February 26. 2024. 5:50

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Can’t get the staff: Downton Abbey castle feels Brexit effects

The owners of Highclere Castle, where period drama Downton Abbey was filmed, are facing a similar fate to its fictional owners as a result of Brexit.

The award-winning show featured staff reductions over the years, especially as the first World War depleted the influence of English aristocracy.

In recent years, however, there has been a huge decline in staff numbers in the real-life business, according to Fiona Carnarvon, who owns the property with her husband, the eight Earl of Carnarvon.

The reason for this, she said, is the dearth of workers coming from the European Union.


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Can’t get the staff: Downton Abbey castle feels Brexit effects

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“We have stopped being able to offer any weddings of any substantial size because of Brexit. There are no staff,” she said, speaking from the morning room at the Victorian castle that sits on a 5,000-acre estate, southwest of London in Newbury.

Highclere Castle used to host around 25 weddings with more than 100 guests a season – 40 per cent of castle’s overall business at the height of that business. This number has declined significantly, however, and the estate has also stopped running afternoon tea due to the lack of staff.

These challenges illustrate the still-unfolding impacts of Brexit on Britain’s labour market three years after the UK’s departure from the European Union, its biggest trading partner.

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A vital part of their workforce was EU students who were attending university in Britain and were available to work during the wedding season. Staff like this is no longer available, Carnarvon said.

“When we go to our usual agencies and try to find people, they are not there,” she said. “If we asked for 10, three might turn up. There’s nobody we haven’t asked.”

The number of EU students admitted to British universities fell 50 per cent in 2021 and applications dropped 40 per cent, partly due to uncertainty created by Brexit, university admissions service UCAS said last year.

Since leaving the European Union, Britain has faced worker shortages at various stages in areas such as manufacturing, construction and logistics.

As a result of pressure from business groups, Britain has relaxed the eligibility rules for work visas in a range of professions but that list does not include the hospitality sector.

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Unfortunately, revenue from other parts of Highclere’s business, such as its gift shop during the summer months, has also fallen, Carnarvon said, adding this reflects the hit to the hospitality industry from Covid-19 and the cost-of-living crisis on top of Brexit.

Other trade from the estate, such as the export of horse feeds, has decreased as well, due to high paperwork and legal fees, she added. “We are wrapped in red tape now in every piece of our business,” she said.

Amid falling revenues, higher costs and double-digit inflation, Highclere expects to just about break even this year, compared to profitable years before Brexit and the pandemic, Carnarvon said. – Reuters

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