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Far more of a worry is the approaching shadow of Droit de Suite (see ATG No 1678, front page, or follow this link - link).

Mr Browne gave ATG his reassuring reaction to news of a ruling by a European Union judge that a higher rate of VAT should be paid on the auctioneer’s cut of certain items. These are only works imported from outside the EU that remain inside the EU after being sold in the UK.

Currently, import VAT of five per cent is added to the hammer price and the auctioneer’s commission, but Juliane Kokott, Advocate General at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, argues the commission rate should rise to 17.5 per cent.

Mr Browne stressed that it was only a proposal for now: “Let’s not get overly excited about this,” he said. “Firstly, this is not a final judgement. It is just the initial opinion by one person meaning that it can now be put before the ECJ. The court will then decide whether to accept or reject it. To their credit, the British government has been fighting hard against this and will no doubt continue to do so.”

Whatever they decided would be a highly technical ruling that would take time to introduce, he added.

“Secondly, if the court does uphold the ruling, then we shall discuss with customs officials and the Treasury as to what the implications would be. It’s true that it would make things marginally more expensive to EU buyers, but I don’t think it would damage the competitiveness of the British art market as much as, say, the incoming Droit de Suite charge.”