found here.


“Uncertainty will continue well into 2021”

While many will welcome the deal over a no-deal Brexit, “uncertainty will continue well into 2021”, Tindale says. He adds however that the UK design industry is well-placed to meet these challenges. “It is adaptable and able to respond to rapid changes.”

The current agreement also includes provision for regular reviews and renegotiation periods and future agreements may “deepen cooperation” rather than diverge relations further, Tindale says.

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  • James Souttar January 10, 2021 at 6:17 pm

    Really, we need to stop whingeing and look to the tremendous ‘world beating‘ positives of the Brexit. The UK Design Industry will now be able to… create world beating Brexit logos. If there is any money left in UK Treasury that hasn‘t been squandered on world beating projects that ran into the ground. And if you happen to be married to a Cabinet Minister. (But if both of those ‘points based‘ requirements are met, great news — no more pitching! ‘Chumocracy®’ will cut through all that bureaucratic nonsense.)

    And we only need to look at the burgeoning opportunities Brexit opens up to us. British Designers will now be able to restyle landmines for the Saudis, repackage Bitcoin for the Malawians and rebrand Dictatorship for a host of nations around the world where world-beating British political communications firms have already successfully overturned Democracy. There will be the Cummings Award for best Big Data/Fake News campaign. And a host of world-beating British industries will be thriving: coffin-making, fish fingering, used car dealing, Excel app coding and getting people EU passports.

    Small creative businesses will also be able to reap the advantages of the end of EU restrictions. All that pesky EU employment protection stuff will be history. Business owners will be able to shackle employees to their desks twenty four hours a day, for a shilling a week. Assuming, that is, that anyone ever returns to their desks. And while it won‘t be possible to recruit foreigners any more, there won‘t be any need — we’ll just be dealing with nations that speak English, innit.

    In short, let’s show the world what we can do — let’s Make BritDesign Great Again!

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