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.
Tompa, a cultural heritage lawyer and the executive director of the Global Heritage Alliance, analyses the United States’ approach to cultural policy and how that affects attitudes and the market.
At the heart of his argument is the need to deal with the in-built bias against the market among the advisory and decision-making bodies that help formulate policy in the US. He targets, in particular, Memoranda of Understanding that ramp up import restrictions come up against Constitutional rights.
“These restrictions deeply concern collectors and the trade because they do not focus only on artefacts proven to be illicitly exported, but also embargo any items of a similar type that enter the US from legitimate markets, particularly those in Europe,” Tompa writes.
While this can affect legitimate market activity, dealers and collectors are not the only interested parties here: “…recent MOUs with some Middle Eastern and North African governments, such as Turkey and Egypt, have riled the representatives of displaced minority religious and ethnic groups, whose personal and community property has been seized by those same authoritarian governments.”
Tompa acknowledges that the US rightly has a significant duty to take a leading role in fighting the looting of cultural objects, especially as part of its recognition of ethnic and religious minorities. But he argues that this can be done in a more effective way that is also less damaging to legitimate market interests.
Firstly to broaden the representation on Washington’s influential Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). Currently, it has no market professional on it. “The sole representative of the trade is a collector, and no dealers have been appointed to the committee for years,” he explains.
Import embargoes are also too broad and bloated rather than targeted at where the potential problem lies, and they do not help protect vulnerable sites. The incoming US Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Lee Satterfield, who will oversee this sector “should refocus current import restrictions back to narrow ranges of culturally significant items that have proven to be illicitly exported,” argues Tompa.
His third priority is for the US government to give at least as much consideration in policy formation to ethnic minorities and exiles living abroad as it does to foreign state interests.
“The assumption that nations are great protectors of cultural property is all too often misplaced,” he writes. “In countries where minorities have been driven into exile by authoritarian governments, it makes no sense to recognise the rights of those governments to the material culture of displaced communities.”
How far Tompa’s concerns will be listened to is not clear. What is clear, however, is that cultural property protection is not a standalone issue; it is clearly tied up with international economic and political interests that can dictate policy in what is an area of soft-power diplomacy. Because of this, the valid public interests within the cultural sphere continue to be at risk.
Following her involvement in the February conference to mark 25 years of the UNIDROIT Convention, ADA chairman Joanna van der Lande was invited to contribute a major article on the history of the antiquities trade, including the issues that have dogged it over the years and how attitudes have developed along the way.
CINOA, the global trade federation for dealers in the international art market, with 5,000-plus members, has published a wide-ranging new report that exposes the causes and sources of bogus information used to damage the market.
From the deliberate dissemination of false evidence, as seen in the October 2020 UNESCO advertising campaign, The Real price of art, to the misreporting of facts, the report shows how many bodies of international standing, from NGOs to law enforcement and even governments, perpetuate falsehoods about the art and antiques market. It also demonstrates how the bogus evidence – as well as its constant reinforcement via the media and other sources – has directly influenced policy, including new laws that damage the market.
One of the most shocking aspects of all this has been the clear failure of highly influential bodies such as the European Commission and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime to properly check the sources of the information that they publish; the repercussions for legitimate interests have echoed down the years.
Another shameful feature is just how much of the false information now being relied on can be traced back to media articles and other reports that are decades old and either do not carry the information claimed at all or whose evidence has been completely misreported as it has been filtered through other sources over time. Frequently cited claims that prove to have no foundation in fact whatsoever include:
Trafficking in cultural property is third only to that in drugs and weapons
80-90% of sales of antiquities involve goods with illicit origins
Cultural property trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry
However, bearing in mind the time, resources and legislation already dedicated to this subject in recent years, perhaps the most startling fact CINOA publishes is that it cannot find a single instance anywhere in the world of an arrest or seizure of artworks leading to confirmation that the items in question have been used to fund terrorism. Considering how keen the authorities are to demonstrate the link between the art market and terrorist financing, it is hard to believe that they would not engage in a major media campaign to publicise such a case if it ever arose.
Quite apart from the unwarranted damage this lack of probity has inflicted on the innocent, it has also led to a wider failure of policy, with real problems that need dealing with under international conventions and other agreements being ignored in favour of the pursuit of propaganda-fuelled ideology. While the report focuses on the repercussions for the art market, the institutional failures resulting from this misguided policy have claimed other victims, notably vulnerable cultural heritage sites and the vulnerable people living near them, who should enjoy better support as they are asked to help in the protection of their heritage.
Much of this inappropriate policy development is funded by public money, yet acts against the public interest. Even when its failures are drawn to the attention of the authorities responsible, as those involving UNESCO and the European Commission have been, they ignore or dismiss them and carry on as before. It is hard to think of any other walk of life where such scandalous behaviour would go unpunished, let alone continue to be encouraged and even celebrated.
Unlike many of the bodies it takes to task, the report provides properly checked primary sources, including weblinks, for all the data it publishes, so that they can readily be verified independently.
This is an astonishing state of affairs bearing mind the crying need for new domestic talent and expertise, a long-term plan for conservation and preservation, in keeping with the country’s Article 5 obligations under the UNESCO 1970 Convention and the vital importance of cultural heritage tourism to the future of the county’s economy.
“Many of Iraq’s world heritage sites lie in ruins three years after the collapse of the Islamic State and thousands of mounds conceal remnants of ancient cities,” says Al-Fanar Media. “The sites are under threat of looting and need teams of experts to unveil their treasures. But fewer young people want to study archaeology in what is regarded as the cradle of civilization, and jobs are scarce for those who do.”
Meanwhile field excavations continue, led by teams from the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic.
The experiences of one candidate explains their discouragement: “The graduates’ situation is painful,” Al-Obaidi said. “There are no public or private jobs for us. It has become a joke for an archaeologist to apply for jobs.”
The extent of the problem is illustrated by the University of Mosul intake: “only 28 students out of 17,000 students joined the College of Archaeology this year, according to its president, Kossay Al-Ahmady.”
“Usama Adnan, an assistant professor of history at Al-Mustansiriyah University, says the admission of only a handful of students in some of Iraq’s archaeology schools stems from “a lack of archaeological awareness.”
Al-Ahmady believes that poor pay is one of the reasons that put potential archaeologists off. Others experts give their reasons too.
Aimed at preventing crime – in particular terrorism financing – the controversial law faced stiff opposition from the art market, which argued that its compliance measures would make business impossible for many dealers, auction houses and collectors.
The notion that the UK would not continue with the regulation first arose during the Art Newspaper’s December 11 Brexit podcast. While being interviewed on likely events to come, former MEP and current CEO of the British Chamber of Commerce in Brussels Daniel Dalton said that the UK would not be going ahead with the law.
Mr Dalton is an authority on the matter as he was one of two rapporteur MEPs who guided the measures through the European Parliament, and he consulted widely with the art market to take its concerns into account.
His statement on the podcast led to a phone call with British Art Market Federation chairman Anthony Browne, who said: “I have received clear assurances on this from ministers that the UK will not continue with the regulation.”
One snag, however, is that the most controversial part of the new regulations, Article 3:1, passed into law in the UK on December 28, 2020. It effectively removes any back stop on the seizure and return of goods illegally removed from their source countries.
This would mean that anything from paintings to pots exported hundreds of years ago, or even longer, in breach of local laws of the time can be confiscated and returned under the measures, regardless of subsequent good faith purchase, treaty and convention considerations or the normal statutes of limitation.
Implications of new law
Such a far-reaching power is arguably unprecedented in the history of the art market, with serious implications for property rights and business, yet entreaties by the European Art Market Coalition, an EU-wide lobbying group for the market, fell on deaf ears when it raised the matter with the European Commission.
However, the UK Government’s decision not to proceed with the regulation means that Article 3:1 along with the rest of the regulation would not apply; presumably action will be taken at a later date to amend/rescind it.
This does not mean that UK authorities would permit any free-for-all at ports, however, just that action by Customs would be taken on the basis of intelligence gathering rather than on the basis of whether or not a valid export licence from a source country accompanied relevant imports – a requirement that it is frequently impossible to meet for understandable reasons.
“It had become clear to me in discussions with decision makers that the UK would not go ahead with the new law after Brexit,” Mr Dalton said in the New Year.
With no similar regulations in the United States, the world’s leading art market, this would appear to put the EU at a competitive disadvantage as trade between the UK and US will not be restricted by the measures in the same way that it will be between either of those markets and the EU.