The Cultural Costs of a Brexit

by Chloe Cheung


‘A heap of broken images, where the sun beats | And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief’.

Thus wrote T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland – but would Britain become a similar cultural wasteland in the wake of a break with Brussels?

Brexit doomsayers have long been stressing the financial and economic costs of leaving the EU, but that is only one portion of a much larger picture.

“The UK is […] a vital link in a global cultural chain.”

Those making the case that Britain’s staying in the EU is financially sensible stress that non-EU companies view Britain as a gateway into the European Union.  For example, Britain has benefitted from Toyota and Nissan setting up plants here; Toyota Manufacturing UK alone has two manufacturing plants in the UK representing a total investment of more than £2.2 billion and employing over 3,800 people.[1]

The UK is similarly a vital link in a global cultural chain.  In 2013, there were 16.8 million overseas visitors to London alone,[2] accounting for 51% of total visitors to the UK.[3]  London is a cultural hub for Britain, home to many of its most famous art galleries and museums.  These exhibition spaces are rich with national as well as international heritage, and also attract large numbers of foreign visitors too.  British galleries and museums are not only home to some of the world’s finest exhibits, but also provide their visitors with unparalleled opportunities to experience these artefacts.

“Cultural collaboration can, and does, transcend political tensions.”

The free movement of people within the EU is not just about the statistics of net migration or immigration; it is the bedrock of the free flow of ideas between nations.  A Brexit would, in the worst-case scenario, make British culture inward looking and parochial.  The recent British Museum exhibition Germany: Memories of a Nation is just one part of the museum’s ambitious project to document world history, which began with A History of the World in 100 Objects.  This bigger-picture approach envisions us as world citizens, rather than just inhabitants of a lonely isle.

Moreover, cultural collaboration can, and does, transcend political tensions.  One need only look towards the V&A’s extensive collaboration with Russian museums and collections, including Russian loans for the 2013 Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars 1509-1685 exhibition.[4]  The exchange of cultural capital has remained resilient in spite of the recent economic sanctions on Russia.

For hundreds of years, art has been a vital means of communication between cultures.  Within the British Museum itself we can see Romans embalmed in Egyptian style caskets with death masks painted on in the Greek artistic style.  These represent a vibrant melting pot of cultures, something that we can still in today’s multicultural Britain.  Art is expression. Art is identity.

From the United Nations to NATO to the European Union itself, it is clear that the world is moving towards greater cohesion rather than separatism and fragmentation.

In our increasingly international and interconnected world, do we really want to regress to being an insular, isolated nation on the fringes of the world?  If Britain wants to flourish, and not just in terms of GDP growth, we must look beyond our borders for enrichment and inspiration.


[1] Source:
[2] Office for National Statistics:
[3] Office for National Statistics:


The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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