Samuel West: 'There’s no them and us It’s all us' | reviews, news & interviews
Samuel West: 'There’s no them and us. It’s all us'
Samuel West: 'There’s no them and us. It’s all us'
In a speech to new coalition Creatives for Europe, the actor ponders the future for UK arts in the event of Brexit
Everyone’s talked a lot about the E bit of EU recently. I want to talk about the U part.
There’s a phrase in The Book of Common Prayer that even as an atheist I find inspiring. It's part of the marriage service, and it says that marriage was ordained "for the mutual help, society and comfort which the one ought to have of the other." It's a beautiful, nurturing idea. Help, society and comfort. We could all do with a bit of that.
But the word that binds them, that makes them work, is mutual. What I want for myself I must be prepared to do for others. That's how it works in a marriage, and that's how it works in a union. Any union: Equity, the Musician’s Union, the EU. A union gives us those three pillars of strength. Help when we need advice, society when isolated and comfort through the sympathy and support of our colleagues. Acting, dance, games, art and music all teach us that human potential is infinite – for good or for bad. And that has a very important conclusion: there’s no them and us. It’s all us. It’s us and us and us. It’s always us.
Talking to Creatives for Europe about the importance of EU membership might seem like preaching to the choir, but I think it’s important to remember why we are stronger as a mutual Europe, particularly in our professions. At a time when the whole world seems to be redefining itself on a competitive model, we should remind ourselves how fortunate we are to work in a sector which is truly collaborative.
If the UK were to leave the EU, how could our arts organisations attract and retain world-class talent? I’m speaking tonight in a personal capacity, but I’m also chair of the National Campaign for the Arts. We strongly believe that Art creates conversations that transcend national borders and speak to our common humanity, but as a registered charity it’s not really appropriate for us to express a view on whether we should leave or remain in the EU. Instead, we’ve produced a paper asking questions we think are important. Here are some of them.
The UK is widely acknowledged as a world leader in the performing and visual arts. Our EU membership currently allows the easy export of UK work to a key international market. In return, UK audiences get access to high-quality work from around Europe. Without this exchange of work across borders, our international status is at risk. If the UK were to leave the EU, could we negotiate for the unrestricted movement of artistic work?
UK arts organisations are significant beneficiaries of the €1.4bn Creative Europe fund provided by the EU for thousands of artists and professionals across the Union. Between 2007 and 2011 more than 200 UK organisations participated in trans-national projects funded by the EU Culture Programme. The UK achieved twice the average number of successful applications from a single country. If the UK were to leave the EU, could we negotiate to remain part of Creative Europe and ensure that the UK continues to benefit from this programme?
Many UK arts organisations tour throughout Europe, and our artists sell their work in many different nations. At the moment, the EU agrees common approaches for everything from copyright, through tax and customs control to the agreed frequencies for radio microphones. If the UK were to leave the EU, how would we benefit from this single European approach? How would our voice be heard in future?
British arts organisations enjoy free movement of artists, which lets us attract the finest talent. Even under current EU membership, dancers, choreographers and classical musicians are classified by the UK Government as "Shortage Occupations". The extension of the points-based system to migrant workers from the EU would mean extra administration, could make the UK an unattractive place to work, could lower the quality of the workforce, and has the potential to make UK arts organisations financially unsustainable.
If the UK were to leave the EU, how could our arts organisations attract and retain world-class talent, and how might our own talent benefit from opportunities to work in the rest of the European Union?
There are other questions, but that will do for now. The EU isn’t perfect. It badly needs reform. But apart from protecting our rights, our environment, our viniculture, our exports, our travel, our work, our equal pay, our holiday entitlement, our working hours, our public health and our art, what has the EU ever done for us?
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