Only a few days after finalising Brexit, the UK has announced it will not adhere to the EU’s strict regulations on importing cultural property. This comes after four years of negotiation over the approval of the ‘Trade and Cooperation Agreement’, a 2,000-page document that outlines the legal cooperation between the EU and the UK.

The new rules, which were passed by the European Union in April 2019, allow officials to “take any appropriate measure” in confiscating high-risk cultural goods without an EU import licence. They are due to be enforced by 2025.

Cultural goods considered ‘high-risk’ will include antiques and books more than 250 years old. Non-EU cultural goods will be prohibited if their removal from the country they were created in breached the laws of that country. By introducing these regulations, the EU aims to deter the illegal trafficking of cultural goods, which are often a source of finance for terrorist organisations.

Antique dealers have strongly criticised the unprecedented regulations, so it is likely to be welcome news that the government has decided not to participate. “It had become clear to me in discussions with decision makers that the UK would not go ahead with the new law after Brexit,” reported Daniel Dalton, a former member of European Parliament and current chief executive of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels.

In the next few years this decision could give the UK an advantage over the EU art market. “This puts the UK art market in a more attractive position as an international destination, particularly in comparison with the EU,” added Dalton. “The EU law can be quite restrictive and that is going to have a negative impact on what can be imported into Europe.”

Tova Ossad, a London-based consultant for art transports, customs and logistics, echoed “it means that the UK dealers and auction houses will not have to be subject to more levels of due diligence on top of the strict regulations that are already in place. However, it is important to remember that UK dealers will still be subject to the rules when they are selling in the EU, such as consignments with EU dealers or at art fairs.”

Part of the controversial regulation, Article 3:1, had in fact been passed into UK law on 28 December 2020. Article 3:1 would have allowed the removal of any back stop on the seizure and return of illegal goods, but this will no longer apply due to the recent announcement.

Despite this, the UK will continue to work with the EU to support the repatriation of illegally removed cultural property in accordance with the 1970 UNESCO Convention.