Face The Music: A New Nationwide Campaign For Musicians and Artists

Published on February 07, 2024

‘Leaving the EU has destroyed people’s careers.’ That’s the view of one of the classical music world’s brightest young talents, James Henshaw. It’s the view of others working in music, too.  

From bands and instrument makers to backstage staff – the loss of freedom of movement, the ‘work-90-days-in-180’ rule, and the mind-boggling visa and carnet system – all mean one of the UK’s most successful cultural exports is being slowly destroyed. 

It’s why our new campaign is urging the Government to stop the damage being done to the UK music industry. 

Face The Music, led by European Movement UK, is shining a spotlight on the plight of musicians, touring artists and backstage staff, since the UK left the EU on 31st January 2020, and is urging the Government to negotiate a bilateral agreement, one which guarantees visa-free travel for UK artists in the EU, and for EU artists in the UK.  

Our research shows a talent drain on British music, from up-and-coming stars leaving Britain to live in an EU country, to instrument makers who have lost their EU customers due to rising exports costs, to jobbing musicians who face being shut out of freelance work because they no longer hold an EU passport. 

“I was forced to choose between my job and my country,” said James Henshaw, a rising star among conductors on the UK classical music scene, who moved from London to Germany in 2020.  

“I knew that if I wanted to continue working, I couldn’t stay in the UK. In my own country. I felt shut out. Everyone in the classical music world is constantly moving. 8 weeks here, 8 weeks there. About 15% of my work before Brexit was in the UK, and the rest was from around the world – a lot from the EU. But after 2020, I could see that EU work drying up. Because if several candidates go for a job, and you’re the only one who needs a visa and all the paperwork, you don’t stand a chance. So I had to move. I had to, to keep working.” 

Matt Carghill plays in the band Sly and the Family Drone. He used to tour EU countries every year – but that’s now stopped.  

“We’d just get in the van – instruments, merchandise, throw it all in and off you go. It was the merchandise sales that got us through, the money that would pay for the fuel to get to the next gig. Now, because of all the export costs, you can’t do it. It’s over.” 

Rachel Nicholls is a freelance British soprano in opera and concert, currently starring in The Handmaid’s Tale in London. Since leaving the EU, her whole career has changed.  

“I used to do three or four jobs in the EU every year. Since Brexit, I’ve done just one EU job in 7 years. Those jobs are still there, but now they’re going to artists who aren’t from the UK. The 90-day rule, and the visas you need, just mean UK musicians are not considered any more. It’s too difficult to employ them. I know so many people leaving the industry. We are doing severe, irreparable damage to the UK music industry, and it is the younger people I feel so, so sorry for.” 

Chris and Sabina Allen-Kormylo make specialist hand-made instruments, hurdy-gurdys, from a workshop at the back of their house in Wales.  

“We used to have about 30% of our business from EU customers,” Chris tells us, Now the phone never rings from them, ever. Why would you buy from us, when you might have to pay hundreds of pounds more just to have your instrument shipped to you? EU customers can’t even have instruments shipped to me for repair anymore, because you risk it being stuck in a warehouse at customs somewhere for weeks on end. That business is gone, and we just have to live with it.” 

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