Why did we actually ban exporting Jane Austen's ring?

Who decides what is of "outstanding national importance"?

Kelly Clarkson, we assume, was dismayed when the Culture minister placed a temporary export ban on her recently purchased ring belonging to Jane Austen. The final decision is expected in September.  

The purpose of export controls is to ensure that cultural goods which are considered to be of "outstanding national importance" remain in the UK. The export licensing rules, administered by the Arts Council of England, apply to anyone who wants to take a "cultural object" (items such as works of art, furniture, antiques, archaeological artefacts and manuscripts) out of the country temporarily or permanently, regardless of its destination.

And surprising to some private collectors, there are no exemptions for those who make a temporary loan of a particular item or collection to exhibitions being held by overseas museums or galleries.

Whether or not a licence is required will largely depend on the age and value of the cultural object in question and whether it is to be exported within or outside the EU. Generally, a licence will be required if the object is more than 50 years old at the time of export and valued above specified financial thresholds (£180,000 for an oil painting exported within the EU and £130,451 for a painting exported outside the EU). 

Objects which are potentially of national importance, such as Jane Austen’s ring, will be referred to an expert committee for review. The committee will assess the object in question against the Waverley Criteria (is it so closely connected with our history and national life that its departure would be a misfortune? Is it of outstanding aesthetic importance? Is it of outstanding significance for the study of some particular branch of art, learning or history?).  

If an object is considered to meet the Waverley Criteria, it will be designated as a national treasure and a decision on the export licence application will be deferred to enable an offer to purchase to be made (at a fair market price) to keep an object in the UK. But is this sense or sensibility?

Export licensing requirements are perhaps an unwelcome administrative burden for the owner who only wishes their treasured collection of art and antiques to grace a home overseas. To ensure that any last minute heartache is avoided, it’s best to be informed (think carefully about the age, origins and the value of your objects) and plan the process accordingly.

And of course, for those with homes around the world who do want to their art and antiques to cross borders, there’s also VAT and Customs Duties to consider when bringing objects into the UK or other EU countries (and similar taxes elsewhere) but let’s leave those anecdotes for another day.

Emily O'Donnell works at private wealth City law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.

This piece first appeared on Spear's Magazine.

Jane Austen's signature. Photograph: Getty Images

This is a story from the team at Spears magazine.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.