With the shock result in the referendum on Great Britain exiting the European Union – which, however, has not yet translated into immediate government action on the issue – UK publishers and writers are already starting to react.
As quoted in The Bookseller, Tim Godfrey, UK Booksellers Association CEO, said: “With so much uncertainty prevalent, what the Government has to do is to introduce as much ‘Certainty’ as possible for consumers and business. We need to have clarity on how the disengagement process will work? And what will be the ‘shape’ of our future relationship with the EU?” Unfortunately, as incumbent UK prime minister David Cameron (photo) has just announced that he will step down, that clarity will be in short supply.
It’s important also to note what Brexit is not. This is not an immediate government decision to leave the European Union: the UK government is not even legally obliged to acknowledge the result. There is no definite clarity on whether Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty will even be invoked. Also quoted in The Bookseller, Penguin Random House UK CEO Tom Weldon pointed out that “there is a two-year minimum period of negotiation before Britain will actually leave and during this time our country will still have to abide by EU law.”
He also said, though, that “this is uncharted territory and no-one knows what the full impact of this change will be.” The question of the UK’s continued participation in the EU VAT regime, and how this impacts areas such as VAT on e-books, is likely to remain open for years, while continuing to affect publishers and booksellers in the short term.
The political fallout from the referendum is liable to hit other areas far sooner. An imminent government reshuffle is expected to install extremely conservative figures before any election. This will probably lead to further cuts in UK library funding. The UK’s body for library professionals, CILIP, has stated: “We will be engaging with the UK Government to ensure that our profession, is accounted for during this transitional process and that our needs and the needs of our users are recognised and protected. In the short-term, our first priority will be to review the impact of this referendum on people working in the information professions in the UK and develop any necessary actions to support them.”
UK and other authors were not pleased. Robert Harris tweeted that he was: “Watching PM resign, Governor of Bank of England appealing for calm… Feel as if I’m living in a bad dystopian political thriller.” J.K. Rowling also tweeted a conclusion that some, including me, may feel less unhappy about. “Scotland will seek independence now. Cameron’s legacy will be breaking up two unions. Neither needed to happen.” An independent Scottish publishing industry and literary establishment once again is in the cards as a real possibility. Similarly, with some Northern Irish politicians pushing for a referendum on joining the Republic of Ireland, the reunification of Ireland, and of Irish book and literary culture, also could happen.
Philip Pullman tweeted a response that could stand as commentary on the whole debacle: “We had a headache, so we shot our foot off. Now we can’t walk, and we still have the headache.”
Related: Keep calm and expect change, by Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, the Publishers Weekly of the U.K. Also, TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows will be offering an American perspective here later today or tomorrow. Also see a Variety article—many of the observations there about Brexit’s effect on movies might also apply to books.