By Conor Kavanagh | The Immigration Advice Service | 28 October 2019
Historically Britain has produced some of the best and most beloved writers in the world. From Jane Austen to J.K. Rowling, English literature is renowned for its rich literary heritage. It is also a place where some of the world’s most revolutionary minds have put pen to paper and created their most famous works; Mary Wollstonecraft’s ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’ is considered one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. Britain’s publishing industries are some of the world’s most prominent – from Penguin Random House to Bloomsbury – and help contribute a significant part of the £87 billion a year that the creative industry brings to the UK. However due to a rise in xenophobia, the stricter migration laws and the economic changes Brexit will bring, foreign authors and the British publishing industry are at risk.
The value of diverse voices
Edward Said, a Palestinian-American writer, in his 1979 book ‘Orientalism’, helped expose how our ‘knowledge’ of different peoples and countries was often shaped and written by those who were not a part of them. Thankfully in the 21st century more diverse voices have entered the mainstream and creative industries have benefited from this. Uplifting voices from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds allows the narrative of primarily white, mostly Christian and British writers to be challenged. It allows the ‘knowledge’, as Said calls it, to be reclaimed to some extent. Authors like British born Nikesh Shukla (who is of Indian descent) created many works on the BAME experience of Britain, culminating in an anthology of essays written by non-white authors: ‘The Good Immigrant’.
It is not surprising, then, that the UK’s creative industries voted 96% to Remain in the European Union. Yet Brexit threatens these diverse voices in two ways. Firstly, the xenophobic tactics of the Leave campaign has helped unleash a new wave of hate crimes and general anti-migrant sentiment. In this climate, migrant and marginalized voices are needed the most but in light of the current political tone it is often hard to speak up. Secondly, the British exit from the EU will end free movement making it far harder for Europe’s aspiring writers and poets to work in the UK.
Brexit’s economic cost to literature and publishing
It is likely that European migrant authors looking to work in the UK post-Brexit will require a Tier 2 Work Visa, since the government has announced there will be no preferential treatment towards EU migrants. This would require them to have secured a £30,000 a year job with a sponsorship from an employer. This comes with obvious difficulties as not all authors are established enough to get this salary, and if book writing contributes to their sole income it will likely be inconsistent. For reference, British authors on average make £10,500 per year.
To be granted Indefinite Leave to Remain – a necessary pathway to British citizenship – the visa holder must earn £35,000. This effectively makes it impossible for many migrant authors to come to the UK, depriving Britain of the diverse voices it has welcomed for centuries. This doesn’t just affect authors; European workers in publishing houses will face the same hoops to jump through.
As well as stifling the creative side, Brexit will also make the sale and purchase of literature harder. The EU is a strong market for UK published material and physical sales to the continent account for over 35% of total export revenues, translating to 1.2bn in annual sales. Often British publishers exploit their position as Europe’s English speaking country with exclusive English language rights on books sold across the channel. Leaving the EU will give US publishers the chance to cut in on Britain’s dominance of Europe.
Leaving the European Union also means Britain could miss out on funding for literature. The Creative Europe funding scheme provides vital support for the arts across Europe and brings an average of £18.4 million a year in funding to the UK. The overall funding pot is set to double from 2021. Creative Europe is particularly important for literary translation, and since 2014 its funding has enabled 147 books by authors from or based in the UK to be translated into other languages. Membership of Creative Europe is not restricted to EU states however Brexiteers in the cabinet may seek to break away from more than just the EU, meaning they would have to increase domestic funding for the arts via the Arts Council or another equivalent body. Being the party of austerity, this does not seem likely.
It is clear that changes imposed by Brexit will threaten the number of diverse storytellers in the UK at a time when sentiment against migrants is rising. The government must adapt and make special arrangements to allow European authors to continue to work in the UK with relative ease while making sure Britain’s influence on European book sales does not diminish.
This article has been written by Conor Kavanagh who 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.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. Pantheon, 1979.
Shukla, Nikesh., editor. The Good Immigrant. Unbound, 2016.
Images sourced from Unsplash.
Featured photo, ‘Raised United Kingdom Flag’ by Chris Lawton.
‘European Passport Control’ by Daniel Schludi.
‘Library with books’ in Yekaterinburg, Russia by Stanislav Kondratiev.
Edited by Ailish Woollett.