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Labour’s Tom Watson: ‘No-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the arts and needs to be stopped’

Tom Watson. Photo: Tom Oxley.
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Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson has warned of the “disastrous” consequences a no-deal Brexit would have for the arts, including touring and the make-up of the creative industries workforce.

Speaking at a Creative Industries Federation event, he said parliament needed to focus on securing a public vote on Brexit before a general election is called.

In his speech he also outlined Labour’s plans for a tourism levy and for a City of Culture scheme.

Watson described touring as the “lifeblood” of the creative industries but warned: “Losing the ability to cross borders quickly and easily would be disastrous.”

Watson also spoke about the negative impact dropping out of EU funding schemes would have, and said the government’s settled status system was causing EU citizens to have their applications rejected.

“People who have built their lives here turned away because they can’t provide paperwork they never thought they’d need,” he said, adding: “This callous, draconian system will weaken the creative workforce. A third of workers in visual effects come from the EU, as do a fifth of those who work in architecture, in video games and in the performing arts. We should be working to retain their talents, not rejecting their applications to stay.”

Watson also spoke about the importance of arts in education and reiterated Labour’s commitment to a reformed EBacc and the introduction of an Arts Pupil Premium to give a £160 million boost per year to primary arts education.

He highlighted research from the Fabian Society that found two thirds of primary schoolteachers in England reported there being less arts education now than in 2010.

Two thirds of primary school teachers have experienced decline in arts subjects – report

And he said culture secretary Nicky Morgan had overseen “a dramatic decline in arts subjects in schools during her time as education secretary”.

Outlining some other Labour pledges, he said the party was considering tourism levies, which would allow local authorities to raise money from tourism, and was considering introducing a town of culture initiative, similar to the current City of Culture scheme.

“We want to give communities more of a say in their own cultural provision, so we are considering a pilot for a tourism levy. This could offer local authorities another avenue for investing in local tourist attractions, including arts and culture venues.  With the Commonwealth Games ahead, Birmingham is a clear candidate, but we’re keen to hear the views of other local authorities and city regions too,” he said.

Watson said the “only proper way to proceed” with Brexit is to “consult the people again in a referendum with a credible option to leave and remain on the ballot paper, as Labour have committed to do”.

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