UK Broadcasters Warn MPs that Brexit Cliff Edge Would Cause “Huge Disruption”

UK broadcasters have told British MPs they must avoid a Brexit “cliff edge” which could cause “huge disruption for the UK’s international broadcasting sector, its workforce and its suppliers”. The warning, issued by the Commercial Broadcasters Association (COBA), said broadcasters might find themselves forced to implement contingency plans and move their operations abroad.

Broadcasters have previously warned the UK government that they might have to move their headquarters overseas if a suitable deal around TV licensing couldn’t be reached between the UK and EU. The EU’s ‘country of origin’ rule means that in order to broadcast into EU countries, a broadcaster must be based in an EU country, and have a broadcasting license within that country.

Many broadcasters currently base their operations in the UK, but as things stand the Ofcom licenses they used for EU-wide broadcasting would no longer be valid once the UK formally leaves the EU. As such, many have been considering their options if no suitable deal is reached, and now COBA says it is particularly worried by the prospect of a “cliff edge” scenario where a final decision isn’t made until the last minute.

“International broadcasters have faced huge uncertainty ever since the Referendum in 2016,” said COBA’s executive director Adam Minns. “The UK is Europe’s leading international broadcasting hub for good reason, and no broadcaster wants to restructure their operations. Some broadcasters have been forced to so do already, but many have waited until now before taking this immensely complex and difficult decision.”

As VAN reported earlier in the year, some had been optimistic that an appropriate deal would be reached in good time, given how high the issue seemed to be on the government’s agenda, with Prime Minister Theresa May having specifically talked about protecting the broadcast sector.

But these hopes have not come to fruition, leaving the international broadcasters facing tough decisions on a short time scale. “The costs and uncertainty of a hurried relocation will be felt by businesses, their employees and the supply chain,” said Minns. “COBA urges MPs to consider the importance of avoiding a cliff edge, whatever ultimate scenario they favour.”

This issue was also bought up in parliament this week by Labour MP Ruth Cadbury, who warned that the UK could lose its status as “Europe’s leading international broadcasting hub”.

“Brexit will mean that growth in the sector will be skilled stone-dead, and the UK’s competitive edge will be lost,” she said. “Companies such as Discovery, based in my constituency, have already announced plans to leave the UK. They cannot wait for the uncertainty for the next two years.”

“There is nothing either in the withdrawal agreement, nor the political agreement, to give any comfort to this major and currently growing sector,” said Cadbury.

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