Kate Mattocks

The treaty that created the European Union, in 1992, also for the first time introduced a legal competence in cultural policy. A difficult word to define, ‘culture’ can refer to artistic and aesthetic products and practices, but also can be thought of more broadly as a whole way of life. The EU’s activities in the arts and cultural sector are mostly to do with fundingpolicy coordination, and the promotion of culture and the arts. The impacts of Brexit have been predicted to be largely negative for the sector.

Culture is a supporting competence, meaning that the EU’s powers are limited to activities such as encouraging and facilitating cooperation between Member States. What the EU does in this policy field therefore supplements, but doesn’t override, Member States’ policies and programmes. Domestic governance of the arts and culture varies considerably among the EU-28, but it is still a national (or even sub-national), rather than supranational, policy field. 

The EU is involved in the cultural policy field for economic, social, and political reasons. Cultural and creative activity creates jobs and tourism, and this has been the most dominant frame for EU intervention. The arts and culture can also help increase social cohesion, while on the individual level, participation in cultural activities has been shown to have social, health, and wellbeing benefits. Politically, ‘[c]ulture promotes active citizenship, common values, inclusion and intercultural dialogue within Europe and across the globe’.

Like other policy areas, the full picture of Brexit’s impacts is still to be determined, due to uncertainty. Overall, the reaction from the sector has been largely, although not wholly, negative. Upsides to Brexit, according to a survey conducted by the Arts Council,include a potential increase in UK tourism due to the weaker pound; financial benefits regarding the exchange rate for individuals and/or organizations paid in Euros; and a potential increase in collaboration with countries outside of the EU.

However, by and large the sector has predicted disadvantages, with warnings such as 'cultural jail'and 'black cloud'.One of the most tangible impacts of Brexit is a loss of funding - the EU’s Creative Europe programme funds performing and visual arts and media projects, worth €1.46 billion over seven years. Creative Europe is unique in that projects must be collaborations with partners from at least two other countries -- cross-border cooperation is deeply embedded in the programme’s goals. In 2017 alone, UK organizations received £16.4 million. Importantly, this money has helped to make up for cuts that have come from local and national budgets over the past ten years. Other EU funding also supports arts and cultural projects. At the moment, if a deal is signed, the UK will be able to continue participating in Creative Europe until the end of the transition period. After that, there is no guarantee that that access to this funding would be replaced by the UK government.

Other potential impacts include the damaging of the UK’s reputation on an international scale, and the dangers that the loss of freedom of movement of people, goods, and services will bring to the sector, an issue taken up last year by the House of Lords. It is likely that Brexit will make cultural exchanges, cross-border collaboration, and touring more difficult

Cooperation, exchange, and mutual learning are cornerstones of the EU’s approach to the arts and culture. In the EU’s own words, ‘an EU-wide approach can go further than tackling [...] issues at national level’. Cultural exchange helps to promote understanding, which is particularly relevant now in times of multiple crisesAside from the more obvious and tangible disadvantages of leaving the Union, the loss of these opportunities to collaborate will have detrimental consequences for UK artists and arts and cultural organizations, arguably at the time they are most needed.


Dr Kate Mattocks is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of East Anglia. She is interested in the politics of cultural policy-making, and in particular, policies relating to cultural identity and diversity.


This article is part of an ongoing blog series ‘Brexit Countdown’ by the Political Studies Association (PSA) and Political Studies Association of Ireland (PSAI).  


To read the entire series, please see below:

  1. What’s the likely impact of Brexit on Higher Education in Northern Ireland? by Cathy Gormley-Heenan
  2. Brexit and a second Scottish Independence Referendum: What happens next? by Margaret Arnott
  3. What's the difference? British and Irish attitudes towards the EU by Kathryn Simpson
  4. Brexit and devolution in Wales by Roger Awan-Scully
  5. The Backstop: a ‘flexible and imaginative’ solution? by David Phinnemore
  6. Culture, the arts and Brexit by Kate Mattocks
  7. Brexit and implications for Scottish Devolution by Nicola McEwen
  8. Is Brexit propelling Northern Ireland towards Irish unity? by Katy Hayward
  9. Blair and Brexit by John O'Brennan
  10. The looming possibility of a retaliatory relationship between the UK and the EU by Will Phelan
  11. Brexit: Ethnopolitical dimension by Timofey Agarin
  12. Irish-British relations: Preparing for momentous change by Paul Gillespie
  13. Brexit, gender and Northern Ireland: Changing the state-society relationship by Yvonne Galligan
  14. Beyond the backstop: the DUP’s role in Brexit by Jon Tonge
  15. Brexit, political parties & power-sharing in Northern Ireland by Sophie Whiting
  16. Brexit and devolution in England: What's at stake by Arianna Giovannini
  17. What do people in Northern Ireland think about Brexit? by Jamie Pow and John Garry
  18. Brexit, diplomacy and defense by Ben Tonra
  19. Empathy, minorities and Brexit by Richard English
  20. Young people and Brexit: Not all that we think by Emily Rainsford
  21. Is the Backstop a Red Line Too Far? by Etain Tannam
  22. The UK's view of the EU by Simon Usherwood
  23. The invidious impact of Brexit on Ireland's policy landscapes by Mary C. Murphy
  24. Looking into the abyss: A European perspective by Brigid Laffan
  25. Britain after Brexit by Anand Menon
  26. Brexit as Political Irony by Feargal Cochrane
  27. The Brexit Countdown Series: Some concluding thoughts, and an appeal by Muiris MacCarthaigh and Feargal Cochrane