RIBA president Ben Derbyshire says the institute’s latest report shows how much the profession – and Britain’s economy – has to lose from a ‘no-deal’ Brexit
British architects design groundbreaking buildings on every continent, from the BBVA Bancomer Tower in Mexico City by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to AHMM’s University of Amsterdam. Visionary British architects like Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Zaha Hadid, to name but a few, have given Britain an unrivalled reputation around the world for excellence and innovation, fuelling our global cultural standing. However, today that pre-eminent position is in very real danger.
As the UK government and the EU belatedly prepare to begin discussing our post-Brexit relationship with Europe, new research published today by the RIBA shows how much the British economy has to lose from a bad Brexit deal that would critically endanger the leading global position of Britain’s architecture sector. This puts at risk a true British success story that employs nearly 80,000 people, contributes £4.8 billion to the economy every year and is one of the UK’s most visible and significant creative exports.
This pioneering research report, Global Talent, Global Reach, underlines the leading global position of British architecture but shows starkly how a ‘no deal’ outcome, that sees the UK crash out of the EU without agreeing a replacement relationship, could collapse global exports of architectural services by £73 million a year. As architects are specifiers of products and services, the knock-on impact on the construction and engineering sectors would be much larger still. This is simply not an option for our profession and must be taken off the table.
This is to say nothing of the impact on the domestic sector. The UK needs to deliver 300,000 new homes a year to solve the housing crisis, to provide the new commercial and civic buildings our country needs and urgently upgrade its infrastructure. The chancellor’s recent Budget recognised the scale of this challenge – a bad Brexit will put our ability to meet it in doubt. The high cost of architectural education and the long lead-time it takes to train new architects mean that a Brexit that denies British practices the ability to recruit from around the world risks creating an insoluble capacity crisis.
To turn our backs on the open, collaborative approach that has made Britain a world leader would be a calamity
Architecture is particularly exposed to changes in Britain’s immigration regime – more of the sector’s inputs are related to labour than nearly any other sector, and our research shows how the single biggest determinant of a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ Brexit for architecture is access to talent. Our findings further show how significant the contribution of our European friends and colleagues is. One in four architects working in the UK was born in the [non-UK] EU, and their distinct skills and experiences not only enrich British architecture but help open doors for practices to expand and work globally.
To turn our backs on the open, collaborative approach that has made Britain a world leader would be a calamity. We must remain open and welcoming to the brightest talent, as well as securing a new trade relationship with the EU that maintains the market access and the mutual recognition of architects’ professional qualifications that enables British practices to excel on the world stage.
If we can secure a good Brexit deal, there are vast opportunities for British architecture around the world. Unlike most of Britain’s exports, which go to the rest of the EU, the majority of British architecture exports go to countries outside of Europe. We show how striking a services trade agreement with important international markets like China, the USA, India and the UAE could yield minimum returns of £54 million in just the first year, setting the stage for further growth of the sector in new and rapidly expanding markets.
Brexit should not be misunderstood as a choice between trading with Europe and trading with the rest of the world. For British architecture, no new trade agreement will make up for a ruinous ‘no deal’ Brexit that chokes off access to the best talent from the EU – even if those trade deals were to be in place the day Britain leaves. Instead, remaining open to the cream of international design talent will provide a platform to seek new opportunities for British architecture to continue innovating, collaborating and creating around the world, benefitting the whole economy and helping to build a global Britain.