Overcoming Brexit Uncertainty for Society Publishing


February 25, 2019 | Written by William Bowes, Director Of Policy, Publishers Association. First published on The Wiley Network.

Nearly three years after the EU referendum, the Parliamentary debate on Brexit still seems stuck on the issue of the so called “Northern Irish Backstop,” or keeping an open border between the north and the rest of Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without an all-encompassing deal. Early in February the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, gave a speech in Belfast outlining the connections between Northern Ireland and England, and the importance of the union of Great Britain. The speech was aimed at securing support for the Irish Backstop and featured several examples, including her support for the ‘tantalizing possibility of a joint UK and Ireland World Cup Bid for 2030’. Appropriately, the Brexit debate so far has seemingly been one of two halves – pre- and post-referendum. I’d like to take the opportunity to offer some commentary on the latter half and what it all means for the publishing industry.

So how might global goals of UK publishers be affected by the more dubious goals of many of our politicians? Let’s look at some key parts of Theresa May’s deal to clarify what it means for society publishing, analyze what a ‘no deal’ would look like and establish what can be classed as a ‘win’ for society publishers and what cannot.

The Proposed UK – EU Deal

Theresa May’s deal contains some positives for publishing. It keeps the UK closely bound to the Single Market for goods and European frameworks on critical issues like free speech and data protection, and it suggests we will maintain strong IP laws. Securing a deal also takes an important step towards restoring our global reputation. In terms of people, the Withdrawal Agreement states that any resident of the UK or EU prior to the end of the implementation period has the right to stay. The Political Declaration builds on this by providing for short term visas and mobility for business people and students. Although we won’t know the UK’s official immigration policy until after Brexit, and concern about the proposed salary cap for “skilled” workers remains, there seems to be some optimism that the UK-based parts of the academic publishing community will still have access to the European research and academic talent pool.

The deal isn’t yet clear on what research funding will look like post-Brexit. Although the Political Declaration mentions ‘ongoing engagement with EU science and research programmes’ it doesn’t say what this engagement will be and there are no reassurances that we will be a member of the Horizon program.

So, despite ambiguity in some areas, we believe that the deal is one society publishers could work with. By this, I don’t mean that Brexit is a “good thing” for publishers, nor that the terms of this deal are preferable to those of EU membership, or even that they are the best the UK could have. However, the Withdrawal Agreement has been explicitly designed to mitigate risks on both sides of the channel. In the very least, it provides some short-term certainty and continuity.

Preparing for No Deal

Key to business resilience and success is preparation. Therefore, it’s prudent for publishers to prepare for a ‘no deal’ Brexit. The Publishers Association is encouraging our members to do this by helping them interpret government ‘no deal’ advice.

The government has issued a series of ‘no-deal’ technical notices. These notices cover a range of areas: from intellectual property, to trade, and people. They have also released a Partnership Pack, detailing information on what the UK borders will look like post-Brexit if there is no deal and what can be done to prepare. Reassuringly, the Partnership Pack confirms that tariffs are unlikely to change, but it does warn businesses about delays at borders, the end of EU-wide VAT IT systems, and the new requirement of customs duty.

Society publishers can also take some comfort from the ‘no deal’ notices on copyright and data protection. For example, it says the scope of protection for copyright works in the UK and for UK works abroad will remain largely unchanged due to the UK’s continued membership of international treaties on copyright.

On data protection, if the UK leaves the EU with no deal, there will be no immediate change to the UK’s own data protection standards because the Data Protection Act 2018 remains in place. However, the free flow of personal data from the EU to the UK must be determined by the EU’s ‘adequacy mechanism’. It may be that the UK won’t be deemed ‘adequate’, so organizations will need to look at contractual clauses if personal data needs to be transferred from the EU after exit.

Higher education and research are also covered by a ‘no deal’ technical notice, including the future of Horizon 2020 funding. Key to this is the date of submission for EU projects. All successful bids submitted by UK participants before the UK exits the EU, will be guaranteed funding for the full duration of the project.

Exchange Rates

One final concern is that of exchange rates. In the immediate aftermath of the referendum, the value of the pound plummeted versus the dollar and the euro. Since that time, the pound has fluctuated in accordance with the political climate, but these fluctuations have been small compared to the post-referendum drop. It may be that the currency markets priced in much of the Brexit downside on sterling in the immediate aftermath of the vote, so assuming the UK and the EU agree on a deal, there may not be further significant changes. A ‘no deal’ scenario could be a different story, however. In terms of what this means for society publishers, it all depends on the currencies used. The more business society publishers were conducting in sterling prior to the vote, the more impact this would have.

With all the information and news surrounding Brexit, it’s sometimes hard to predict the impact this fundamental change will have on society publishers. As an association, we’ve offered members insight into what to expect in all eventualities.

Even though the latest Meaningful Vote made a deal more likely, this only presents more questions. Namely, when will the UK leave and under what circumstances? Amidst all this uncertainty, let’s hope this is all done well before 2030.