Analysing The Political Economy

Brexit Crushes British Art Market In Two Years

The promised sunny uplands of Brexit appear to be a long way over the horizon – certainly too far to see anything hopeful, let alone tangible – and the once-thriving and profitable British art market is no different.

Unfortunately for Jacob Rees-Mogg, his Brexit opportunities seem to have pushed Britain out of the global art market’s top tier, with more than $1 billion worth of trade having been lost in two years. Yes, one thousand million dollars worth of art sales has gone somewhere else.

Worse still, it was China that overtook Britain last year to become the world’s second-largest market with art hubs in France, Germany and Italy eating into Britain’s share of the market.

Britain’s dealers and auction houses saw its lowest share of the art market in a decade last year leaving it with 17 per cent of the $65 billion global market. The USA market remains on top of total sales of arts and antiquities by dealers and auction houses.

The Art Market 2022 report by Art Basel and UBS laid the blame for Britain’s billion-dollar drop firmly on one event –  Brexit.

Imports into the UK from the EU are now subject to VAT and import duties, along with all the well-reported and complained about red-tape delays.

The report said rather charitably, that leaving the EU had – “created concerns for businesses in the art market that trade with and from Europe” and that – “The UK art market has endured a very challenging period for the last two years, dealing with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as its formal exit from the EU in January 2021.”

Further evidence came from figures published by HM Revenue and Customs showing a massive 33 per cent drop — to $2.1 billion in the value of art and antiquities imported into Britain from 2019 to 2020. The British art market was then hit with a further 18 per cent drop last year.

The report’s author, Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics, wrote: “The success of art market hubs such as the UK has relied on their ability to attract the most expensive works of art for sale from sellers throughout the world, and therefore, like New York, the UK is dependent both on imports of art and international buyers.

Bendor Grosvenor, the broadcaster and art dealer, said in his column in The Art Newspaper the extra charges and layers of bureaucracy he has faced importing artworks from Europe. He wrote that just to move a painting between Spain and Britain now cost at least 10 per cent of a painting’s value – when before Brexit he would only have had to pay for courier fees.

It’s been interesting to see how much in denial the British art market has been. A lot of them were very Brexity back in 2016, thinking it would mean the end of artist’s resale right and import Vat. I don’t know what deluded them into thinking the government — any government — would cut a bunch of art dealers any slack.”

European art hubs appear to have benefited from Brexit as well, with sales in France increasing by 50 per cent from 2020 to 2021. Its total sales value of $4.7 billion is the country’s highest for a decade, although still less than half of Britain’s $11.3 billion.



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