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More Than 80% Of UK Musicians Touring EU Have Seen Brexit Hit Their Earnings

Maximo Park (Alamy)

5 min read

Exclusive: Eight out of ten British musicians touring Europe have said they have lost earnings as a result of Brexit, according to a new survey of the sector shared with PoliticsHome.

Around a third of nearly 1,500 singers, composers, producers, DJs and other musical professionals told industry body UK Music that their income had been impacted by post-Brexit paperwork.

Of those, 82 per cent said their earnings had fallen since the UK left the bloc over three years ago.

When the UK formally left the EU at the start of 2020, the free movement of people which previously allowed British performers to tour the continent without the need for costly paperwork, ceased to apply.

In its place, an array of new rules and regulations emerged, including work permits for UK performers and their crews, customs paperwork for equipment being taken across the border, and restrictions on how many times UK lorries can stop in EU countries. The new costs and red tape have been acutely felt by smaller, up-and-coming acts with aspirations to perform on the continent, as they have fewer financial resources to foot bigger bills. 

The government says it has successfully negotiated relaxed visa rules for British performers with a number of EU countries, but these findings show that paperwork has still had an adverse impact on the UK music scene.

Of those who told UK Music they had been impacted by Brexit, 43 per cent of those said it was no longer viable to tour in the EU. Nearly seven out of ten (65 per cent) said they had received fewer invitations to perform on in the bloc, and six out of ten (57 per cent) said it was not possible to take up invitations because post-Brexit paperwork had made it too expensive to do so.

Singer Katie Melua told PoliticsHome her EU touring costs had risen by 30 per cent.

“Having recently toured Europe both on a headline tour and a series of summer shows I can testify that touring post Brexit has created certain challenging side-effects felt by my team as well as my crew," she said.

Everything Everything's Jeremy Pritchard warned that the friction was particularly damaging to the country's young musical talent, who "benefit immeasurably" from performing in Europe.

“Excellent lower and middle tier UK artists are now excluded from European shows by the associated costs, admin and man hours implied by Brexit, which simply make European touring unviable. At the higher end, headline artists in Europe are fewer, as it’s more onerous to book UK acts, which is yet more loss to the UK public purse," he said.

“UK musicians urgently require the needless barriers to both profitable trade and to vital exchange of ideas and experience to be lifted.”

Opera singer and producer Jennifer Johnston said classical musicians like her had seen their volume of work in the EU shrink by as much as 80 per cent, "thanks to a combination of visa red tape, reduction in touring, and the general perception across Europe that it’s not a good idea politically to employ many British artists".

Katie Melua

Paul Smith, lead singer of band Maximo Park, said his band's tour costs have "rocketed across the board" since the UK's departure from the EU in early 2020.

“I've seen the situation from the viewpoint of a larger touring band, where Maxïmo Park's European tour costs have rocketed across the board, and with my folk duo Unthank: Smith, where our single Irish show became very stressful due to a lack of clarity over what merchandise, or even which instruments, we could bring with us," he told PoliticsHome.

Securing visas and work permits to perform in EU countries was the post-Brexit barrier cited most by musicians who took part in the survey, as well as transport and administration costs. Around a third referenced carnets, customs paperwork which British acts must acquire to take equipment with them into the bloc, while 13 per cent pointed to cabotage rules which restrict UK lorries to just three stops while touring the continent. 

“Our survey findings show the huge impact of Brexit on so many working in the music industry. Among the worst hit are the emerging music creators just starting out," UK Music Interim Chief Executive Tom Kiehl told PoliticsHome.

“Restrictions on visas, work permits, truck hire and merchandise sales along with excessive red tape are making touring simply unviable for many.

“The ability to tour internationally in the early stages of an artist’s career is crucial to their success and our sector’s ambition to grow British music exports amid fierce global competition. We need the government to make it a priority to secure a Cultural Touring Agreement with the EU to remove these barriers."

Thangam Debbonaire, Labour's shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, told PoliticsHome: "Britain’s musicians need a government squarely in their corner, fighting for them. Instead the Tories’ complete lack of ambition for the creative sector has had devastating consequences. 
 
“It’s time the Tories recognised the huge contribution of this important sector to our economy, jobs and joy in people’s lives.
 
“The next Labour government will back Britain’s world-leading music creators. We’ll push for a visa waiver for touring artists and negotiate an EU-wide cultural touring agreement including important allowances for cabotage, carnets and custom rules.”

A government spokesperson said: "We have confirmed that almost all EU Member States, including the biggest touring markets such as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands, offer visa and work permit free routes for UK performers and other creative professionals.

 "We are supporting the UK's brilliant artists to adapt to the new arrangements and continue to make the case to every EU member state about the importance of touring.

"We are continuing dialogue with those few remaining countries which do not offer visa or work permit-free routes to make touring easier."

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