LONDON — British ministers must overcome their “Brexit ideology” in order to tackle new barriers that might lead to a “slow, steady decline” of the U.K. music industry, artists have warned.
Ten months after Brexit, British touring artists and performers are growing impatient at the lack of solutions to issues such as the lack of an EU-wide visa waiver allowing them to tour the bloc easily and for free; new so-called cabotage rules banning U.K. tour vehicles of more than 3.5 tonnes from making more than two stops before returning to Britain; and fresh paperwork needed to take certain musical instruments into the EU.
In a letter to the U.K.’s Brexit Minister David Frost, the House of Lords European affairs committee accused the government of “failing to engage with the industry in a constructive way, continuing to pursue headlines” rather than dealing with the “very serious issues” faced by U.K. touring artists.
According to the committee’s chair Charles Hay, “there is an appearance of a lack of coordination across the multiple departments and agencies” involved in supporting and regulating the creative industries, and “a reluctance to engage” with the industry or the EU to find solutions.
“It is clear that the impact of the lack of provisions in the [Brexit Trade and Cooperation Agreement] TCA on creative professionals is so severe as to force many performers out of the sector and to pose a serious threat to sections of the industry,” Hay wrote. “We fear that this not only risks substantial damage to an important sector of the UK economy, but may also undermine the government’s vision of a global Britain using its soft power to advance its interests internationally in the post-Brexit era.”
Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, said the music industry has very good engagement with U.K. officials, but when it comes to ministers “there’s a glass ceiling of ideology we cannot break through.”
“Ministers aren’t willing to listen to our concerns if what we want to change bumps up against their ideology and their ideology is ‘the nation voted for Brexit, they voted for us to take back control of our laws, our borders and our money,’” he said.
The clearest example of this was the government’s refusal to agree visa-free travel for business purposes — including touring — in the Brexit trade negotiations, out of fear this could undermine Boris Johnson’s pledge to control immigration, Pemberton said.
Since mobility is a competence of EU member states, the U.K. has tried to remove the need for visas and work permits by negotiating with the 27 EU countries individually.
So far, 20 of them have some sort of visa-waiver in place for British touring artists, covering different lengths of time, from 7 to 90 days per year. However, it is relatively easy for U.K. touring artists to stack up several visits to the EU and reach the limit of 90 days within a 180-day period that someone from outside the passport-free Schengen zone is able to spend in the bloc without a visa, Pemberton said.
Out of the seven countries without a visa-waiver, Spain remains the most bureaucratic and expensive. Each musician might have to spend £180 on permits in order to perform in the country, which adds up to a huge amount for an orchestra, he added.
After Brexit, musicians transporting instruments containing materials such as ivory, Brazilian rosewood and abalone into the EU must secure a Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) permit. But Pemberton said only last week U.K. officials agreed to look into the lack of facilities for these checks on Eurostar trains, despite the industry having raised this issue since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
The number of EU students in British conservatoires is likely to fall by half, according to preliminary data cited by Linda Merrick, principal at the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM). EU students used to make up to 25 percent of the total music student population in the U.K. before Brexit.
Speaking at an online event Wednesday, she blamed the increase in fees for EU students after Brexit, and the end of free movement and of Britain’s participation in the EU’s Erasmus+ mobility scheme. She warned some 30 partnerships between the RNCM and institutions in EU countries, especially in Eastern Europe, will become “quite dormant.”
Pemberton warned all these barriers might “cut off” the U.K.’s industry from the EU music scene. “What we are concerned about … is the sort of slow, steady decline, as promoters in Europe wake up to the fact that it’s all got more difficult and more expensive,” he said.
A U.K. government spokesperson said Britain had flagged the barriers to touring at the first meeting of the EU-U.K. Partnership Council, which oversees the implementation of the trade deal. They said the U.K. is still working with the seven EU countries without visa or work-permit free routes for touring professionals “to encourage them to match the U.K.’s generous arrangements” for European touring artists.
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