Leave or Remain? That is the question we will soon be going to the polls to answer, on June 23rd we will each be putting a cross in the box we want. I’ve been eagerly watching the debates for the last 6 months and from start to finish I’ve found them to be pretty unhelpful, you might get a few nuggets of good information from the odd competent politician or journalist, but a lot of the time it feels like you are being forced to swallow dog shit whilst being told that it’s ice cream. Over and over again you see both sides pandering to the fears of different sections of the public, in an effort to build support. The ‘Leave' team focus on the old, with the ‘Remain' team focusing on the young. Despite keeping a close eye on the arguments I realised I had a massive black hole in my knowledge of the campaign; I have heard lots on immigration, travel, red tape, economics and most importantly, if ‘Brexit' would effect the 'Premier League’, but what of my own profession? Does being in the EU benefit or hamper my progress as a freelance illustrator? Are those “pesky unelected faceless suits" in Brussels holding me back? Finding out would mean turning off the TV and doing my own research, so for the last month that is exactly what I have been doing.
First off I looked for the direct consequences of ‘Brexit’ for freelancers: nothing jumped out right away which I was kind of surprised by, we are told all the time that red tape stops small businesses working to their full potential. Surely if red tape was holding us back that much you would be able to very quickly come across a piece of legislation that will be cut when we leave and set us all free, but nothing. So what about things we might be cutting ourselves out of if we leave, that people like Boris and Gove don’t much care for? After a quick google search I came across a platform called Creative Europe. Set up by the European Commission to help creatives in a whole manner of different ways, from audience building to further education or even just networking between professions. It has a budget of €1.46 billion which we (The UK) contribute to, why have I not heard of this before? Are we so busy looking at the EU as an annoying lump that just won’t go away no matter how many times you go to the doctor, when we should be looking at it as an extra hospital wing that has the ointment we need to make things better? Creative Europe encourages cross border partnerships in a bid to build stronger relations between creative fields all over the EU which personally really excites me. The possibility of going to live in Copenhagen or Brussels for 6 months whilst I work on a collaborative project is something I have always dreamed of, to hear the EU encourages this …with money, makes me want to jump in the air and clap my feet together.
This brings me onto my next area of investigation, free movement. Currently if I did want to go and work in Denmark, Italy or somewhere less desirable like France 😉 I can do so without any barriers other than the cost of travel. If we leave it’s possible we could have the same immigration laws we currently have with the EU much like non-EU member Switzerland does. However considering the fact a lot of the ‘Leave’ campaign has been based around immigration it is very unlikely the UK government would sign up to the current policy therefore throwing out the idea of unrestricted travel. So in this particular area, be prepared for red tape to increase, permits and visas are likely to be required if you now want to go and work outside the UK.
It won’t only be travel that will see form filling and bureaucracy at a premium, anyone who has worked with the US, Australia or Canada will know that getting paid means filling out very lengthy, headache inducing forms. This could now be the case with the EU if we were to leave. There are of course anomalies to this, for example Italy requires you to fill in a pretty painful form on double taxation. (These forms must also be sent off to HMRC to be stamped meaning you have to wait weeks to get the forms back before being able to return them to your Italian client). Imagine having to do this type of paper work for every international job you get. It’s not guaranteed but it’s a possibility to consider. The problem is that no one is quite sure what will happen, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to get easier to work in the EU that’s for sure.
There is a flip side to all this, laws could be changed in the UK to make it easier to setup businesses, again this is a possibility - nothing is certain. Every EU country currently has control over their tax system so if the UK government did want to do something in this area it already has the power to do so. We have seen personal allowances rise over the years, is this a sign they would do something to make starting a business easier? I’m not so sure. A lot of evidence suggests this was thanks to the Lib Dems during the coalition. To convince me to vote leave on this argument alone is not likely - I would need much more than a maybe on this subject.
The last thing to do is look at the indirect effect of ‘Brexit' on Freelancers. The biggest thing that stands out to me is the very real threat of a UK recession should we leave. I graduated in 2008 when art budgets were being slashed left, right and centre. If this is likely to happen again, not only would it halt the careers of people in my position, but it would stop many young talents from starting out in the business, not to mention the likely closure of smaller publications too. This is one of the single biggest reasons for me, looking at this from a freelance illustrators point of view, that I should vote to remain. As far as I can see a vote to leave would in no way improve the life of a freelancer, whether you’re an illustrator, a writer or film maker. In fact when I was doing research for the pro’s and con’s of Brexit I came across this comment from a person on the Royal College of Art’s website. "One of the main benefits of Brexit would be a cut in subsidised art from the public purse. If the artist is good private sponsorship has always been available. Art should not come before the needs of the vast majority of the people of the UK. Brexit will make us re-evaluate what we do actually spend money upon that includes £13 billion pounds spent on international aid.” … Now this might be written by a nobody that does not speak for the Leave side of the tory government, but you can see the thinking of people who want to leave and in no way is it sympathetic towards creativity or those who look to pursue cultural endeavours.
When I first started out on this journey, I thought it might be a bit pointless as I assumed it wouldn’t really make much difference whether we stayed or left purely from a business point of view. My reason for this was that I personally gain as much work from the US as I do from the EU, it might be slightly more from Europe but only a tad. In other words the fact the the US isn’t in the EU but still gives me work surely means it makes no difference. This however just isn’t the case, it’s more that I didn’t fully understand or see that there were any benefits previously. I’ve started to see that even pro EU people such as myself didn’t see all the advantages that the EU could offer someone in my position. I think that’s largely to do with the subliminal anti EU rhetoric that is all over the British media and very hard to escape. The positives we gain from being in the EU aren’t celebrated, and it’s only now that we’re on the verge of leaving that we are starting to hear a little about them in the hope of making us choose to stay. We don’t look to the EU as a land of opportunity in the freelance illustration game, we just look to London. Once this referendum is over and we (hopefully) decide to stay in, not only will I look at the EU in a different, more appreciative light, I will also look to get involved a bit more as after all, I am a European.
What about you, are you in or out? I’d be interested to know what you think of this post, get in touch with the links below if you have any thoughts on the subject or if you think I missed something first time around. I would be open to hear new information supporting either side.