Blog: Architects speak out as RIBA and ARB urge profession to prepare for Brexit – Architect’s Journal

RIBA chief executive Alan Vallance and ARB acting chair Alan Kershaw issued a joint statement with six weeks left until the Brexit transition period ends.

Although talks are ongoing between Westminster and Brussels on the terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the architecture bodies said ‘many details’ had been confirmed.

‘The RIBA and ARB therefore urge architects to understand the impact of the transition and take action to prepare themselves,’ they added.

Vallance said that despite the pandemic and its impact on the economy, architects were ‘hurtling towards 31 December’.

‘While preparing for Brexit might not seem like a priority, especially without clarity on trade deal arrangements, it’s essential that businesses and individuals familiarise themselves with the changes that will affect the way UK architecture operates,’ he said.

‘From registering professional qualifications, to getting to grips with new custom declaration rules – individuals and businesses must take action to ensure they can practice successfully under new conditions.’

Kershaw added: We are following matters closely and have a schedule of work in place to facilitate any change in regulation that may result following the end of the transition period.

‘We will provide guidance to architects to support them through any subsequent change. In the meantime, we urge those looking to register in the EU before 31 December to contact us soon as possible for tailored advice on the steps you will need to take.’

Grimshaw managing partner Kirsten Lees said the four years since the initial Brexit vote had seen ‘unparalleled uncertainty and change’.

‘This has impacted not only our clients and the market, but also our individual practice structures, operations and ability to remain resilient,’ she added.

But 2021 was a time to ‘move forward’ said Lees.

‘In the current climate of accelerated change – hopefully in the wake of Covid-19 and as the nation looks to make economic recovery – the need for positive change will be more important than ever.

‘It is essential we understand and embrace these changes, and set out long-term ambitions that can foster optimism, and continue a culture of being outward-looking, inclusive and open to all.’

Invisible Studio founder and longstanding Brexit critic Piers Taylor sounded a very different note.

‘I’ve long since shifted my vision of the future away from the UK, which irrespective of any deal or not, will only ever be a place that we see through the lens of what we have lost and the freedoms that have been diminished,’ he said.

We have little desire to work in the UK on an ongoing basis

‘As a practice, we are focusing on the world outside the UK, having little desire to work in the UK on an ongoing basis, with its lowest common denominator procurement system and myopic vision for a small island, cast adrift from the world.

‘We don’t believe in the local at the expense of the global – all the issues we face as a civilisation can only be understood and tacked in a global context. Ultimately this – and our lack of trust and belief in them – means we’ve disengaged from what the government might be advising us to do post-31 December to focus on the world in terms we can frame, rather than ones they do.’

Meanwhile London-based HKS principal Alfonso Padro called for more information from ministers on the post-Brexit landscape for practices.

We need more detail from the government in a number of areas,’ he said. ‘How the procurement model will work post-OJEU is a key one.

‘No doubt changing trade agreements will impact how we handle the purchase of building materials from Europe. Speaking as someone who specialises in the education sector, I very much hope that UK qualifications continue to be recognised internationally, allowing UK architects to practise abroad.’

HKS regional managing director Francis Gallagher added that detail was required on work visas ‘as we need to attract top talent from Europe and further afield to ensure the UK continues to be a global leader in creative design’.

Gallagher added that the practice was building alliances with European practices, saying Brexit had pushed it into ‘tighter collaboration’ that was a ‘silver lining’.

The RIBA said one in five architects practising in the UK originally qualified in the EU, and 60 per cent of the construction materials used on UK projects were imported from Europe.

The ARB has a dedicated EU Exit webpage looking at the implications for architects, while the RIBA has a Brexit hub that includes a checklist of ‘essential actions’.


David Green is director of Belsize Architects and former head of the European division of the Bank of England

Architects, surveyors, engineers, accountants, lawyers and bankers – to name just a few professions – failed totally in their lobbying of government to secure a deal on trade in services.

Why the government decided that all these industries were wrong to want a services deal remains a deep mystery, and no doubt there will be recriminations as the practical consequences of this failure unfold.

Architects failed totally in their lobbying of government

Some of the lobbying was half-hearted because each of these professions, including architects, counted ardent Brexiteers among their members. Some of the lobbying failed to present the issues effectively, in part because hard facts about the consequences of not securing a services deal were in the very nature of things unverifiable.

But most of all, the electorate had chosen a government for whom hard economic consequences paled into insignificance in relation to the appearance of absolute self-determination, a reality inconsistent with the partial surrender, or sharing, of sovereignty which is inescapably integral to trade between nations.

Having made sure that they can deal with the hard realities of the end of transition, practices should already be turning their mind to how the RIBA can lead the way, when ‘Brexit is done’ in persuading the government to begin to negotiate back those market access arrangements that are important for them and which the government has given away so lightly.

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