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Despite years of campaigning in Europe to limit the damage of the imminent artists resale right – a new levy on art sales to benefit artists, due to come into force on January 1 – the Government have now made the rules tougher in the UK than even the European Union demanded.

The potential damage to sales by the so-called droit de suite is so great that Whitehall has alienated the art market completely with its about-face, says British Art Market Federation chairman Anthony Browne.

He has worked closely with civil servants and ministers over a number of years on the issue and is furious that, having campaigned to raise the threshold at which the levy applies to sales over €10,000, the Government have agreed to introduce it at €1000.

“It leaves our relationship with the Government irreparably damaged,” he told ATG, pointing out that the move directly contradicted Chancellor Gordon Brown’s orders for departments not to ‘gold-plate’ – enhance further – EU directives. In his last Budget speech, Mr Brown expressly forbade any measures that would add to the burden of tax and red tape enforced on the UK by the EU.

To this end, BAMF had argued for a threshold of €3000 to match that set recently in the Netherlands – “a cardinal point of Government policy,” he said.

Dismissing the U-turn as “a shambles”, Mr Browne said that the worst aspect of lowering the threshold to €1000 was that the Government had done so without producing any evidence for shifting its ground on policy.

He was also critical of the Government for failing to give their ruling until now, days before the measures are due to be enacted and months after the deadline passed for them to be announced.

“There are still a number of uncertainties that have yet to be addressed if this new system is to work properly. It is essential that the Government now publish workable guidelines for businesses,” he added.

Even those nations, such as France, who have championed the artists’ resale right directive, are not preparing to implement it on time themselves.

“It would surely now be ironic if the UK, which did its best to block the directive and finally voted against it, were now to introduce it ahead of the EU member states that supported it,” said Mr Browne.