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Dismay as Brexit deal threatens musicians’ careers

The UK Government’s trade deal with the EU may have been lauded by an exhausted nation, but it threatens the livelihoods of thousands of UK musicians

The UK Government’s trade deal with the EU may have been lauded by an exhausted nation, but it threatens the livelihoods of thousands of UK musicians.

The news that musicians have been omitted from visa-free working arrangements with the EU was predicted but has nonetheless been greeted with dismay by the music industry.

UK Music’s Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin played the diplomatic line by welcoming the end of uncertainty with the announcement of the deal, ‘Brexit has always been a proposition that fuses genuine risks with immense opportunities,’ he said on Twitter. This enraged many musicians at all levels on social media, including classical singer Dame Sarah Connolly and composer Howard Goodall, who tweeted ‘Jamie, list the opportunities & benefits this deal offers our sector please. Or a single one, even.’

In UK Music’s official statement, however, Njoku-Goodwin was less forgiving. ‘The Prime Minister has promised there will be non-tariff barriers, so it is vital that Government delivers on this promise and ensures there are no barriers to British musicians working and touring through Europe. We will be seeking urgent reassurances on this from Government.’

The release goes on to say, ‘The Government now needs to ensure the ability of our workforce to move freely around Europe at a time when we are continuing to battle the impact of Covid-19.

‘There is a real risk that British musicians will not be able to bear the costs of extra bureaucracy and delays, which would put some tours at risk.’

Brexit is going to do serious harm to touring in Europe

For some industry professionals this ‘threat’ is more of a reality than UK Music suggests. With visa charges for each EU nation, customs declarations, locally-charged taxes and social security deductions, carnets on every piece of equipment, and import duty on merchandise, managers are saying promotional tours which barely broke even before Brexit will now be too expensive to consider.

As agent and Isle of Wight Festival organiser John Giddings told the NME, ‘Brexit is going to do serious harm to touring in Europe. If you have to import and export your equipment in and out of each country, it’s going to take longer to do. There will be more travel days, and every day you’re on the road you have the overhead of staff, hotels and everything that goes with it. It will increase the overall cost of everything.’

Similarly, EU musicians booked for events in the UK will have to pay for a work visa, show proof of savings and provide a certificate of sponsorship from the event organiser, threatening the viability of promoters organising UK tours.

90,000 petition signatures calling for a Musicians’ Passport

Horace Trubridge, General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union, expressed exasperation after years of lobbying on behalf of touring musicians.

‘Over the past few years, we have told the Government in every possible way that a Brexit deal needs to make provisions for touring musicians’, he said. ‘We have nearly 90,000 petition signatures calling for a Musicians’ Passport, hundreds of MPs have spoken on behalf of our members in parliament and Ministers have assured us over and over again that they will ensure that touring musicians will not be subject to extra cost or admin post Brexit.

‘And yet we now see that this deal does not address any of our concerns. In the short term we urge the Government to add musicians to the list of ‘Independent Professionals’ at the earliest opportunity.

‘In the longer term, we will be lobbying for a reciprocal arrangement with the EU that will allow musicians to work unimpeded.’

The departure from EU membership has devastating consequences

The Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) had expended energy for years warning the government of the harm Brexit would cause to the UK music industry. The report on Brexit and Covid it published in May 2020 claimed that 78 percent of UK musicians perform in the EU and EEA at least once a year and a fifth of them performed at least 11 times annually. Most of the respondents had already found difficulty attracting bookings on the continent because of Brexit uncertainty and some had received cancellations. Combined with the pandemic, the departure from EU membership has devastating consequences for one of the UK’s proudest contributions to world culture.

The new deal also threatens thousands of technicians, drivers, crew, dancers, actors and other performers and support staff. Video technician Tim Brennan posted a petition on the government’s own petition website to ‘Seek Europe-wide Visa-free work permit for Touring professionals’.

The petition had received over 191,000 signatures at time of writing. This is more than enough for Parliament to consider a debate on the subject, but to date, the government has only issued a dismissive comment about giving visa-free deals to major international acts, and about points-based immigration systems and our enduring friendship with European nations.