Brexit is killing off music tours in EU and industry may not survive immigration crackdown, government warned

Exclusive: More than two-thirds of musicians say bookings dried up because of visa red tape and cost – even before coronavirus struck

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 12 May 2020 00:47
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Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Musicians have revealed how Brexit is already killing off their tours in the EU, as they warn the industry may not survive tough new immigration rules.

No less than 71 per cent say their bookings for everything from classical orchestras to rock bands were drying up – even before coronavirus struck, closing down venues and putting concerts on hold.

Some are being told “EU nationals only”, because of vast red tape and extra expense to be imposed by new visa rules when the UK leaves the post-Brexit transition period in January.

“British nationals have already joined other ‘third country nationals’ on the lowest rung of hiring desirability. This is catastrophic for careers and livelihoods,” one told a new survey revealed by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM).

Another said: “Noticeable drop off in bookings from EU27 countries since 2016. At present I have now no future bookings at all.”

And a third said: “We fear Brexit will mean much higher charges and costs which will either price us out of taking the work, or we will have to put our fees up too high and promoters will choose against hiring British bands.”

The replies are the first evidence of a predicted tit-for-tat crackdown, after Priti Patel announced a vastly-complex and costly system to replace free movement of EU citizens.

Now the ISM has pleaded with the government to step back from the cliff-edge when the “disastrous consequences” of Covid-19 will still be hitting livelihoods.

In a report shared with The Independent, the ISM urges ministers to:

* Seek an extension of the transition period until the end of 2022 – something Boris Johnson has repeatedly insisted he will not do.

* Negotiate a cheap two-year ‘multi-entry’ touring visa – to ease the cost and red tape artists planning to play in the UK will face.

* Agree a “cultural exemption” to allow musicians to easily transport their instruments and equipment across border, without extra cost.

* Expand the list of designated points of entry and exit for musical instruments – alongside animal and plant parts – to include Eurostar, Immingham and Newcastle.

* Extend the existing coronavirus financial support schemes for creative workers “until mass gatherings are permitted”.

Deborah Annetts, the ISM’s chief executive, said its research, in February and March, laid bare “the damage that Brexit has already caused to the music sector”, even before the current crisis.

“The UK music sector, which contributes £5.2bn to the economy each year, is at risk from the dual threats of Covid-19 and Brexit,” she said.

“In this time of great uncertainty, musicians need to know that their livelihoods will be protected. The purpose of the transition period was to allow time to negotiate new trading agreements and minimise financial shock to the UK economy.

“Therefore, to avoid irreversible damage, we call for the government to recover some of the time lost to Covid-19 by requesting an extension to the transition period.”

The ISM surveyed more than 600 performers, composers, directors, artist managers, teachers and music technicians, from genres stretching from classical and musical theatre to pop, rock, jazz and folk.

It also found that 56 per cent expected to be offered less work because the UK has left the EU, with 92 per cent concerned about their future ability to work in EU countries.

The society has yet to receive any further detail of how the visa rules will operate in the three months since they were announced – with little over seven months until they kick in.

It warned they would be particularly disastrous for small venues, with bands from EU countries unable or unwilling to visit the UK.

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