Opinion | Let’s not forget about Brexit

10:23, 5th June 2020

Nicholas Trench, the Earl of Clancarty, argues the case for post-Brexit migration and customs arrangements that enable musicians to continue to tour and perform live throughout Europe

Covid-19 has rightly been a major part of the national conversation and will continue to be even as lockdown eases. Just a few months ago it seemed unthinkable that Brexit would slip down the news agenda, but it has.

Yet the negotiations now taking place between the UK government and the European Union (EU) will have a profound impact on the future of our country, and its economic and cultural prosperity. It is vital that the government makes sure that in the rush to ‘Get Brexit Done’ they do not cause damage that takes years to undo.

This is relevant to many sectors, but one hugely important sector that stands to be impacted more so than many others is the creative arts, especially music.

The UK boasts an impressive music scene, contributing £5.2 billion to the UK economy each year and providing a prominent cultural platform on the world stage. Yet as the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) point out in its new report on the impact of Brexit on the music profession, Will Music Survive Brexit, the UK music industry simply cannot cope with the simultaneously devastating effects of Covid-19 and a hard Brexit.

With social gathering restrictions set to stay in place for the foreseeable future there will be no immediate return to business as usual for large parts of the music sector, especially the thousands of music venues that require near full capacity crowds to turn a small profit. The effects of Covid-19 on the sector will be significant and long term.

When it comes to Brexit, the key challenge is making sure the UK and the EU reach a reciprocal agreement that enables UK musicians to tour and play freely in Europe after the transition period, and this week during a session of the House of Lords I asked the government what progress they have made on this.

For musicians, performing live isn’t just about the thrill of sharing their art with others, it’s the means by which they generate most of the income they need to continue as professional musicians. With musicians receiving no public funding and little from streaming royalties, performing live is their lifeline.

The continuation of social gathering restrictions means that for some time opportunities for performing in the UK live will be minimal, and if the government does not secure the right arrangements with the EU, there will be even less in the long-term.

This erosion of the talent pipeline caused by the combined impact of Brexit and COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on the performing arts.

The EU is a significant market for many musicians and music professionals, and access to this market and the rich cultural exchange it offers must be protected.

Already, though, we are seeing the impact of the uncertainty of the transition period and the government’s lack of clarity over what steps it is taking to ensure this protection.

ISM research shows that there is a growing trend of EU-based promoters and venues no longer engaging UK passport holders in work and auditions because it is now too complicated and uncertain to book UK musicians compared to their EU counterparts. Data shows that UK musicians have lost substantial amounts of work and earnings due to Brexit, and many are considering leaving the sector altogether, especially those that are new to the profession. This erosion of the talent pipeline caused by the combined impact of Brexit and COVID-19 will have a devastating impact on the performing arts.

In their current form, the government’s immigration plans present major challenges for British musicians and their ability to tour and play in Europe after the transition period. This is why I support the call, made by the ISM and many other sector organisations, for the government to negotiate a multi-entry touring visa that is valid for two years and is EU-wide, covering all twenty-seven member states, which would allow UK musicians and music professionals to continue performing across the EU, with no interruption.

This should also be accompanied by a cultural exemption for the temporary transportation of instruments and equipment, or at the minimum the UK Government should cover the cost of ATA carnets for musicians, which will likely be required as part of a new customs arrangement. Carnets cost in the region of £500-700, depending on the value of the goods, and many touring musicians will simply not be able to afford the fees.


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