How is the current social and political climate in the UK having a negative impact on the British writing industry?
Despite the fact that the UK has not officially departed from the EU, Brexit has already impacted every facet of life amid fears for the economy, social unrest, political and personal division, and uncertainty surrounding the rights of EU nationals in a post-Brexit Britain. When considering the impact of migrants living in the UK, however, the majority of arguments focus on their economic value, rather than their cultural contribution to British society.
Migrant writers have always made a huge contribution to the UK’s literary canon by not only providing a voice for minority groups but also broadening Britain’s literary horizons by introducing readers to different societies and cultures. How Brexit will affect the writing industry is not an issue that has been broadly discussed but the potential implications of leaving the EU without a deal on 31st October is a great cause for concern for writers and publishers in the UK, as well as having a wider impact on British culture and literature as a whole.
To what extent has the 2016 referendum result affected how multiculturalism is viewed in the UK and what are the implications for the literary industry if the UK government chooses to end freedom of movement, severing all cultural and economic ties with the EU on 31st October 2019 ‘whatever the circumstances’?
Public opinion on multiculturalism in the UK
According to Discover Society, 80% of those who view immigration as a threat to society voted for Brexit. The Vote Leave campaign sought to capitalise on the notion that diversity is something to be feared rather than celebrated, with multiculturalism seen as a negative force and migrants blamed for everything from overstretching public services to taking jobs from British people. Evidently, the repercussions of such anti-migrant rhetoric are immense. Vote Leave’s ardent promotion of ‘taking our country back’, not only in economic and legislative terms but also from a cultural standpoint, has caused deep-seated social divisions across the UK that will undoubtedly have long-term implications on Britain’s future status as a multicultural nation.
Post-Brexit regulations and restrictions
The EU referendum result and the ongoing impasse between the UK and the EU has not only prompted the polarisation of attitudes towards migrants in the UK, it has also created a cloud of uncertainty over the rights of EU citizens who reside in the UK and British citizens who live and work in other European countries. This is deeply worrying for the UK’s writing industry in both practical and economic terms because its success relies in part on international collaboration and a close working relationship with the EU.
The Society of Authors has stipulated several key issues that they have urged the government to address. One major concern is the financial impact of Brexit on the UK writing industry, particularly if Britain leaves without a deal. Arts and literature organisations currently rely on a significant proportion of their work being funded by EU grants, not to mention the EU subsidies that currently fund the translation of literary works in the UK. The Society of Authors is seeking guarantees from the government that UK arts and literature projects will continue to receive the funding they desperately need but as it stands, it is unclear where this money will come from.
Another key issue outlined by the Society of Authors is that an end to freedom of movement would severely hamper the UK’s writing industry, as it will greatly restrict access to creative talent across Europe and will also place EU writers who currently reside in the UK in a position of uncertainty. Given that salary-related visa restrictions for foreign nationals who wish to work in the UK are significantly higher than the average writer’s income, the writing industry faces being completely cut off from accessing creative talent from within the EU. It also stands to lose existing professionals who may suddenly find themselves in a position where they do not meet the minimum salary threshold for a UK work visa and may have to leave the UK if they do not go through the costly and lengthy process of applying for British citizenship.
It is clear that the UK’s departure from the EU will have economic and creative disadvantages for the UK writing industry, as well as having the potential to greatly reduce the rich cultural diversity that is currently ingrained in British literature. This is particularly concerning when coupled with the current social and political climate of hostility towards migrants that is displayed by a proportion of UK society. It is now more important than ever, therefore, that migrant writers ensure their voices are heard and that they continue to represent the diverse minority groups that form an intrinsic part of the framework of modern Britain.
Joanne Starkie is a content writer for the Immigration Advice Service, an organisation of immigration lawyers providing legal support for those looking to migrate to the UK or hire overseas workers.