Eight months into Brexit UK organisations still haven’t sorted out the basics of sending things into the EU, I recently found. I wanted to order something from the Royal Academy of Arts webshop, where the order form simply didn’t provide delivery options for the EU. I could have my order shipped anywhere in the world, except the EU. Nepal, Nigeria, Nicaragua all fine, but not Netherlands. This strikes me as odd, because in this case there’s no reason to not simply put all EU customers into the RA’s existing ‘rest of world’ column to decide on delivery fees. We’re all third countries now as seen from the UK, meaning that there’s no difference anymore between us and the rest of the world. Of course I know it currently can take a while for there being haulage capacity, influencing delivery times, but that’s a different thing than not being willing to even send it out.

The original idea was to have a framed artefact shipped. The odd as well as outsized size of the artefact means it isn’t easy to have it framed locally, while the RA offered a good price on a frame.

Being confronted with no EU delivery, I had to find someone in my network who lives outside the UK in a third country that is not in the EU (nor the EEA, and not Switzerland). So that that person could receive the goods and then forward it to me. Such forwarding should be easy. Everybody else in the world knows how to send things to the EU. Unlike the RA in the UK it seems.

I found my friend Peter, who lives in Canada, willing to help out as middleman. I realised sending something big framed and with a large glass pane across the Atlantic twice just to get something across the Channel once, apart from being silly also might be risky to the package. So I settled on the slightly less silly option of acquiring the artefact unframed so it could be send on that wide-ranging route rolled up in a basic cardboard tube. The RA promptly dispatched my order to Canada the next day. Where Peter received it and forwarded it to me by regular mail (see RA, you could have dropped it at the post office down the road). I paid the import duties and VAT as you do when you get something from third countries, and I took delivery right on E’s birthday as intended.

Thus it came about that the RA was unwittingly sending an artwork into the EU. International cooperation circumvented the Brexit blockade.

Now all that’s left to do is get it framed locally.


Running the chain on the Medway in 1667, 1788 print by Reinier Vinkeles after a drawing by Jacobus Buys, license Public Domain, source Rijksmuseum. In my case it was simply the mail man doing their regular work, allowing the package to cross the inexplicable blockade.

5 reactions on “In Which an International Art Gang Runs the Brexit Blockade

  1. @ton Ugh, that tale makes me embarrassed to be British. I suspect the RA feel the same way. But we now have to jump through extra hopes and deal with lots more red tape so that the Conservative Party here can “stick it” to the EU. ‍♂️

  2. @wearsmanyhats Yes. The RA added a ‘temporarily not sending stuff to the EU’ notion in January to their site, which I fully understood. 8 months in it’s still their latest update. And this thing could be send by regular mail, which as far as I know still works as before, and it’s an organisation accustomed to sending stuff around the globe on a daily basis. It’s odd and it’s sad really, creating unnecessary distance. At least it got here in time, thanks to the services of Canada Post 😀

  3. Your experience is not only funny but relevant. I too have been trying to ship art from the UK to the EU. In my case a £50 print from the British library shop. Also will ship anywhere in the world, except the EU. My cunning plan was to send it to a friend in London who then re-wrapped it in a plain brown wrapper and try to send it as a normal friend to friend package. It’s been sent back 3 times.Was thinking to go there myself to pick it up but the Covid restrictions for a daytrip are too demanding as well. The print is intended as a gift and it turns out the end recipient is herself going to London in two weeks. Maybe she can collect an early Christmas present.

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