Brexit Blues

Brexit Blues: Europe and the Music Industry

Alexandra Jarvis paints a bleak picture of the crippling impact Brexit will – and is already having – on the UK music industry.

As Brexit now creeps closer and closer with at least one rough sketch of how the UK intends on leaving the EU pencilled in – either for 12 April with no deal in place, or 22 May under Theresa May’s Withdrawal Plan. Yet anything from revoking Article 50 to a General Election is still possible.

It is undeniable that the UK holds a reputable global status in the music industry: it is the birthplace of musical icons and host to some of the most prestigious music festivals in the world. International artists and spectators flock to Britain sure of the fact it is a country of music lovers, appreciators and gig-goers. As a result of this lasting popularity, the music industry contributed £4.5 billion to the UK economy in 2017 while live concerts pumped £1 billion in alone. The cross-collaboration of creative talent between the UK and the EU has transformed the music industry across the continent with as many as 131,000 EU nationals working in the UK’s creative industries while a further 10% of the 47,445 music tourism jobs in 2016 were filled with EU expertise.

However, as the UK begins to stagger through the process of leaving the European Union later than originally planned, there is no doubt the music industry will be heavily impacted by the ‘skills-based’ immigration plan set to be in place by 2021. The Immigration White Paper released in December 2018 paints a bleak picture for the future of the music industry. Post-Brexit, touring EU artists and entertainers will face visa requirements and regulations just in order to perform in the UK, not to mention the vital technicians and additional staff members that accompany them will also face meeting visa requirements. Obtaining a visa for EU workers in the music industry, regardless of whether a Brexit deal is agreed, will be complicated, lengthy and unpleasant. It is evident the plan will cause immense uncertainty and instability for the music businesses since many workers will need to fill a Tier 2 Visa application.

The problem with the Tier 2 Visa category is that it’s not just the lengthy and expensive application process, but the fact that self-employed workers are ineligible for it. Up to 70% of creatives identify as self-employed, yet with Tier 2 Visa restrictions, self-employed workers cannot apply as they do not have sponsorship from a UK employer. All Tier 2 applications must be accompanied with a Certificate of Sponsorship from a prospective employer who holds a Sponsor Licence. Yet with a third of the 70% self-employed creatives being made up of EU migrants, it’s clear to see why the music industry faces a post-Brexit crisis. The industry has called on the Government to address this but with their unwillingness to budge on issues such as minimum income and sponsorship requirements, it doesn’t look hopeful.

The Government have confirmed that Europeans already in the UK can stay under the EU Settlement Scheme, but this is not helpful to prospective self-employed Europeans looking to come and work in the UK after Brexit. Not only does the industry have a shocking loss to contend with then, as self-employed creatives become scarce, but visa regulations apply to support staff, including technicians, producers, security staff and even bar workers that are relied upon for festival season. These valuable workers will be denied a visa if they do not meet the minimum income requirement of £30,000 per annum. Obviously, this salary rules over a vast majority of these staff members, leaving the industry grappling for suitable workers.

However, a glimmer of hope exists in the 12-Month Temporary Visa scheme the Government offers in its Skills-Based Plan. However, this is a highly restrictive alternative that presents additional problems for employers and recruiters. Not only is it a short-term solution in that it will only run until 2025 in a bid to radically overhaul the UK’s heavy reliance on EU migrant labour, but supporting staff may be deterred from the option entirely. After working in the UK while touring, for example, after 12 months they must then leave the country – and they are not permitted re-entry to work in the same position for a whole year. They cannot seek employment or permanent settlement, nor can they bring any family members with them. Clearly, this is not ideal for staff who aid British festivals in the summertime and go on tour with particular artists.

The woes don’t end with the exhausting, expensive visa processes either. Artists and their staff must consider the practicality of moving necessary equipment between countries. Currently, tour managers pay out extortionate fees for legal documentation known as ‘tour carnets’ which detail all the equipment a specific touring company or artist is bringing into the UK. These are renewed annually with documents costing up to £500 for a solo artist and £2000 for a touring band. In addition to all these costs, the processing of all of this paperwork through border control will likely add significant time to a tour, ultimately causing mounting expense and dissuading overseas artists from the UK for good.

Due to the complexity of these issues, the company Centtrip Music has even been forced to launch a dedicated Brexit desk to help touring artists, promoters, distributors and the wider music industry to ‘plan for further uncertainty and avoid future risks, unnecessary costs and disruption.’ Simon Liddell, Director of the Music and Entertainment at Centtrip, has confirmed that ‘Brexit is the biggest political event of a generation and its aftermath may have big financial implications for touring artists and promoters paying talent overseas,’ and that ‘clients in the music and entertainment sector are looking for clarity and guidance.’

Despite initial concerns, Britain has already confirmed that EU citizens would be able to make short-term visits to the UK without a visa after Brexit. Further improving this, the European Council made a statement at the beginning of February that confirmed they would reciprocate, thus causing no potential issues for fans travelling to concerts abroad or popular European festivals such as Primavera and Tomorrowland. Yet, if musicians and entertainers are faced with these ever-mounting visa and touring costs, there is no guarantee there will be UK shows for music fans to attend. British industry experts and commercial directors have voiced their own concerns that ease of movement for artists could restrict ‘the quality, the diversity and the artistic development’ of Britain’s musicians. It’s difficult to make final judgements as we continue to head towards Brexit blindfolded, but we can be sure of one thing: Brexit’s damning promise to end free movement across Europe will cause a catastrophic problem.


Alexandra Jarvis is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service; an organisation of leading UK immigration solicitors. |@IASimmigration

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