Writing about Brexit: The Challenge of Uncertainty

This month we published the very topical Brexit and Tourism by Derek Hall. In this post the author talks about the challenges of writing about something uncertain and ever-changing.

To many, relationships between Brexit and tourism may not at first sight seem obvious or even significant. But the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the issues surrounding it, have influenced, and will continue to exert profound impacts upon, tourism and related issues.

The value of sterling, availability of labour and migration, agriculture, food and catering, visa policies, taxes, travellers’ health and welfare provision, transport, accommodation, regional development, imagery and identity are just some of the more obvious tourism-related dimensions of Brexit’s direct and indirect impacts that are addressed in the book.

Continued uncertainty and the successive postponement of a withdrawal date have posed an ongoing challenge in maintaining the book’s integrity. Such uncertainty was – and continues to be – exacerbated by the absence of any coherent medium- or long-term national policy for coping with Brexit’s consequences. The outside possibility that a UK withdrawal from the EU might not actually take place was also dangled, and that as a consequence the book could prove to be a hypothetical historical document, an exercise in writing alternative history.

Critical analysis within the book has needed to look beyond the superficial rhetoric and political mendacity that has surrounded so much of the divisive Brexit debates. Acknowledging that academics have their own vested interests in such debates, sustaining objective arguments within the book has also been a challenge.

As no sovereign country has previously left the EU, the precedent of Brexit opens up unknown territory and many intriguing questions to explore. Thus, for example, one chapter of the book is devoted to examining a range of possible theoretical frameworks that can be employed to understand Brexit’s impacts on tourism.

One objective of the book is to broaden and inform debate in areas that have been neglected or even ignored in the UK. Thus the position of Gibraltar, voting 96% to remain in the EU but tied to a UK withdrawal, has barely been mentioned in UK debates. This merits a chapter, as do the likely environmental consequences of Brexit. The roles and situations of EU nationals in the UK and of UK nationals living, working and retiring in (other) EU countries also receive close attention.

Long before the 2016 EU referendum, some Eurosceptics were arguing that the Commonwealth could replace the role of the EU if the UK left the latter. Such arguments later faded away, but the role of the Commonwealth has deserved further scrutiny, not least in relation to the appalling treatment the UK government has meted out to some of the ‘Windrush generation’ regarding their UK citizenship rights.

So, while the book’s focus is placed firmly on relationships between Brexit and tourism, these are set within broad (geo)political, economic, social and environmental perspectives that help to illuminate and illustrate the central themes.

Derek Hall

derekhall@seabankscotland.co.uk

For more information on this book please see our website

Brexit Update: What are we Doing to Prepare?

On the 29th September 2016, exactly 18 months before the UK was due to leave the European Union, I wrote in a blog post entitled Brexit and its Implications for Channel View Publications & Multilingual Matters: Since the UK referendum result to leave the European Union, I have often been asked what effect this will have on our business. These questions have come from authors, colleagues, interested friends and my mother. The honest answer to all has been “I really do not know”.

We are now only five and a half weeks away from the “Brexit date” of 29th March, and I am afraid to say that my answer has not changed very much. I have had more sleepless nights than normal and lost countless hours of productive work time in the past three months as I’ve tried to gain some understanding of what sort of impact the various different versions of Brexit will have. Many different options are still being talked about and have gained traction, lost popularity, been proposed, negotiated and discarded, but what will actually happen, we still do not know.

Immediately after the Brexit vote in June 2016, I was relatively confident that Brexit would not happen as there was just a very slim chance of the various different factions agreeing what kind of Brexit they wanted. Unfortunately I had not predicted that our government would launch down the road of negotiating a Brexit deal with the European Union before knowing what kind of a deal the UK parliament would accept. The past few months of political intrigue and inaction at Westminster have been entertaining, dispiriting and terrifying in equal measures.

Given that we are now facing a potentially very disruptive no-deal Brexit, we at Channel View Publications have had to take steps to plan for the future. We are actively talking to our European trade customers suggesting that we will support them with a small extra discount and longer payment terms should they feel able to stock up on our titles before the 29th March. We are looking to work with printers outside the UK in order to print directly in our major markets like the USA and Japan. We are talking to our printers and distributors to make sure that we understand the likelihood and scale of any serious delays at the EU/UK customs border, and whether this will have a knock-on effect at our airports. We are making sure that our UK distributor has all of the agreements and IT systems in place to provide efficient information to Customs should they need to. We are tightening our belts and building up an emergency fund so that in the event of a drop in sales, or an increase in production costs, or most likely both, we are able to work through this. Whatever happens, we will do our utmost to ensure that our authors and customers continue to receive the same level of support from us as always.

Our hoped-for outcome at the moment is that the government will come to their senses, realise the very real damage that is being done to our economy, and withdraw Article 50 until such a time as those planning for Brexit can achieve a majority for what sort of a future we want with the EU. If that is agreed, and if Brexit is still what the country wants in the full knowledge of how difficult it might be, then resubmit the letter and negotiate properly with the full backing of parliament. This, I suspect, is rather like hoping for Christmas in March…

Tommi

The Debate on Brexit and the Potential Impact on Academic Publishing

Alongside the meetings and stalls at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which Tommi and I attended last week, there were also talks and discussions on topics of general interest to publishers. One that caught our eye on the Publishing Perspectives stage was entitled “Debate on Brexit and the Potential Impact on Academic Publishing” and I went along to hear the discussion. The panel comprised Richard Fisher, an academic policy correspondent, Richard Mollet from the RELX group and Andy Robinson from the publisher Wiley.

The general feeling among academic publishers is that the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is troubling and of great concern so the panel began with the discussants being asked if it is all doom and gloom as we suspect, or if there are in fact some silver linings to the situation. The panellists managed to come up with 4 positives, such as the short term currency gains which publishers with high exports are enjoying, potential beneficial changes in VAT laws, a renewed focus on emerging markets and UK research possibly being able to reposition and rebuild itself – particularly in some areas of science research, such as clinical trials, where the UK’s formerly strong output has fallen apart. We were also reminded that there were pockets of support for Brexit among some UK academics and that we need to respond to and work for the 52% who voted for the UK to leave the EU.

The panel on the Publishing Perspectives stage
The panel on the Publishing Perspectives stage

The above positives aside, the discussants identified several major concerns of Brexit for the publishing industry which were grouped into 3 main areas: people, funding and regulations.

The UK publishing workforce has a higher than national average percentage of workers from abroad and we do not know what the implications of Brexit will be for employment. The same goes for researchers at UK institutions and EU students, who bring growth for our economy as well as numerous other societal benefits. The panel mentioned anecdotal evidence of academics now refusing positions at UK universities and UK academics being taken off grant applications or side-lined within existing projects. Furthermore, the UK will now be relegated to the position of an observer rather than a participant on discussions around matters such as Open Access in academia.

Regarding the concern of funding, the panel felt that the sector needs to make a clear case to the government for research funding to be maintained and provided, especially as the terms of Brexit are negotiated and we are in a state of flux. Universities shouldn’t resort to pleading and requesting a special case, but rather they need to stress to the government the importance of the industry to our society and economy.

Finally, on the topic of regulation, the conversation moved to areas such as copyright law, data protection and medical trials, all of which are currently governed to some extent by EU law but which need not be in the future. We were reminded that the UK has traditionally had a good research reputation but, where Britain now goes the world won’t follow. Our decreased voice on topics of international concern is troubling.

The session was wrapped up with an optimistic view that British publishing is international in scope and outlook and that that is unlikely to change, especially in the humanities where relations are as much transatlantic and global as they are European. Brexit will no doubt have an impact on the industry but perhaps not as much as other concerns of 21st century publishing, such as mass piracy and green open access, but those are topics for discussion another time!

Laura

Brexit and its Implications for Channel View Publications & Multilingual Matters

Since the UK referendum result to leave the European Union, I have often been asked what effect this will have on our business. These questions have come from authors, colleagues, interested friends and my mother. The honest answer to all has been “I really do not know”.

To a very large extent, this is the biggest issue with Brexit for any business. “Brexit means Brexit” is the often-quoted line from government, but the reality is that we are none the wiser now than we were during the campaign.

In the short term, Brexit has provided a very timely and much-needed boost to our income. The fall in the value of sterling has meant that our books now appear cheaper in many currencies, and we have seen a rise in orders from many countries, including Japan and China. Where we price in other currencies like the US Dollar, our sales have been worth more to us. In a time of tight budgets in higher education institutions around the world, this has been welcome.

Tommi celebrating his Finnish nationality
A proud European citizen

On the other hand, any fall in the price of sterling will most likely lead to inflationary pressures in the UK economy at some stage, and whilst we might currently enjoy a small boost in our income, we may ultimately be hit with higher office rents, higher salary bills, higher paper and printing costs, and higher cost of supply. There is no doubt that any reintroduction of customs borders between the UK and the rest of Europe will have something of an administrative cost to us.

We have heard many anecdotal tales about UK researchers and UK institutions having joint projects with European colleagues put on hold until any funding situation has been confirmed. This is of course a concern to us as many of our books arise from such European cross-border projects. Equally if it is harder for overseas students to come to the UK to study, how will this impact our institutions?

On a personal level, I am a Finnish-English dual national. Since Finland joined the EU in the 1990s, I have happily been able to travel between the UK and Finland, my two home countries, without any concern. My friends and family from both countries have had the same rights in either one, and I have thought of myself as much European as Finnish or British. I spend significant amounts of time in both countries, and I will be very interested to see whether any exit from the European Union would complicate this for me.

Ultimately, we just do not know. Until the actual process and terms of Brexit are negotiated, we can only guess as to what the outcomes might be, and for a small business that needs to make staffing and investment decisions, this uncertainty can be very daunting. The current government is not doing anything to help make this situation clearer. With such friends as Dr Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, calling British businesses fat, lazy and more interested in playing golf than exporting, I am not sure we need any enemies. All I can say to Dr Fox is that we have certainly exported more books to the world than he has over-claimed money in parliamentary expenses.

Putting aside all this uncertainty, we are in the fortunate position of not having any external debt or shareholders pressuring us to make decisions, and our market has always been a global market, so we are well-placed to continue to trade globally, and I am certain that we will be able to overcome any obstacles and take advantage of any benefits of Brexit once the process has been decided.

Tommi