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Brexit threatens to reduce museum collections says head of Victoria and Albert


Britain’s exit from the EU poses a major threat to the future of museum collections, according to the director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A).

Dr Tristram Hunt became director of the V&A in January, replacing Martin Roth, who resigned from his position in September 2016 partly due to his disillusionment at the Brexit vote. Roth died in August this year.

Speaking yesterday at the National Conference of Visitor Attractions (VAC 2017), Hunt voiced his own concerns for the future success of museums, galleries and other tourist attractions in the UK.

The former Labour MP and shadow education secretary said: “For the V&A and other museums the impact of our exit from the EU could have a profound effect on the lending and borrowing of our collections, potentially jeopardising our ability to function as world-class exhibition venues, reducing our capacity to share our collections with others and limiting the formation of constructive cultured partnerships.”

The V&A’s loans-out programme currently sees the largest number of objects travelling to EU countries and during the past year, 51% of loans to temporary exhibitions were to venues inside the EU and European Economic Area.

The V&A relies heavily on loans in from EU countries for its own temporary exhibitions. Under current EU regulations these objects are transported in free circulation and no import duty or tax is applicable.

Hunt said: “Exit from the Customs Union and the introduction of a system of customs clearance could result in import duties and VAT, increased transit fees and significant delays to both documentation and transit times.

“Acquisition by gift or purchase are also likely to incur similar budget impacted taxes. These increased costs and levels of bureaucracy are very real risks for UK museums and galleries that could severely restrict our ability to maintain the level of lending, borrowing and acquiring artefacts previously enjoyed by the UK public and our international visitors.”

The movement of people was also a major concern for the sector, he said, either through loss of staff or lengthy, costly visa processes. He called for people in the industry to project a “creative, confident and cosmopolitan” United Kingdom.

“Continued investment in the institutions and vehicles that export British soft power will only become more vital as the Brexit process continues,” Hunt said. “Britain’s incredible visitor attractions are one of the UK’s major assets and a vital contribution to our soft power. The industry’s ability to reinvent itself and leverage its unique, historical and contemporary relevance has helped it appeal to visitors from across the globe. We need to ensure the UK remains an open accessible destination.”

In his new role, Hunt has overseen a number of big events including The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains. Since the opening of Exhibition Road Quarter in June the V&A has had its largest ever visitor numbers for July and August, and the museum has been named TripAdvisor Museum of the Year.

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