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29 July 2019updated 30 Mar 2023 12:39pm

“Music venues rely on free movement”: Will a no-deal Brexit affect your favourite bands?

By Ellen Peirson-Hagger

Whether classical orchestral players or pop artists, musicians will almost certainly feel the repercussions of a no-deal Brexit, if the UK crashes out of the European Union on 31 October. Many of these performers rely on the UK’s membership of the EU to make a living playing concerts in venues across Europe.

An Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM) report published in July 2018 found that a third of musicians get more than half of their income from work in the EU27. The society warns that in the instance of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will be treated as a “third country”, but as of yet, it is unclear exactly what that will mean in terms of the barriers musicians will face.

In theory, if the UK leaves the EU on 31 October, there will be short-term issues with planes flying out of the UK to the EU, as the UK falls out of the European Aviation Safety Agency. For musicians with European concerts booked close to this date, flight delays and cancellations may lead to difficulties reaching venues in time and the need to reschedule tours, in turn causing extra administrative work, losing money and upsetting concert-goers.

Michael Dugher, the CEO of UK Music, a campaigning and lobbying group representing the British recorded and live music industry, points out that, in the long run, a no-deal Brexit won’t just make touring more difficult – for some artists, it could make it impossible. “UK Music has long called for a reciprocal approach to our future relationship with the EU when it comes to live touring”, he says. “Costly and bureaucratic restrictions around freedom of movement could make touring simply unviable for many lower-earning musicians and artists.”

Transport restrictions will make it particularly difficult for artists to move their equipment. Most musicians will travel with some kit, including instruments and sound equipment, but the ISM notes that opera companies, who rely on a particularly large amount of goods, will be disproportionately affected.

Currently, you do not need permission to temporarily move goods to another EU country. However, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, an ATA Carnet may be required to avoid duty fees. A Carnet is a document that permits the tax-free and duty-free temporary export of goods. At the moment, a Carnet usually costs £325.96 (not including a security deposit), is only valid for a year at a time, and needs to be applied for in advance.

The ISM survey highlights musicians who take work depping (standing in) for other musicians in the EU, sometimes with just 24 hours notice. The time required for extra administration, such as a Carnet, may make this last-minute work impossible.

A no-deal Brexit – and the uncertainty it has created – could lead to European venues and tour agencies cancelling pre-booked events because of administrative problems, or refusing to book future events at all, until a definite outcome of the status of UK citizens working in the EU is clear. 

This isn’t just a future possibility. The ISM survey includes anonymous observations from musicians who report that the impending possibility of a no-deal Brexit is already affecting the way in which they are being treated in the EU. “Contractors have already been looking for alternatives rather than book me”, says one participant of the survey. “This year I only have one concert in Germany”, says another, who usually has six-ten concert bookings there annually, and who notes concert organisers’ fears of “having to pay for artist visas and the possibility of higher foreign performer taxes” as the reason for their decline in EU work. 

Kate Stables is a folk-rock musician who records and performs as This is the Kit, and tours widely around the UK and Europe. When she’s not on tour, Stables lives in Paris, and, as a British citizen living in mainland Europe, may suffer worse effects if the government moves forward with a no-deal Brexit. “Until the government has decided what it is they’re doing, it’s very hard to know how I will be affected”, she says. 

“It is my belief/fear that leaving the EU will result in more difficulty touring and crossing borders and that it will be more expensive, thus preventing even more musicians from being able to tour outside the UK. It’s hard to make a living out of touring. This will make it harder. People’s mental and physical health will be negatively affected.”

More widely, a no-deal Brexit could negatively affect the diversity of music and arts in the UK, an industry whose vibrancy which relies upon the meeting of creative talent from all over the world.

“A ‘cliff edge’ no-deal Brexit with no transitional phase is potentially a huge problem”, says Dugher. “Music contributes £4.5bn to the economy, and live music alone contributes around £1bn. Britain’s world-leading venues, festivals, studios and orchestras depend on freedom of movement”. 

Stables is similarly fearful. “[A no-deal Brexit] would have a restricting and damaging effect on the growth and development of the UK’s arts and music community. And what about people visiting from other countries? Making it harder for foreign bands to tour in the UK will starve the country of important exposure to music and art from other places.”

She also considers the symbolic nature of touring and the way it gives ordinary people an opportunity to embrace the music of other cultures.

“This is a time when we should be encouraging cultural and social exchange and tolerance, and empathy and appreciation of diversity and differences. Reinforcing borders and making it harder for people to move freely between countries will only reinforce xenophobia and prejudice, not to speak of starving the UK’s arts community of important European connections and opportunities for learning and cross pollination.”

> This piece is from our Know Your No Deal series on the different ways a no-deal Brexit will impact the UK

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