Representing Design in the House of Lords, Martin Darbyshire joins leading Engineering and Architecture firms to be questioned on the future UK-EU relationship

On 25 June 2020, The UK Government’s EU Services Sub-Committee heard evidence from engineering, design and architectural firms on their priorities for the future UK-EU relationship on professional and business services after the transition period.

Expert Witnesses:

The expert witnesses were asked to respond to a wide range of questions concerning the importance of the EU to the UK design sector, including what barriers companies might face following the transition period, whether the Government’s current proposals went far enough to address their concerns, and what arrangements they would like the UK Government and the EU to agree on in a UK-EU deal.

Darbyshire explained that design is a global industry and its role is very broad, so it [the future UK-EU agreement] will need to reflect on how our involvement with the EU might change going forward.

“Design delivers growth as a multiplier,” says Darbyshire. “It leads to the success of other businesses, both in the public sector and the private sector, having a broad influence on what is being delivered. The EU is a crucial market for many design agencies, we know from the DBA (Design Business Association) that 40% of its members employ EU nationals and 27% trade with the EU. Therefore it is vitally important that we limit the risks of not being able to trade freely with the EU.”

During the session, Darbyshire cited concerns about the damage to Britain’s vitally import “soft power”, which promotes the UK’s lucrative creative industries all around the world, and of which, design makes up a key contribution in £48.4billion of UK export (UK Design Council, Design Economy 2018).

Darbyshire also raised concerns about reciprocal VAT and tariffs, which would affect the free flow of goods and services and make business travel more expensive, should the UK and Europe not achieve a comprehensive trade deal.

All four witnesses raised concerns with limitations on the free movement of people under a No Deal Brexit scenario, highlighting the skills shortages of British graduates in architecture and engineering, the potential barriers to secondments between the UK and European offices, and the potential damage to the overseas perception of London as the cosmopolitan world centre for design.

Questioned by Lord Bruce on whether the UK-EU proposals on Intellectual Property offered adequate protection to UK designers post-transition period. Martin confirmed that in most areas he believed the protection was sufficient but that there is an outstanding issue with regards to unregistered design rights.

Darbyshire says, “It’s very Important the UK government works with the EU to maintain as much cooperation as possible on intellectual property issues. This is being managed quite well so far, but there appears to be one outstanding issue of EU unregistered design rights. This is where a UK designer or UK company first launches a product or a design in Europe without having first registered it will have protection in the EU market, but it will no longer have the same reciprocal right in the UK.

“Unregistered design rights are useful as they allow a business to create multiple designs, explore which might be commercially successful, and then decide whether they then invest in registering them. If we don’t ensure that there is some mutual agreement in this space, then it will be challenging for companies to decide to register everything that they reveal in the market before understanding whether it is useful or not and worth investing the time or money in registration. It’s an important issue for companies both big and small.”

To hear the expert witnesses answers to a wide range of issues, watch the full Lords session in the video at the start of the post.

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