For music and the arts, when the pandemic is over, the real problems of touring the EU post-Brexit will begin

Published on March 27, 2021

Award-winning composer Howard Goodall, actor and musician Jess Murphy and theatre director and writer Jonathan Holloway called on the government to urgently address the problems Brexit has caused for the creative arts, speaking at the European Movement conference today.

Howard Goodall said:

“We’ve become a service economy over last 40 years. It has been very quiet during pandemic, but when it starts, all sectors, industries and businesses will find out what had been very easy will now be very difficult. It could cost them hundreds of thousands of pounds, and won’t be viable.

“We have a market of 400 million people in Europe, that’s why we travel there and not to Thailand, for example, which would be a terribly expensive thing to do – but it’s not expensive to make our industry work in Europe. We’ve seen this juggernaut coming down the line for the past three of four years. A Model agency in the UK is now finished. It’s the main model agency. And if this is happening, our fashion industry is in trouble. It is an absolutely calamitous situation, it is going to hit more and more industries as we open up from the pandemic.

“Outside the single market, we need visas and work permits which are expensive and a bureaucratic nightmare. And in terms of moving goods into and out of the EU, like music equipment, carnets are extremely expensive because we’ve left the customs union. None of this was on the ballot paper in 2016. This is going to seep in more and more to people’s consciousness. It’s an important industry for us. Our home market has gone down from 400 million to just the UK. And even then, Northern Ireland is practically in the EU, Gibraltar is in the EU and Scotland will follow.

“For the small businesses and for freelancers, it’s just not viable, and we need to have solutions for this deal. France and Germany are just offering ad hoc touring visas. It is very very severe for us, and is going to be severe for other industries as they discover the complexities we’ve warned about for three or four years now.

“Young people, no doubt, will take us back into the EU. The government may say they got a mandate to do this but they didn’t get a mandate to leave the customs union. The young will overturn this because it’s in their interest to do so. They want a market of 400 million people, not a few million on an island.”

Jess Murphy said:

The creative industries are worth £111 billion to the economy – to put that into perspective, the fisheries contribution is £1.4bn. It’s second only to financial services. A huge part of that is freelancers, it’s driven by thousands of thousands of freelancers. From lighting engineers who work with Beyonce to a puppeteer to a musician like myself, all of those people are a one-person business and they have been out of work for a whole year, every single one of them.

“This dire situation is compounded by not being able to travel throughout Europe. It’s a very complicated web of people and a cultural exchange, people filling in for each other at the last minute, work that’s created in the UK. If you’re the first violinist in Hamilton, you go to Elton John, and then you get The Lion King. Deputising, filling in, jobs that go to new people, this is just a small example of how it all works.

“The point is, because we’ve been working with Europe for the past 20 years, that web now includes Europe, so now we have a situation where we stopped abruptly last year, and now we’re going to try to start up again. It’s like taking apart an engine and then trying to restart it. We don’t have enough work in the UK – there’s not a small orchestra in every city we can work with as a musician.

“The government is able to hide behid the fact that none of us are working at the moment, they say the door is open. You probably won’t employ an English person if the work involves going outside the UK. We need to be able to travel, and need to be able to travel to our audiences in Europe. We need a reciprocal travel agreement sorted out asap.

“It is already happening: people are putting out job requests and they’re saying you have to have an EU passport. So what the government has done is disadvantaged UK citizens across Europe. A UK passport allows you to work just in the UK. We have been disadvantaged – I don’t just mean musicians and the creative industry. I mean all of us, we are all disadvantaged.”

Jonathan Holloway said:

“As a festival director, the impact of Brexit is utterly disastrous. It’s immeasurable. The impact is on thousands and thousands of careers, and millions of lives. It’s an unbelievably demoralising time for people who work in creative industries.

“I’ve lived off visa-free travel for artists my entire career. I don’t think we have any idea of the impact of Brexit on the arts, because it’s been masked by the pandemic. People haven’t tried putting on a festival, nobody’s tried because we’ve not been able to. I don’t think we have any idea yet the impact it’s going to have on arts and creativity. We need to be returning to collaborating with Europe, and we need to be telling that story over the next few years.

“In ten years’ time we’ll watch the films that will tell us what happened, but we need to invest now so we can be telling the story as it goes along.”

This week, the House of Lords EU services sub-committee called for talks with the EU to be reopened to help musicians and artists harmed by Brexit, warning the loss of visa-free tours by musicians and other artists will make touring “prohibitively bureaucratic and expensive” and urging the government to seek a “bilateral and reciprocal” touring agreement with the European Union.

In a recent survey, 81 per cent of musicians said they were now likely to stop touring Europe, with 60% saying they were considering a change in career.

And though the prime minister responded by assuring the House of Commons Liaison committee he “shares the frustrations of the sector” and “we must fix it”, as the Brexit deal nears the three-month mark musicians reiterated that they had been left in a “limbo of chaos and confusion”, warning that “without suitable remedies, we will see our world-renowned industry start to wither”.

If touring Europe became prohibitively expensive, orchestras and opera houses would be forced to ask the government to cover financial losses. The government needs to negotiate new agreements with EU countries, prioritising important touring nations such as Spain, Italy and Portugal, which do not offer cultural exemptions for work permits, MPs warned.

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