Still, the new world order is hazy. The U.K. political class, bereft with infighting, is steering the country through unchartered territory with no clear map, nor a pre-determined place to make landfall. In the leadup to the referendum, Leave campaigners refused to say what European country the U.K. would seek to emulate in its relationship to the E.U. should it vote to exit. Johnson’s post-referendum declaration
that he “cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe—and always will be” has only further confused both sides.
Given that no country has left the E.U. before, much confusion remains around the complex process of actually disentangling the United Kingdom from the E.U.’s nexus of rules and regulations. What will the final deal hold? Will British citizens and artists be able to remain abroad (and vice versa)? Will taxes and tariffs on art continue to be changed? Will the U.K.’s emergency budget—to be passed following the selection of the next prime minister—gut arts funding to pump money into a stimulus package? Despite the assurance by Leave campaigners that Brexit should be a leisurely process, it is looking increasingly likely that E.U. powers will refuse to negotiate a future arrangement that will answer such questions until the British parliament triggers article 50, the Lisbon treaty provision which begins the legal machinations for leaving the European Union.
Until such a final arrangement is drawn up, the E.U. rules regarding tariffs and taxes—which currently do not apply to consignments from inside the European Union while often heavily taxing those imported from without—are in place for auction houses. Free movement of people lives on. Yet as political skirmishes occur across the U.K. political spectrum and politicians backtrack and contradict campaign promises, uncertainty is the only absolute. Ultimately, it is the final arrangement between the U.K. and the E.U. that will have an enduring impact on the market. And no one, least of all those who led the charge for Leave, seem able to articulate what form exactly this relationship will look like.
A Different United Kingdom
While market observers run to consult an abacus or ouija board in the aftermath of Brexit, many in the artistic community are simply shocked by the referendum result, which speaks to a broad disconnect between artists and the British population writ-large. While the actual voting breakdown was 52% leave to 48% remain, a poll by of the UK’s Creative Industries Federation members found 96% in favor to stay within the E.U. Major artists almost uniformly joined the Remain camp, in some cases contributing work to the cause.
, a seminal member of the
, told The Art Newspaper
that the prospect of a referendum and a more provincial U.K. filled her “with cold dread.”
Along with coming to terms with the economic impact of the vote to leave, many are struggling to parse why a surge of populist anger didn’t respond to the warnings of the political and economic classes. Simple answers are hard to come by. But this populist sentiment, which has parallels in the U.S., poses a major threat to market and political stability. The legitimate economic grievances of many have become entwined with, or fuel, anti-immigrant xenophobia and racism. For many, particularly young people who predominantly backed Remain, the referendum result has triggered a seismic shift in how they think of their nation’s future. As Laurie Penny wrote
, “This morning, I woke up in a country I do not recognise.” Beyond what taxes, tariffs, and laws change following the referendum, the United Kingdom is today a profoundly different place.