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Government’s response to architects’ Brexit letter ‘completely misunderstands’ profession


The government has responded to a letter signed by hundreds of UK architects warning the PM of the ’devastating’ impact of Brexit to the profession 

Organised by Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio and sent to Theresa May last month, the widely-supported letter (see below) urged the Brexit negotiators to listen to the needs of architects, especially over the freedom of movement of workers.

However, Taylor claimed the government’s reply ’completely misunderstands the way the industry works’ and showed  the profession had effectively been ignored.

The Department for Exiting the European Union’s (DEXEU) two-page response to Taylor (see attached) attempts to clarify the government’s position on freedom of movement, visas, the potential deal on ‘service and investment’, and the mutual recognition of qualifications.

It states: ’We have always been clear that the UK will remain open for business and that we will continue to welcome overseas workers who make a valuable contribution to the UK.

’[But] the Government has been very clear that, following the UK’s exit from the EU, free movement will end. The Migration Advisory Committee’s report on EEA migration in the UK, published on the 18 September, provides a clear direction for us to develop a single global immigration system, based on skills rather than nationality.’

The response adds: ’However, as the Migration Advisory Committee have pointed out, ending free movement is not incompatible with a welcoming approach to migration.’

The reply, from Robin Walker the parliamentary under-secretary of state for Exiting the EU,  also says the government would be looking at recommendations from the committee to lower the minimum skills threshold for Tier 2 visas.

It goes onto say that, after Brexit, the UK also intended to ’play an active and essential part in European culture’.

Taylor told the AJ he was unhappy with the government’s reply to his letter which had been pan-industry backing and had received the support of  Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Bob Allies, Peter Clegg, David Chipperfield and Cindy Walters.

He said: ’It completely misunderstands the way the industry works. Clearly they have consulted no one within the industry to attempt to understand the framework within which the UK architecture operates. EU nationals need to be free to come to the UK without obtaining visas, and be free to work in a number of ways without necessarily securing a ‘traditional’ job.

Clearly government has consulted no one within the industry

’Practice is changing fast: many of our collaborators are EU nationals, who also work autonomously for themselves and for others – and, quite simply, they will be excluded from being able to work.

He added: ’But of course the biggest point hasn’t been addressed: my main issue is about everything other than that which they do address: the way European culture so effortlessly and easily infuses our own is what makes practice in the UK so interesting – and this is what will change so radically, for the worse. We will be diminished as a culture without freedom of movement both ways: our own ability to work freely in Europe has been as important as allowing others to come here.’

He concluded: ’The absurdity of all of this is the huge gain culturally and economically that immigration has made to this country has been hijacked by the blinkered and xenophobic for their own political gain.’

The partners at Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners were also dismayed by the reply from DEXEU. In a joint statement they said: ’The response from the government does little to allay the uncertainty linked to Brexit on the architectural profession in the United Kingdom. Significantly, the question of the effect that Brexit will have on the perception of Britain and its UK-based architectural practices who export their skills internationally, most notably to Europe, is not addressed.

This inward-looking myopia is revealing and symptomatic of the whole process

’This, compounded with a smaller market and drop in GDP will weaken the economy and have a direct effect on the quality of the architecture this country produces. Overall, this inward-looking myopia is revealing and symptomatic of the whole process.’

David Green, director at  Belsize Architects, said: ’While Robin Walker’s reply to Piers Taylor covers many of the bases you would expect it to cover, it shows little recognition of the sheer complexity of making sure that the right things are asked for in the negotiation, still less the difficulty of securing outcomes that will not further harm a profession already facing challenge.

’It seems as if central government may not be listening carefully enough and architects need in response to speak to their constituency MPs about their requirements, just as the Prime Minister has in recent days been urging businesses to do.’

Full text of Taylor’s open letter 

Dear Prime Minister

Architecture is an international industry where cooperation across borders is critical to the success of our practices. Much of our work is pan-European, and many of our staff are from the EU. Figures suggest that one in five architects in the UK are from the EU, and one in three in London. We thrive on this sense of being part of an international community, and have – as a culture – benefited immeasurably from the freedom of movement that has enabled many European architects to contribute to the enormous success that is British Architecture.

We believe that without being members of the EU, this success would not have been possible. We are concerned that unless we are members of the EU with the free movement of ideas and people that this brings, the culture within which we practice architecture in Britain will be immeasurably diminished. At present, under proposed immigration rules, your definition of a skilled worker excludes almost all of those who come here to work in our industry. For us, instead of being an opportunity, this is devastating.

We believe that there is no good Brexit. We also believe that the 48 per cent of the votes cast in the last referendum have been ignored. When you talk of the will of the people, you are not taking into account that almost half of all votes cast were to remain, and polls show that in the period since the referendum many of those who voted leave have changed their mind. With this, we do not see within any of your negotiation with the EU any consideration whatsoever of the circumstances that we need for our industry and associated institutions to continue to thrive.

Letter to pm from piers taylor (1)

Letter to pm from piers taylor (1)


Norman Foster, Foster + Partners
Richard Rogers, Rogers Harbour Stirk + Harbour
David Chipperfield, David Chipperfield Architects
Steve Tompkins, Haworth Tompkins
Níall McLaughlin, Níall McLaughlin Architects
Harriet Harriss, RCA
Cindy Walters, Walters & Cohen
Gianni Botsford, Gianni Botsford Architects
Koen Steemers, University of Cambridge
Stephen Bates, Sergison Bates
Paul Monaghan, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Sophy Twohig, Hopkins Architects
Robin Nicholson, Cullinan Studio
Bob Allies, Allies and Morrison
Gerard Maccreanor, Maccreanor Lavington
David Lloyd Jones, Herbert & Partners
Joe Kerr, Syracuse University
Jeremy Till, Central St Martins - University of the Arts London
Jo Wright, Arup
Simon Usher, MUMA
Dean Hawkes, University of Cambridge
Nicola Du Pisanie, Stonewood Design
Peter Oborn, Peter Oborn Associates
Robert Mull, professor of architecture, University of Brighton
Martin Gledhill, University of Bath
Glenn Howells, Glenn Howells Architects
Hannah Durham, Cullinan Studio
Stephen Taylor, Stephen Taylor Architects
Fionn Stephenson, University of Sheffield
Roddy Langmuir, Cullinan Associates
Russell Curtis, RCKa Architects
Simon Henley, Henley Halebrown
Piers Taylor, Invisible Studio
Alan Stanton, Stanton Williams
Andrew Grant, Grant Associates
Meredith Bowles, Mole Architects
Joe Morris, Morris + Company
Peter Clegg, Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios
Chris Boyce, Assorted Skills + Talents*


Readers' comments (6)

  • The Gov response to this letter makes one wonder what lobbying the RIBA has being doing on behalf of the UK architectural profession.

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  • Piers et al

    Please, I say again, read “Britain’s Europe” by Brendan Simms (Pan) If only the last 2 chapters. The world after Brexit will be different, but not worse, and might even be a lot better. We are leaving the EU, not Europe. We will still be European’s, and Members of the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. The EU will be able to organise and fund itself better, command armed forces to help defend Ukraine and the Baltic States. We will have a much better relationship to Africa and South America, even the USA if Trump thinks about it!

    The referendum was won by a very small margin, and there is no doubt that many voted without thinking, and for xenophobic reasons. But ironically they made the right decision?! When we are not under EU control we will be able to make decisions to suit us and our economy. The rules and ease of entry will be up to us, decided by our Parliament, and we won’t be paying half the VAT reciepts to the 5 Presidents of Europe to waste.

    Lighten up Piers and concentrate on what you do best. Design buildings?! Talk to Toger Scruton and his hopeless Quango. Talk to Michael Gove at DEFFRA.(even if you don’t agree with his politics, he is cultured, witty and intelligent) Is there still a Minister for Culture Media and Sport? Jeremy and John need talking to too? They must have a view on Classical v Modernist Architecture? The Palace of all the Soviets in Moscow is a really fine building.

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  • MacKenzie Architects

    As ever, the truth is not universal, it all depends on what ground you stand.
    One would assume that these listed architects view 'the UK' as an outmoded form of identity, and they see the EU as a much more inclusive and desirable one. (why stop at EU, but of course the EU puts up barriers to the rest of the world). So to them, the bigger the family the better.
    Nothing wrong with that as an abstract concept if it works.

    Spoiler -it doesn't. The EU is a protectionist zone for the basically identical industrialised economies (UK, France, Germany, Italy*, Spain*, Holland). A shrinking, inward looking market that has abused the smaller members (Greece, Portugal, Ireland) as well as the laggards of the Mediterranean coast *.

    Lettuce spray that the Euro doesn't collapse and wipe out EU earnings for those who claim to be working on the mainland.

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  • John Kellett

    The whole pro EU migrants issue hides the fact that most are employed because they are cheaper than U.K. trained architects whose salary has dropped as a result of the EU influx. Firstly, the ‘industry’ should be investing in home grown talent rather than force them out of the profession into better paid jobs. Secondly, investment in BIM and trading would increase the productivity of each U.K. architect hugely. I know that having used BIM for over a decade yet still have had to work with others still using antiquated 2D CAD (and even drawing boards) for production drawings. Both of which are very inefficient after RIBA Stage 2.
    Brexit MIGHT work if those of us who didn’t vote for it just employed local staff using BIM and paid decent salaries to attract those that left the profession back into it.

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  • Industry Professional


    The most telling comment on Brexit I recall is a letter in the Independent shortly after the referendum complaining ‘the pond life has dragged itself from council estates to spoil things for everybody else’. Having lived for 18 (happy) years on a council estate let me tell you that my neighbours who decorate, plumb and wire architects’ visions don’t necessarily share the world view of well-heeled architects. It’s endlessly repeated in architects’ conversations that anyone who sees a possible future outside the EU is a spiteful, stupid, blinkered racist - shame on you and others here for perpetuating this trope.

    The claim that leaving the federalist, protectionist, anti-democratic racket that is the political EU will necessarily ‘immeasurably diminish’ the crossover of ideas between the UK and Continent is surely wide off the mark. Who really thinks that Le Corbusier’s influence on British architecture depended on the babbling pieties of the Four Freedoms, or that the English Arts and Crafts movement was less significant in Germany because we hadn’t been straight-jacketed into the EU GDPR.

    Your letter gives a figure of 1 in 3 staff in London architects offices being EU nationals, but your later column suggests these same people ‘work autonomously for themselves and for others’ ... I suggest you check their IR35 status. I’m not surprised the RIBA finds the idea of a minimum salary for architectural staff ‘extremely worrying’ – not a few big name architects have a reputation for being unscrupulous and amoral when taking on junior staff. The global gig economy might suit Uber and large architectural practices but HMT is working hard to scotch it. Good luck with that one.

    The sky will not fall in next March. But my client will be able to add sympathetic extensions to their listed housing stock using proven British codes of practice and common sense in a way prevented by more recent Eurocodes; the local garage will not have to waste thousands of pounds to arbitrarily extend fuel hoses by a few inches; and we can move on to talk about something (anything) else.

    Tim Lloyd

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  • Sad to see so many right wing delusional comments here.

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