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‘Downton Abbey’ castle halts weddings due to Brexit

It’s a problem the butlers of “Downton Abbey” can sympathize with.

Highclere Castle in southern England, where the drama about the lives of aristocrats and their servants in the early 20th century was filmed, is facing a serious staffing crisis.

Part of the reason is a shortage of EU staff, which has forced owner Fiona Carnarvon to mothball the palace’s core business of hosting big weddings at the site of the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show.

“We have stopped offering weddings of any larger size because of Brexit,” said Carnarvon, a countess who owns Highclere with her husband, the eighth Earl of Carnarvon.

“There’s no staff,” she said, speaking from the morning room in the Victorian palace that sits on a 5,000-acre estate.

It used to host about 25 weddings in a season with more than 100 guests. Weddings with around 20 guests are still possible, but a much smaller fraction of a business which owners say can cost several thousand pounds a day to run.

Revenue from other parts of Highclere’s business such as its gift shop – the house opens to the public during the summer months – has also fallen, which Carnarvon says is due not only to Brexit but to the hospitality industry from Covid-19. Also shows the hit and cost. Survival crisis.

Its staffing challenges in particular reflect the still-unfolding effects of Brexit on the UK labor market three years after Britain’s departure from the European Union, its largest trading partner.

Carnarvon said a significant workforce of EU students attending university in the UK who were available to work during the weddings were no longer available.

“When we go to our normal agencies and try to find people, they’re not there,” she said. “If we asked for 10, three might come… There is none we haven’t asked for.”

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

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

Britain still boasts a higher rate of employment and lower unemployment than most EU countries, with business groups pressing the government to relax post-Brexit immigration rules.

The UK has relaxed eligibility rules for work visas in a range of occupations but the hospitality sector is not on the list.

Its Brexit-supporting Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also pushed back against calls from businesses to liberalize immigration to address labor shortages, saying withdrawal from the bloc would bring more flexibility on business regulation and boost the country’s economy. Have helped secure “reasonable control” of the borders.

Just outside Highclere Castle, in grounds designed by 18th-century landscape architect Capability Brown, dozens of chairs and a few tables lie parked and unused.

They will also be unused during the spring, as staff shortages have caused Highclere to discontinue its afternoon teas served to the public, Carnarvon said.

Carnarvon said Highclere’s gift shop had stopped shipping to EU countries – about a third of the shop’s total business – due to an increase in courier costs and paperwork following the departure of the EU.

He said exports of other trades, such as horse feed, from the Highclere estate had also fallen due to high paperwork and legal fees.

“We are wrapped up in red tape in every piece of our business now,” she said.

Carnarvon said that HighClear expects to break even this year, compared with profitable years before Brexit and the pandemic, weighed down by higher costs amid a drop in revenue and double-digit inflation. Weddings made up 40% of the total turnover at its height.

In some ways, the fate of Highclere Castle mirrors the cuts in “Downton Abbey,” which is depicted in the show as losing many staff over the years, especially as World War I undermines the influence of the English aristocracy. Is.

But while weddings have declined, Carnarvon is optimistic about new streams of revenue, such as the 35-pound ($42) a bottle gin, which she says is gaining traction in the United States.

“It’s the beginning, it’s the beginning, but it’s a business that, using our brand, we hope can generate revenue to support us in the future,” she said.



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