Downton Abbey has canceled weddings due to Brexit

It’s a problem the Downton Abbey guardian understands.

Highclere Castle in southern England, where the drama about the lives of aristocrats and their servants at the turn of the 20th century was filmed, is facing staffing problems.

The reason is a shortage of workers from the European Union, which has forced owner Fiona Carnarvon to host large weddings on the site of the show’s Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show, the palace’s main business.

“Due to Brexit we are unable to offer a wedding of any significant size,” said the Countess of Carnarvon, whose husband is the eighth Earl of Carnarvon of Highclere.

“There are no staff,” he said, speaking from the morning room at the 5,000-acre Victorian mansion.

About 25 weddings with more than 100 guests per season were held here. Weddings with about 20 guests are still possible, but the owners say it’s a much smaller part of the business.

Revenues from other parts of Highclere’s business, such as the gift shop – the house will open to the public in the summer months – have also fallen, which Carnarvon said reflected not only Brexit but also the impact and cost of Covid-19 on the hospitality industry. – life crisis.

Its staffing challenges, in particular, highlight the continuing impact of Brexit on Britain’s labor market three years after it left the European Union, Britain’s biggest trading partner.

EU students studying at university in the UK no longer have a significant workforce to work on weddings, Carnarvon said.

“When we go to regular agencies and try to find people, they don’t exist,” he said. “If we ask for 10, maybe three will come … there’s nobody we haven’t asked for.”

The number of EU students accepted to British universities is set to fall by 50% in 2021 and applications by 40%, partly due to the uncertainty caused by Brexit, university admissions service UCAS said last year.

Since leaving the European Union, the UK has faced labor shortages at various times in sectors such as manufacturing, construction and logistics.

With Britain having higher employment rates than most EU countries and still lower unemployment, business groups have pushed the government to ease immigration rules after Brexit.

The UK has relaxed the eligibility rules for work visas for a number of professions, but the hospitality sector is not on this list.

Its pro-Brexit prime minister, Rishi Sunak, also pushed back against calls from businesses to liberalize immigration to address labor shortages, saying leaving the bloc helped provide flexibility in business regulation and “appropriate control” of the country’s borders.

Just outside Highclere Castle, in a square designed by 18th-century landscape architect Kablet Brown, dozens of chairs and a few tables are piled up unused.

They will also be unused in the spring because Highclere has closed its public afternoon teas, Carnarvon said, due to staff shortages.

The Highclere gift shop has also stopped delivering to EU countries – about a third of the store’s total business – due to increased courier costs and paperwork after leaving the European Union, Carnarvon said.

Other trades of the Highclere estate, such as the export of horse feed, have also declined due to high red tape and legal fees, he added.

“Now we’re wrapped up in bureaucracy in every part of our business,” he said.

With falling revenues and higher costs amid double-digit inflation, Highclere expects this year to be even lower than the profitable years before Brexit and the pandemic, Carnarvon said. Weddings accounted for 40 percent of the entire business.

In some ways, the fortunes of Highclere Castle mirror the downsizing of Downton Abbey, with the show losing a number of staff over the years, especially as World War I eroded the influence of the English aristocracy.

But while weddings are down, Carnarvon is optimistic about new revenue streams, such as the £35 ($42) bottle of gin in the US.

“It’s just getting started, but it’s a profitable business to support us in the future using our brand,” he said.

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