The June 30 House of Lords debate on the Revocation of the EU import licensing regulations within the UK has summarised neatly the problems with this law.
In his statement to his peers, government whip Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said the government hoped to bring clarity to what was required under UK law by the changes.
Some of his fellow peers argued that revoking the law in full meant weakening the UK’s defences against crime. However, Lord Parkinson said the EU legislation would create “complexity and confusion” at borders, and two important reasons persuaded the government to go for full revocation.
The first was that “the provision applies to almost all cultural goods created or discovered in non-EU countries, regardless of their age, value or date of export, and because there is no requirement in the regulation for any person to provide evidence to demonstrate either lawful export or unlawful removal from the country of creation or discovery”.
This meant that in the event of a claim of unlawful export, it was not clear where the burden of proof would lie or what evidence would be required.
“These issues could result in cultural goods being delayed or detained at the border, and might deter people from importing cultural goods to sell in the UK art market or museums from lending objects for exhibitions in this country.”
Success of existing legislation
The second reason for revoking the law was that provisions the UK already has in place are proving successsful.
“The effectiveness of our existing legislation was demonstrated very recently, when we returned to Libya a statue which had been unlawfully removed from that country and which was found and detained by HMRC at Heathrow Airport. This is only the most recent example.”
In the latest round of consultations with the EU over the upcoming 2025 enforcement of the import licensing regulations, the ADA and others have been at pains yet again to demonstrate how unworkable the legislation is.
The objection is not to the protection of borders and fighting crime, but to the impossibility of the compliance demands, the net effect of which would be to destroy much of the art market within Europe. It is this aspect that those objecting to the revocation in the Lords do not seem to grasp.
So far the European Commission has signed serious concerns raised in previous consultations, including earlier this year.
Still not resolved is exactly what documents will be required for legal import. Article 8 (1) d of the draft legislation states that “Other types of documents to submit in support of an import licence application may be, but are not limited to the following” before listing 11 different types of document that must be submitted for approval.
Numerous other problems remain within the draft legislation, from uncertainty over the number or location of customs offices to how property would be marked, as well as very onerous compliance measures that would make a vast number of imports uneconomic.