The UK withdrew from the European Union on January 31, 2020. Image: iStock.

This step has been widely welcomed by the art and antiques trade due to the complexity of the regulation and perceived onerous impact on dealers and auction houses.

However, the manner of the repeal could have unforeseen consequences, according to an organisation that protects cultural heritage during conflict.

The UK National Committee of the Blue Shield (UKBS) has issued a warning and alerted government about its concerns that it is unprepared to “handle the challenges of maintaining distinct systems for the import of cultural goods into different parts of the UK” and has “significantly underestimated the risks this might pose to the increase of illicit trafficking through Northern Ireland”.

UKBS does not oppose the revocation and acknowledged that the regulation has been widely criticised for its potential effects on what many countries may recognise as legally owned objects which have no contribution to terrorist financing.

Instead, the organisation is urging government to plan for the impact it will have.

Following Brexit, earlier this month (May 19) the UK began to repeal the EU Regulation on the Introduction and the Import of Cultural Goods (EU 2019/880) (“Regulation”) in Great Britain, but not Northern Ireland.

This difference between Northern Ireland and Great Britain could create major challenges if the UK is not well prepared, UKBS has warned.

Fionnuala Rogers, cultural property lawyer and chair of UKBS, said: “It is highly likely that the EU will want to ensure that Northern Ireland does not become a gateway for cultural goods to enter the EU in violation of the Regulation.

“Equivalent checks will need to be carried out in Great Britain, and UK customs will need to ensure that cultural goods being exported to Northern Ireland, whether destined for the EU or not, have not been illegally exported from their country of origin, a check that is not currently required at UK borders. Ultimately, the UK is going to have to make some significant changes as a result of this regulation, despite the revocation.”

The UK government is due to debate the issues after the recess in June. UKBS added that it is “essential that the UK government considers these matters during the parliamentary debate”.

The organisation also said the “UK’s effectiveness at combatting illicit trafficking and protection of cultural property is also likely to come under scrutiny, particularly as culture is on the agenda for the G20 summit in Italy in October 2021 for the first time”.

Read more about UKBS's statement here.