Summer recess brings some temporary respite for Westminster and Whitehall

By Dan Conway, Head of Public Affairs and Research

As SW1 hauls itself over the line into the summer recess, there will be a huge sigh of relief from Number 10. Having tried and failed to bring the end of term date forwards, Number 10 has – to echo the Prime Minister’s first statement as Prime Minister in Downing Street – just about managed.

To be fair to the Prime Minister, significant progress has been made during this parliamentary session. The EU Council meeting has come and gone, the Chequers deal has just about hung together, and the EU Withdrawal Bill has received Royal Assent. The Prime Minister has outlined her vision for Brexit and – notwithstanding a couple of rather senior and destabilising resignations – she will hope that she can now move forwards at speed and agree the best deal possible for Britain. She has survived some very close-run parliamentary votes on the Trade Bill in an unavoidably scrappy hung parliament and made it clear, through a written statement in the Commons yesterday, that she will lead the renegotiation supported by the Cabinet Office’s Europe Unit, rather than new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and DExEU. This puts the PM (and her Chequers deal) firmly if precariously in the driving seat.

The Chequers deal has positives for the book business. As was made clear by the publication of the Publishers Association Publishing Yearbook statistics last week, physical book exports to Europe grew by 13% last year having been decreasing (albeit at a slowing rate) each year since 2013/14. The European market in books now totals 36% of physical book exports, so a customs arrangement for goods is clearly welcome. The UK publishing industry is unique in its export strength, remaining the number one exporter of physical books in the world, and no one wants books sitting in Dover.

However, the publishing industry also looks well-beyond Europe for international growth. The fastest growing market in academic journals is North America (a growth of 10%), while we’ve seen double-digit growth to Australia and Latin America and single digit growth in South and East Asia and Africa. Publishing is also classed as a service, as are our digital products and the vast majority of our academic journals, so publishing’s trade priorities extend beyond goods and well beyond goods to Europe.

Fundamentally, we are in the business of growing readership. We want to encourage readers at home and support our wonderful authors to spread their ideas abroad. Our latest statistics show that 2017 was a good year. However, the question remains how well the industry can weather Brexit, through the transition period, and beyond.

No one believes there is an easy way through the next few months – either in terms of navigating domestic politics or indeed in negotiating with an EU whose interests in many areas don’t align with ours. But one thing that everyone appears to agree on is that a deal with the EU is the ultimate goal. The Publishers Association hopes that the Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs, and officials across Whitehall can recharge with a few good books over the summer break and can return afresh to thrash out a deal for Britain that supports the country’s great publishing industry.