Archaeology dig it - Council for British Archaeology

Archaeology Matters

Post-referendum archaeology

The archaeological sector recognises that there will be impacts upon the way archaeological work is done in this country following the decision to leave the European Union. There is a lot of heated debate and conjecture throughout the archaeological community so we wanted to outline some of the concerns as well as potential opportunities for UK archaeology.

It should be stressed that the CBA respects the strongly held views of both remain and leave voters. We hope that the legitimate discussion about the undoubtedly huge decision to leave the EU will have on UK archaeology is conducted with similar tone. We request that those commenting on CBA forums also respect the views of others.

There are, however, a number of practical policy issues which the CBA is considering in response to the result. 

A lone archaeologist at work

Higher Education sector research networks and funding

The CBA is conscious of the reliance of UK higher education institutions on EU funding. The UK is a net beneficiary in terms of research funding owing to its strong network of research institutions meaning that it has a strong record of success. It is imperative that the UK Government is able to quickly replace these structures for funding in the wake of Brexit to ensure the long term excellence of the of higher education sector. In the short term, however, the CBA is conscious of the effects of damaged confidence in the research sector, with the effect than EU project partnerships are being immediately threatened in many institutions. We are also concerned that there could be a possible compounding effect on applications to study archaeology at universities and that some departments could suffer. The CBA will continue to lobby to make sure that the UK government gives sufficient thought to both these short and long term issues.

Impact on the private sector

Since Brexit, a degree of destabilisation has been noted by archaeologists and developers, as companies assess the market in the wake of the vote. Once again, we do not know enough at this stage to assess whether this will manifest as a long term downward trend which will impact archaeology in the long term, but we remain cautious as to the potential of the decision to affect archaeology by;  

  1. threatening the viability of infrastructures projects, for example HS2, for which the archaeology sector is gearing up to meet demand for (in part by relying on access to skilled foreign labour from the EU and beyond)
  2. prompting government to further its current deregulatory agenda which is damaging archaeological protections in the planning regime, and
  3. directly affecting the market for archaeological contractors, depressing prices, and leading to job losses.

Reasons for optimism

A positive note is that a UK government outside of the EU now has greater freedom to revisit the decision to impose a 20% rate of VAT on the repair and conservation of historic buildings – a state of affairs which disadvantaged conservation compared with new build, which is not subject to any VAT. Since these rules are controlled at an EU level, there will now be greater freedom to equalise the rates.

At the heart of all of these issues is a consideration that the UK government has the potential to act to directly improve or celebrate the archaeological heritage of the country and prevent any reduction in protection and investment in archaeology that has been built up during the period of the UK’s membership of the EU. However, without direct safeguarding of heritage, it is possible to identify a number of potential problems for archaeology which could result as a consequence from a withdrawal from the EU.

What you can do to help

The CBA strongly emphasises the vast public interest in the archaeological heritage of the UK and wider world, and urges government to utilise Brexit as an opportunity to re-emphasise the positive benefits of engaging with culture, heritage, and the environment in a way which enables public participation and community pride of place, supports the voluntary and paid for investigation of the remains of the past, and safeguards the heritage of town and country.

CBA members, whether they voted to leave or remain, are encouraged to take an active role in emphasising the importance of archaeology and cultural heritage post-Brexit, by writing to MPs to state the need to find new ways to protect valuable archaeological heritage and ensure appropriate means of investment, protection, and public access and engagement are maintained and strengthened in the future. To get involved, visit the Power of Archaeology pages on the CBA website or email for advice.

If you'd like to know more about the challenges and opportunities facing the archaeology sector, we've included some recent briefing papers by major sector bodies below.

Current sector challenges: a response to the Heritage Minister's invitation to discussion (380.8K, .PDF)
A combined statement by the CBA, CIfA and ALGAO

What does the EU mean to the UK archaeology sector (685.2K, .PDF)
A briefing document by The Archaeology Forum

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