The UK Committee of the Blue shield are concerned that the UK government is unprepared to handle the challenges of maintaining distinct systems for the import of cultural goods into different parts of the UK and has significantly underestimated the risks this might pose to the increase of illicit trafficking through Northern Ireland, and have been lobbying UK Government regarding the repeal if the EU Regulation on the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880).

On 19th May 2021, the UK began to repeal the EU Regulation on the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880) (the “Regulation”) in Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland. The Regulation seeks to combat illicit trafficking, terrorist financing, and to protect cultural heritage. Whilst agreeing with the objective, the UK Government is expected to pass the revocation quickly, as it considers it legally defective post-Brexit. The Regulation has been widely criticised for its potential effects on what many countries may recognise as legally owned objects which have no contribution to terrorist financing. However, its repeal in Great Britain but not Northern Ireland could create major challenges if the UK is not well prepared. UKBS does not oppose the revocation, given the concerns on its measures, but have a number of concerns relating to:

  • International perspectives of the UK;
  • the challenges associated with implementing the Regulation in N Ireland if not properly supported;
  • the challenges of maintaining distinct systems for the import of cultural goods into different parts of the UK (given there will be distinct systems in England and Wales, Scotland, and N Ireland) (and the lack of consistency across the UK);
  •  discrepancies in the Explanatory Note circulated with the Repeal.

UKBS prepared a briefing paper which was circulated to the UK Department of Culture, Media and Sport, and a public press release. Recommendations included:

  • The UK Government should set out how it intends to ensure adequate support, training, expertise and funding for such checks on cultural goods in Northern Ireland, which is an onerous task, as acknowledged by the UK during the EU legislative process.
  • We call on the UK Government to implement transparent and consistent measures that meet the objectives of the Regulation (Article 3(1)), but are effective, workable, and robust so as to permit the legitimate and diligent art market to continue, but to prevent in its entirety, any form of illicit trafficking of cultural property that contributes to funding organised crime.
    We strongly recommend that the UK Government forms a working group to discuss these measures, including cultural property protection organisations such as the UKBS and UK UNESCO, law enforcement, UK customs, representatives from the art market and representation from Northern Ireland in all of these areas. In recognition of UNESCO’s commitment to raise awareness of how to build awareness of an ethical art trade, in celebration of its 50th Anniversary of the 1970 Convention, we urge the UK Government to support cross discipline dialogue to support the fight against illicit trafficking, whilst supporting a thriving ethical legitimate art market in the UK.

The Revocation was passed swiftly through the UK House of Commons as part of an administrative package of repeals, and a week later it went before the Grand Committee of the House of Lords. The briefing paper was circulated to those who registered interest in the debate in the House of Lords, which took place on 30 June 2021. It was extremely well received, and cited by numerous speakers , who echoed UKBS’s concerns, calling the government paper “misleading”.

Plaque outside the European Parliament with the EU logo on it

The EU Parliament, 2019